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Is British Airways disguising food and drink cost cuts as health measures? Let’s compare.

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We have given British Airways a fairly easy ride over its in-flight service standards in recent weeks.  There were a number of reasons for this:

the very fact that BA is running any long haul passenger services is a good result compared to many other airlines

we haven’t been flying ourselves and we try to minimise articles based on third party feedback

other airlines hadn’t settled down into routines of their own

the only people flying long-haul are those who had to travel, and food would not have been top of their priority list

However, I think we’re now past the inflection point in terms of travel demand.  This means that it is time to ask whether British Airways is just disguising cost cutting in the name of ‘health’.

EDIT: Since this article was published, British Airways has announced improved temporary coronavirus catering – see here.

If you fly British Airways Club World or First Class at present, this is what you will get to eat and drink:

British Airways food and drink during coronavirus

A bottle of Harrogate spring water, plus ….

British Airways food and drink during coronavirus

…. a cold sandwich (not as attractive as this one), plus ….

British Airways food and drink during coronavirus

…. lovingly served in a ……

British Airways food and drink during coronavirus

….. which is hooked on the back of your seat waiting for you when you board.

To be fair, there are stories of reheated pizza slices in a cardboard box on flights over 10 hours, so you MIGHT get something warm.  The images I’ve seen are not pretty though.

Don’t get too excited by the four-finger Kit Kat.  A reader sent me a photo from his First Class flight from Los Angeles last week and he only received two fingers, which seems appropriate in some ways.  He did get the congealed reheated pizza slice as well though.

If you think this is normal in the current climate, think again.

Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways are serving their standard onboard food.  Qatar Airways and Etihad have, admittedly, moved to a ‘single tray’ service but the product itself is unchanged.  What about the European airlines though?

Lufthansa first class food and drink during coronavirus

What is Lufthansa currently offering onboard?

If you think that the Middle Eastern airlines are not a fair comparison for some reason, let’s look at Lufthansa.

Here are Lufthansa’s revised service standards in Business and First Class for flights until the end of August.

Short haul Lufthansa business class:

Standard service, including special meals

(In case you’re wondering, British Airways currently offers Club Europe passengers a bottle of water and a small packet of shortbread.  What is amusing is that the shortbread is BA’s idea of ‘luxury’ to justify the extra £200 or so on the ticket price.  Passengers in Euro Traveller only receive a pack of pretzels with their bottle of water.  There are occasional sightings of bags of crisps and biscuits.)

Long haul Lufthansa business class:

Standard service, except that there are no regionally themed menus depending on route

Paper menus continue to be available, and there is a choice of three main courses including the hot options

Long haul Lufthansa First Class:

Standard service – the same menu as usual BUT the caviar trolley no longer rolls down the aisle (here is a photo of mine from 2017, the photo above is my dessert from 2017):

Lufthansa first class food and drink during coronavirus


Lufthansa first class food and drink during coronavirus

It is worth noting that Virgin Atlantic WILL be serving hot meals in both Economy and Upper Class when it restarts passenger flights next month.

However, if you do need to travel long-haul First Class over the next 2-3 months, remember that you DO have a choice.  There is either the Lufthansa caviar selection and full standard menu (and standard beverage service) or your British Airways plastic bag with a sandwich, Kit Kat, bottle of water and no alcohol.  Think carefully …..

British Airways BA Amex American Express

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Comments (183)

  • CV3V says:

    you just reminded me of a Kevin Bridges sketch on the difference between sh!t and sh!te (its on youtube), you used the correct spelling.

    I have a 241 booked with them in Dec too, and i hope for a return to normality by then, if not, i wont let it ruin my travel plans perhaps the crew in Business will let me reheat some leftovers i take on board.

  • Pete M says:

    On short-haul, it was crisps and water on the way out to Berlin two weeks ago. Then crisps, a cookie, water AND a hot drink on the way back last week. Same for passengers in J – not sure I’d have been too happy about that, but it felt positively luxurious in the back.
    Flying the same route in J next week, something tells me I’ll be very disappointed…

  • Paul Mills says:

    Hi HFP. Thanks very much for highlighting this issue. A very informative article! I work for Virgin Atlantic – and just wanted to highlight that we will be offering hot entrees in Economy (not just Upper), and indeed a very similar service overall in Economy to what we offered before Covid19. And in Upper we will be offering a “close to normal” service. More news on that to follow! Thanks. Paul

  • raoul says:

    typical BA…

  • Staythecourse says:

    Time to vote with your feet with BA. They treat their staff with contempt and their passengers too! A national disgrace!

  • Oz says:

    Turning back to the question “ Is British Airways disguising food and drink cost cuts as health measures”. I think it probably is saving a considerable amount but the amount of miles remains the same. I’m just wondering if BA have awarded Avios as compensation on a Business or First ticket since the new “economy” catering and lounge access was introduced? If so what do you think is appropriate fo a 15-20 hr flight?

    • Rhys says:

      BA’s longest flights are around 14 hours!

      • Oz says:

        Hi Rhys. We were on Sydney to LHR (had to stay on plane in Singapore) then shuttle to Manchester. So probably over 24 hrs!!

        • Rhys says:

          I think most people would count that as two flights! I certainly did when I flew to Sydney via Singapore….

          • ChrisC says:

            But normally everyone gets off so they can clean the plane and change the crew and so passengers have to walk to go back through security / go to the lounge / toilet / shops So basically get their legs moving.

            Not much scope for moving about a plane when trying to remain socially distant,

    • Journeying John says:

      BA are currently in the process of withholding legally due refunds for flights simply not delivered, WHY on earth do you think they’d contemplate such a reasonable measure as compensating for the absence of advertised catering?
      BA don’t deliver the marketed product in normal times “sorry sir, we’ve run out” is the usual refrain in Club world if you’re in anything after row 2 but they offer nothing by way of compensation even in normal times. Strategies like ordering special meals even without a dietary requirement don’t work because in my experience at least 50% of the time these special meals aren’t loaded…
      Messrs Walsh and Cru offer yet another reason to choose an alternative, genuinely quality brand.

      • Andrw says:

        I regularly travel with a mate who orders special meals. It’s a 50:50 chance with Virgin and BA. United and Delta get it right every time.

  • jimA says:

    So how much does this save BA per long haul flight in hot food and booze ? Cleary a lot more for 1st class than economy but how much ???

    • Rob says:

      No more than £7-£8 all in for Club World.

      • Dubious says:

        Does that take into account economies of scale? I assume with the hot foods in a low demand environment the incremental cost per item is higher.

    • AJA says:

      Normally catering costs between £2 and £10 per passenger depending on whether it’s economy or First class and based on the usual number of flights catered. Not sure how much they’re paying for the current offering (I’d guess under £1 per passenger) but given the very light loads and small number of flights it’s definitely saving BA some money but the issue is for how much longer they can get away with doing this before people vote with their feet and go to the competition or even choose to turn right for less on board their own aircraft. The loss in revenue from 1st and CW must surely be more than the difference in cost between providing a better catering service than currently offered. That’s before you consider the revenue impact in terms of loss of goodwill.

      • AndyW says:

        I try to get through minimum half a bottle of lpgs on my few flights in first. Got one end of October, 10 hour flight, so was going to go for the full bottle (travelling without the kids!).. hopefully things are returning to normal by then…

  • Chris D says:

    British Airways is a disgrace. I just took a look at their business class prices and they remain the same if not more expensive than competitors who are offering a full meal service.
    They are running a low cost model but charging luxury prices. Absolutely disgusting.

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