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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)

  • ChrisC says:

    What also makes these cuts worse is that at many airports there are no food and drink outlets where you can stock up on something beforehand yourself, I don’t count Boots and Smiths as food outlets.

    And no lounges either and bringing something from home is not usually top of the list either. And even then you can’t get drink through security anyway.

  • Mike says:

    Sure, Lufthansa might well be providing full service but they have still been happily expiring my miles as per usual whilst other airlines / hotels have been extending them…

    • Rhys says:

      BA hasn’t exactly been exemplary on the loyalty front either!

  • HarryB. says:

    That’s a great article and just like we celebrate good practices we should also expose such examples of blatant sub-standard service.
    In the last decade BA is doing a great job at providing a budget service at legacy prices. It might some more time but eventually the penny will drop,

    • Mawalt says:

      Absolute agree with this – this site has enough frequent flyers, both readers and “commenters”, to be noticed so this is a good way of bringing major issues to the attention of airlines.

  • Anna says:

    I am guessing the young man who sat in front of me (in 1A) on an F flight to JFK last year won’t be bothered by any of this. Throughout the flight he only consumed water and trail mix which he had brought on board himself! He also spent a significant chunk of the flight doing yoga in the aisle.This was in contrast to the gentleman in 2K who knocked back at least 2 full bottles of claret while working on his laptop having stripped down to vest and shorts after boarding. It was very interesting to observe how the other half travels!

    • Rhys says:

      I think anyone that travels in business or first class regularly can be considered part of the ‘other half’ 😉

  • Bob says:

    Honest question: How come and why BA charges premium prices but provide subpar service in all classes? Is it because they are managed poorly, they are not efficient? Are the stakeholders greedy? Or are they paying top money to their staff? Being an UK based airline, I can only guess that their staff&rent costs are more than the airlines in other countries.
    And main other question is, how and why people fly BA while there are better alternatives, especially Business class? Just because Avios?
    I’ve moved to the UK (London) a couple of years ago, and I don’t understand the logic here. I don’t see the difference between Easyjet and British Airways in terms of flight experience.

    • Rhys says:

      I think we all wonder that! Personally, I think it’s a mixture of prioritising shareholder profits (IAG is one of the most profitable airline groups in Europe) and a workplace culture where cutting costs is more important than customer experience. That’s not to say that there aren’t people at BA who care, but as a company the airline seems less customer-friendly. Compare it with Virgin, which is far less profitable than BA, and their huge focus on customer experience.

      The weird thing is that a lot of these customer-friendly initiatives don’t actually cost all that much, and are certainly dwarfed by the cost of fuel for every flight. I’m not sure it would actually cost BA all that much more if it implemented little details that delight customers. As an example, I can’t imagine that a ‘hygiene pack’ with face masks, sanitiser etc like the one Virgin just revealed costs much, but it has a huge effect on customer confidence. Yet BA don’t appear to be rolling out anything similar, despite launching a ‘welcome back’ message on the homepage.

      Whilst BA has been making improvements in the last couple years with Club Suite and the move to Do&Co catering and the BA100 amenity kit which was a nice touch, the communication and PR during the lockdown has been pretty bad.

      • Ralph says:

        Profits are not just for shareholders, they are needed for there to be re-investment in the business – new Club Suite, new aircraft, lounge upgrades etc. These are all expensive and have to be paid for. BA’s normal target dividend payout ratio is only 25% (although they may pay additional special dividends or do share buybacks).

        As to why people stick with BA, like all the airline / card products covered on HfP, it depends on your personal circumstances. For us, Heathrow is vastly more convenient and comfortable than any other London airport and T5 is good. BA has the range of destinations and schedules with direct flights, it has Avios, it has the Amex 2 for 1, it offers F class on long haul and Club in Europe which, at a certain age, is far preferable to Easyjet/Ryanair offering a significantly more comfortable overall travel experience and on Avios or cheap Club deals is good value. Qatar is brilliant, particularly to Australia where a break and walk between flights (not just the BA SIN brief transit) is very welcome and adds very little if any travel time, but to many destinations where you can fly direct, for the the extra travel time or contorted routings the comfort/savings are just not worth it. BA is far from perfect, but I think people are overcritical; nobody seems to like their national airlines!

        • Doug M says:

          “Profits are not just for shareholders, they are needed for there to be re-investment in the business – new Club Suite, new aircraft, lounge upgrades etc. These are all expensive and have to be paid for.” All of which is true for all airlines. Why are BA different, assuming you believe they are.

          • Ralph says:

            They aren’t so different, albeit whatever they do needs to be done without bailouts or other government support. They still suffer from a huge and costly pension problem that most computers save LH don’t have.

            They have quite a product / aircraft renewal catch up to replace 747+777 fleet and the A319’s all of which are 15+ years old, fuel inefficient and not CO2 friendly. That is a bill of £12bn in the next three years. My point was that BA is a shareholder friendly airline, but it is actually reinvesting most of the profits for the benefit of customers (and consequently hopefully for shareholders) rather paying them out as dividend.

          • Lady London says:

            If you check up on some of British Airways’s comments to the pensions industry (or rather, press releases of people who’ve done buy-ins (i.e.taken pension liability away from BA permanently) totalling about £1 billion off British Airways in the past couple of years or so, and apparently with recent statements that British Airways is on their way to a complete buy-out (i.e.loses all pension liabilities) of British Airways pensions in very very few years, British Airways appears to be giving the pensions industry the impression that the pension liabilities thing is practically gone.

