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Alex Cruz speaks about the new British Airways Club World and First Class seats

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Alex Cruz, the Chairman and CEO of British Airways, gave a speech at a UK Israel Business event yesterday morning.  I went along and I know a few other readers were there too.

The main speech itself did not contain any surprises in terms of strategy announcements – not surprising, since UK Israel Business is not the platform you pick to announce big news.

During the questions – which were very polite and, coming mainly from UK Israel Business members and not members of the frequent flyer community, slightly bizarre in places – he did reveal some interesting information about the future of Club World and First Class.

The new British Airways Club World seat

It is well known that a new Club World seat will be introduced next year on the A350-1000 fleet as they come into service.  We also know that this will have aisle access for every seat and, via a comment made at World Travel Market last year, will have a lower seat density than the current cabin (ie fewer seats).

Cruz joked that 23 years ago British Airways unveiled the world’s first flat-bed business class seat – “but the bad news is that we still have it”.

He said that ‘2-4-2’ is no longer competitive.  This means, almost certainly, a move to some form of 1-2-1.  Remember that even little Aer Lingus has a mix of 1-2-1 and 1-2-2.

There is a mock-up cabin now built, containing test seats.  British Airways has drawn up 11 ‘red lines’ of features which it insists are included, down to proper storage for water bottles and spectacles.  “More privacy” is also a key consideration.

“It really is something else” he said.

There is an implication here that this will not be a fully off-the-shelf product.  This would also fit with a comment that (to paraphrase) “the delay in rolling out the new seat quickly will be entirely down to the inability to get them made fast enough”.

Club World

The new British Airways First Class seat

BA has stated numerous times that the current 14-seat First Class cabin on the 777 fleet is no longer relevant, but that there is definitely a long-term future for First Class.

Cruz said that (to paraphrase) “the new Club World seat will be so fantastic that we will have a serious problem with First Class”.

The answer is “to conceive the new First Class experience of the future”.  As the seat itself will no longer be a key differentiator between the cabins – because the new Club World seat is so good – there will need to be a full revinvention of First Class.  The implication is that this will only be partly about the seat and partly about everything else in the process such as food and service.

(It is fair to say that some of the most respected First Class offerings, such as Air France and Lufthansa, do not – by any standards – have the best seats in the air.  They make up for it in other ways.)

This will be a slow process unfortunately.  He talked about the long process of getting certification for a new product which implies that it will be something totally different and not a tweaked version of someone else’s seat.

Conclusion

As I have written before, Cruz – in person – comes across very well.  He has no entourage, he is willing to stop and chat to everyone and he is open and convincing about what he wants to do.  That doesn’t mean that he is always right, of course, but you can see where he is coming from.

Let’s dig this article out again in 12 months time, when we should be able to compare the reality of new Club World with the rhetoric.


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Comments (46)

  • Ben says:

    Go back in time 5 years and the world’s leading airlines were having this discussion and solving this problem then.

    It’s really not as difficult as he is claiming it to be.

  • Jordan D says:

    “he is willing to stop and chat to everyone ” – but he isn’t will to engage with regular BA Gold customers, the ones who provide the backbones of his revenues? Over 100 BA flights last year (all shorthaul, ET) and despite the huge amount of revenues I’ve personally provided him (let alone my team), we aren’t important because we aren’t GGL or CW passengers.

    • Yuff says:

      I was sitting next to a gold holder in F, on Tuesday, who had paid cash for a WT+. Seems a good result for a gold holder to me 🙂 she had upgraded to CW with avios.

  • Tilly says:

    Wonder how new layout with less seats in CW cabin and changes to F will impact on avios redemption availability.

  • Optimus Prime says:

    I honestly just care about direct aisle access… If the food turns out to be “Meal Deals” from Boots that’s fine by me 😀

    • Tom Cook says:

      +1

      • sunguy says:

        Sitting on a BA plane from EDI to LHR on Sunday in Business, watching several folks bring on pizza to the plane in Economy just reminded me of how “classy” BA has become….

        Im not saying there is anything wrong with people bringing on their own food, but, it shows a similar mentality to the LCCs … better, cheaper (and smellier) food available in the terminal than on-board…..

        • Anna says:

          We’ll be taking our own sandwiches on our CE flights to Nice in a few weeks. Minimal cost and I know the kids won’t turn their noses up at them! Anything that makes BA think again about BOB has to be a good thing.

        • Anna says:

          ET not CE, sorry! I am obviously getting too used to the Good Life ????

  • Bagoly says:

    Given that there are some pretty acceptable seats already on the market, why go bespoke?
    If you are competing to provider the best product (like ME3) then I can see why.

    But if group strategy is to minimise costs (which are not just initial design, but knock-on effects from unexpected delays etc) which is what IAG focus on, then the logical answer would seem to be to use an Iberia/Aer Lingus seat.

  • Red-eye Jedi says:

    I now fly AA to NY after having to sleep in the middle of the 2-4-2 configuration with BA, which was like being in a double bed with a stranger. All of the nearby overhead locker space was also full because you don’t get your own allocated overhead like you do on AA. Not to mention the better sleep on the AA flights as there seems to be more legroom and privacy. Lets hope they get this right as Im in no hurry to return to BA. Also how can they always run out of the beef? Just order more as its the most popular dish, my 5k ticket just hopefully cover it.

  • Tom Murray says:

    Good concise article Rob, but I too regret BA’s ‘don’t care’ management attitude to its pax. Travel a lot CE and two or three times a year long haul – generally WTP.
    Currently silver as is wife and only once (early a.m. to BOS) have we ever had a CW upgrade (and that into the centre of the 2/4/2
    I almost always find the crew hard working and personable but morale is poor and resources lacking. We are used to it but still press on flying the flag….
    T5 lounge is ok tho 🙂

    • sunguy says:

      At least the T5 lounges get bacon rolls for the morning…..EDI gets begger all…. ! The other 2 lounges at EDI have bacon rolls – but none in Galleries!

    • Tom says:

      Interesting – I also had a WTP -> CW upgrade on an early AM flight, albeit to JFK last year. Again, filling the centre of the 2-4-2 on a 747.

      Clearly the slot to target!

  • VP says:

    OT: Just wanted to mention a postive experience we had with BA recently. We had a flight recently from Rotterdam to London City airport. As Rotterdam is on Rob’s list of airport with no lounges we had no expectations but were surprised to be given two 15 Euros voucers to be used at the airport restaurant after security.

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