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British Airways launches its ‘Book with Confidence’ guarantee – but is it enough?

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Things are not in good shape over at the British Airways Waterside head office.  I believe that senior management were working over the weekend in an attempt to draw up some sort of strategy to secure the Summer flying programme, but it is difficult.

EDIT: ‘Book With Confidence’ ended on 7th June 2022.  Bookings made after this date are not covered by the guarantee.  Bookings made up to 7th June, for travel by 30th September 2022, can still be cancelled or amended without charge.

British Airways has launched ‘Book with Confidence’

Today we have seen the first response – the ‘Book with Confidence’ guarantee.

Unfortunately, it isn’t good enough and won’t have any impact.

British Airways BA A380 flying

This is how it works:

For NEW bookings, and ONLY new bookings, made from Tuesday 3rd March to Monday 16th March, you will able to change your flight without paying any change fees.

This applies to all cabins on all routes.

However:

you cannot request a refund

you must pay the fare difference if you want to move your flight to a date which is more expensive than the price you paid

It’s not enough, in my view.

What else can British Airways do to drive bookings?

Very little, frankly.  We are potentially at a point where demand for flights is not driven by price.  For example, if I travel to Hong Kong now then my children would be forced to stay away from school for two weeks when I return.   I won’t be going, however good a deal I may be able to get.

Another issue for British Airways is that it set a bad precedent last week by removing the option of a refund on coronavirus-heavy routes.

Even on routes like Seoul, where a lot of weekly flights have been cut, those passengers booked on the remaining services cannot get a refund.  If you got lucky and your flight was cancelled, you have a legal right to your money back.

Take a look, on the other hand, at what hotel group Melia is currently advertising:

You get a big discount on your room BUT you also retain the right to cancel.  Melia is gambling that a flexible approach will win it bookings.

Perhaps BA needs to take the same option and make all flight bookings refundable.  Even if you are planning to fly somewhere which is not caught up in coronavirus, you are still at risk.  If it turns out that, the previous week, you had visited somewhere else where an outbreak has suddenly errupted, you are likely to be blocked from flying to your ‘safe place’.  It is even possible, although I admit hugely unlikely, that we could end up in a position where UK residents were banned from entering certain countries.

The airline industry is acting like the end is nigh ….

If anyone thought that the airline industry might be able to muddle its way through coronavirus, two other announcements on Monday have probably put pay to that.

Cathay Pacific announced that it is cancelling 75% of flights in March 

Closer to home, Lufthansa Group announced that is cutting up to 25% of its short-haul and medium-haul flights, as well as grounding 23 long-haul aircraft

Cutting flights to Asia is one thing, but cutting huge swathes of your European network is something else.

Grounding aircraft doesn’t stop you losing money of course – the leases still have to be paid, as do salaried pilots and cabin crew – but it helps.

If you think that British Airways is cushioned by its North Atlantic routes, think again.  Over the weekend, for example, GlaxoSmithKline banned all but essential staff travel.  It even banned Glaxo-induced travel by third parties, so clients may not fly in to visit the Glaxo offices.  Glaxo is one of the top 5 (perhaps THE) biggest British Airways corporate customer – the American Airlines flight from Heathrow to Raleigh-Durham, part of the BA/AA transatlantic joint venture, was reportedly set up purely for Glaxo’s benefit. It also dominates premium seats on the Philadelphia route.

British Airways cannot ground its planes, because it will lose its Heathrow slots

British Airways would, I’m sure, love to ground parts of its fleet temporarily.  Except it can’t.

We have covered the Heathrow Airport slot rules before, but in simple terms an airline has to use a landing and take-off on 80% of dates during an airline ‘season’ or it is automatically forfeited.

You might think that there are rules in place to cover events such as coronavirus, but there aren’t.  From what I can tell, there was no dispensation after 9/11, no dispensation for SARS and no dispensation in the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse.

British Airways has no choice but to keep on flying aircraft because if it doesn’t, it won’t have the slots to fly them next year or the year after.

This is not an exclusively UK phenomenon.  The International Air Transport Association said on Monday it was contacting aviation regulators globally to request that the usual rules on the use of take-off and landing slots be suspended.   There is no guarantee that this will happen, however, especially as airlines are queuing up to get into Heathrow.

There is one option open to British Airways.  The airline can begin to ground parts of the long-haul fleet, especially the inefficient seat-heavy Boeing 747 and A380 aircraft.  The Heathrow short-haul flying programme will suddenly be increased, not shrunk, with British Airways wet-leasing aircraft from other operators if necessary to ensure that those slots are filled.