            I would expect that to be the pension situation for British Airways.And that’s without the following winds in the next few years that will bring getting rid of the pension liabilities and the monster long-maintained deficits many companies have not remedied for 1- 2 decades or more, much closer to the endgame i.e. a buyout (getting rid) of all their pension liabilities.My personal estimate is 4- 5 years for 80% of large company defined benefit schemes to be bought out.

            British Airways will be in a much better position than where I imagine LH and quite a few legacy European airlines will be, on the pensions and benefits front very shortly. They are a success story of de-nationalisation.

          • Ralph says:

            @ Lady London – you are one of the most perspicacious and interesting commentators on this site! However, I don’t think you are right about the BA pensions issues which seems probably seems rather arcane to most, but has a massive impact on everything BA does. Lady London is right that BA is reducing the problem, partly by throwing huge amounts of cash at it during the good times. In the 2019 Capital Markets day presentation at slide 143 (!) they show that in 2018 and 2019 they paid c.£700m in each of those years. In the three years 2020-2022 they will pay a total of £1.4bn, so reducing but still a huge drag on the business not suffered by most competitors. Rob said a few days ago that it was due to insufficient contributions in the past which may explain some of it, but these former state businesses that used to employ vast numbers of people (? at least 3 more staff at privatisation in 1987) suffer from this – BT, British Steel, British Gas, water & electricity cos etc.

            Any business that starts its year with a £450m negative cash cost / loss that its competitors don’t suffer has to be quite brutal in everything it does.

      • Mark says:

        Virgin used to be customer focused, but with the way their customers have been treated with complete contempt I can’t see them coming back from this.

        They’ve not issued a single refund without the threat of legal action or through a chargeback or S75.

        They try and fob people off saying they’re still processing refunds from MARCH!! so they’ve still not processed refunds for the first two weeks of lockdown!!!

        There complete liars and they need to be held accountable.

    • ChrisBCN says:

      They ‘charge premium prices but provide subpar service’ because they can – their load factor is good. Mixture of monopoly issues, lack of customer inertia to switch, loyalty & corporate tie ins, flight timings, people being unaware other airlines can be better etc.

      Plus, it’s not ALWAYS premium prices, there are a huge range of prices for each class of service depending on when you book, how you pay (avios/cash), corporate discounts…

      And subpar service is in the eye of the beholder. Whilst I would be upset to receive a bag with a sandwich inside in first, there are others who do not know what others provide (like my mother!) who would say that at least they are trying to give something and would be OK about it. Oh to be able to turn the clock back and cope with low standards.

  • Steve O'Harat says:

    I think I speak for a lot of us when I say the reason we “put up” with BA is fundamentally down to the fact we can use the 241 voucher. That’s it. It’s an enormous saving. If any other airline offered this to UK customers I would say we would be jumping ship very quickly.

    • Stagger Lee says:

      Agreed. It’s the only reason I fly with them.

      Living in Leeds I’d be off to KLM in a heartbeat if they did a 241 voucher like this.

    • Anna says:

      I would agree to a great extent, though for us it’s also because we can use avios and 2 4 1s to offset ludicrous school holiday prices. BA gets a decent chunk of cash bookings from us as well at the moment. However, once we are travelling as a couple again, off-peak, we will definitely be looking in the direction of Qatar (and Virgin if they are still around), mainly because BA has no long-haul services from MAN, and very limited short haul also (I won’t be surprised if the summer regional flights are axed from this summer indefinitely).

      • Harry T says:

        As Anna rightly points out, 241s generally work well for travellers who lack flexibility with when they travel, or pax who find it convenient. If you can take advantage of sale fares or Ex EU flights, then a BA 241 often represents poor value vs cash, especially if you consider the superior flying experience with other airlines or the Avios and tier points you could earn flying with BA or other OW airlines for cash.

        Personally I see the BA 241 as a fairly reasonable value pair of business or first long haul tickets, considering the ever increasing taxes and charges constituting a meaty cash outlay when compared with other airline redemptions. I think the ability to cancel for £35 each is the most appealing part of the package.

  • Nick says:

    Well someone at BA has clearly read this post today… from 16 June enhanced catering will be introduced!!

    Now don’t all get excited at once… it’ll still be prepackaged cold food. But J/F will get a nicer ‘box meal’ than W/M (which won’t be differentiated). And second meals will also be served on long flights.

    Booze is back!!! Albeit not available in ET. CE/CW will have the same quarter-bottles of wine so slightly less choice than normal, but at least it will be there on request.

    For the first time ever CC will be expected to ‘clean’ as well as ‘security check’ the toilets during flights.

    Boarding and disembarkation will be controlled by row, with multiple doors used wherever possible to speed it up.

    IFE will be ‘reduced’. Not sure how this is related to ‘health’, so clearly just saving cost.

    • Anna says:

      Ha! They must have read my previous comment about popping a couple of bottles of wine in with the sandwich and KitKat.

      • Lady London says:

        I wanted half-bottles of champagne in the plastic carrier bag dahling.

    • Rhys says:

      Where have you spotted this?! Can’t find it anywhere!

    • Save East Coast Rewards says:

      “Well someone at BA has clearly read this post today… from 16 June enhanced catering will be introduced!!”
      Someone mentioned this on FlyerTalk yesterday but it was still a rumour at the time. Hopefully it’ll be confirmed if it hasn’t already.

  • ChrisC says:

    Sorry to be blunt but Oh dear.

    Flag Carrier is an out of date concept that needs to die. It means nothing and implies nothing these days.

    Even golds don’t get special treatment from BA let alone silver.

    Going ‘don’t you know who I am’ won’t get you anything different.

    You will get the onboard service that is offered at the time.

    • Rob says:

      Golds generally get first choice from the menu!

      Not that there is a menu at the moment …..

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