Wherever there is a coronavirus-free spot in Europe, you may find it overrun with BA tail fins this Spring and Summer ….

Long-term, of course, this is an outstanding opportunity for British Airways.  IAG has lots (€4bn) of cash on hand (especially now that it has refused to pay a staff bonus for 2019 …..) and would be ‘last man standing’.

A quick look at the Norwegian share price for the last month (note that this graph does not scale from zero, so it is less dramatic than it looks):

Norwegian share price

….. shows you that the market believes they are at severe risk again now.  Similarly, you have to worry about Flybe even with its focus on domestic routes.

You don’t need to worry about the future of British Airways, however.   You can imagine a scenario in 12 months time where BA is stronger than ever, having picked up Norwegian’s Gatwick slots for peanuts after its bankruptcy and the Flybe routes from London City and Heathrow.  It may even get some additional Heathrow slots from other airlines who have no choice but to forfeit them.  It will be a bumpy ride on the way though.


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Comments (223)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Simon says:

    Cranky flier is good on this today. US carriers have similar policies.

  • BJ says:

    Thanks Rob, a good read. Isn’t the slot thing a bit silly though. If things get very bad in the UK is the government really going to stand by and let airlines massively increase the risk of spreading the virus by resorting to all sorts of shenanigans to protect slots?

    • Lady London says:

      Do you seriously want to hear the answer to that BJ? 🙂

      • BJ says:

        A very good question!

      • Polly says:

        If it gets out in the press, pressure should be put to bear to change that policy immediately. Idiots.

    • Polly says:

      I was on the LGW disaster planning team at LGW for the 1st Gulf war body repat prep. Planned to use our Dan Air hanger to receive. Thank god never needed. There were, (and hopefully still are ) some smart medics at the CAA and WHO who should influence that slot issue. It’s the most idiotic policy ever.

      • Alex Sm says:

        Apparently, all the brave senior civil servants have resigned and SpAds would never take responsibility

  • Palti says:

    I’m travelling this week to dubai (thursday to monday)
    I’m a bit concerned about the whole virus
    Should I just cancel my holiday trip?
    Really in a pickle here

    • Dave says:

      Don’t be daft!

    • Pareet Shah says:

      I’ll take one for the team and go on your behalf

    • JamesR says:

      Dont cancel. The media are having a fantastic time with all this. Check out the number of normal flu infections and worse per year. No ones buying masks and cancelling everything because of those, Enjoy your time in the hot sunshine!

      • Freddy says:

        True but the normal flu doesn’t force me to quarantine for 14 days

        • Shoestring says:

          USA is just starting to realise today that pussycat virus was already rife in certain states, they only bothered to check a couple of old people who died in the last few days – all the others had mild symptoms, thought it was just a sniffle & recovered

          now they’ll step up testing

        • Daft says:

          Who exactly is going to ‘force’ you?

    • PGW says:

      Sorry but I really do not see any point in asking complete strangers a “should I cancel” question on a website such as this nor the value of replies devoid of the slightest awareness individual’s circumstances.

      • Shoestring says:

        it’s a perfectly good point but actually anonymous answers can be quite helpful

        the accumulated wisdom can be wonderful, particularly for people who can filter the wheat from the chaff re: answers

        by asking the question, people release some tension and ‘tell’ somebody their concern

        often there’s a ‘build’ in play – ie you get a suggestion you can build on/ or somebody suggests something, another person builds on that and perfects the answer

        • John says:

          Repeated use of “pussycat virus” certainly demonstrates lack of wisdom. And it isn’t wonderful.

          • Shoestring says:

            otoh it could turn out this was another pussycat virus like the last 5

          • TGLoyalty says:

            It’s unfortunate for those that died but it really is, if you are a heathy individual you’ll be fine. If you or someone close to you has a compromised immune system/old aged then be cautious because you could be in that 1%.

            Norovirus is far more of an issue for example.

        • Mike says:

          I find Harrys description of “pussycat virus” puts it into perspective and cuts through the media hype………39 cases in a UK population of 66 million…..

      • Lady London says:

        Some book on this called “The Wisdom of Crowds” or something.

        • Rob says:

          Correct. For example, if you ask 200 people how many sweets are in a jar, various tests (apparently) have shown that the AVERAGE will be remarkably accurate even though the individual guesses will be all over the place.

          • Cat says:

            I’m not sure who the author tested this on, but my form group have done this as a charity fundraiser for several years now, and in my school that has never been the case. They might just be an exceptionally unwise crowd though!

          • Lady London says:

            Think it’s 500 that you need. I passed stats by taking good notes and showing workings even though I understood nothing.
            But this I remember – Cat will know better but apparently you only need a sample of 500 for most things and the answer wil drop out.

    • Mat says:

      Look, the only scary thing (at the moment) is the quarantine. I’d hate bing stuck in one place with no end date and only having contact with those poeple in suits! Unless you have a very weak immune system, you are highly unlikely to be affected in any major way. Go and ejoy your trip 🙂

    • Will says:

      It’s a good question.
      We should err on the side of caution with this virus for many possible reasons the root cause of all of them being that we don’t understand enough about it to make a considered risk assessment on it and if it does pose a significant risk then it will be too late once it’s widespread.

      To those suggesting ignoring quarantine I wonder if you’re so cavalier when it comes to vaccinations. Quarantine isn’t about the risk to you, it’s about protecting society.

      It may well be that closing travel and banking public gatherings 2 weeks ago could have prevented or at least given more time to prepare for a much worse situation.

      Spanish flu was relatively normal until it mutated into a deadly strain, I see no guarantee that this virus cannot do the same. It may be unlikely but are we really living in a world where we are so careless with regards to risk?

      It’s about what could happen worst case, not what is most likely to happen because the worst case here is not acceptable.

      • Lady London says:

        Well said, Will
        As you say, it’s about the common good and being a bit cautious till we know.
        The mutation thing is possibly how someone in the US has it now without any inter-person transfer or foreign exposure

        • Alex Sm says:

          I can’t understand what’s wrong or bad in spending two weeks resting and reading (finally!), being taken care of and being paid! then going home healthy and proud

  • Rich says:

    Heathrow’s lack of flexibility in slot rules is not exactly earning them good PR

    Heathrow: Demand is so high that we need another runway
    Also Heathrow: Demand is so low that you must fly empty planes around to keep your slots

    I know it’s more complicated than that, snd short term vs long term, but it’s all a bit stupid.

  • James says:

    Norwegian’s bankruptcy? You might want to be careful with speculation like that

  • aDifferentSimon says:

    Could be some cheap alitalia slots going by the end of the year. #ifthisdoesntfinishthemnothingwill

  • Anna says:

    Purely selfish OT – is the Cathay Pacific lounge in T3 likely to remain open for the foreseeable future?

    • Shoestring says:

      can only hazard a guess but it’s a prime route for Cathay so you’d have to say most definitely yes

      airlines got over 9/11 aftermath without closing lounges

      as a cost-saving measure, it’s self-destructive, hurting your very best consumers

      • Harry T says:

        They’ve closed a lot of lounges in HKG, but then they have a lot of lounges there!

      • marcw says:

        But they could go to the BA lounge. Thy’ve close a few lounges in HKG, where his most loyal customers live.

        • Shoestring says:

          but the BA lounges (Business & First) are normally too busy – whereas the Cathay lounges are peaceful

          sure, I guess they could reduce capacity & join together

          • marcw says:

            That´s normal conditions… pretty sure comercial aviation is living and unprecedented phenomenon these days.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          I believe they are paid by other ow members for visits so may not be such an issue while BA keeps flying.

      • Alex Sm says:

        Actually, Rob, will you care to run an article (instead of repeating old stuff about checkin desk in Cromwell road) about how airlines did or did not survive the 9/11 aftermath. Key milestones, main lessons learned, most inventive ways by airlines to lure travelling public back in etc. Many readers here do not remember this at all either because they were too young (@Rhys might not have been even born!) or just didn’t care back then but now they do. What do you think?

        • Rob says:

          I’m sure this is all out there somewhere online – it really isn’t a good use of a full day of someones HFP time to be honest.

          • Alex Sm says:

            Yup, there is a lot of stuff online, including all the hotel and airline promos you cover here 😉 but you still run the website. But as you can see from comments people are worried about travel disruptions because of coronavirus and what could happen next. 9/11 is the closest event by its impact so it would be useful to compare and learn from the past. It will be more useful than the list of business class sale fares 90% of which are useless for 90% of the readers…

          • Rob says:

            How am I supposed to fit in my Daily Mail pieces, LBC Radio interviews and BBC chats? 🙂 Had to put on my TV clothes today just in case …..

    • DiploDoug says:

      Cathay lounge in T3 was very empty yesterday, lovely and peaceful

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