One of the anomalies of the British Airways fleet was its ex-BMI A321s. Put simply, these were short-haul aircraft equipped with ‘almost flat’ beds in Business Class.
The fleet was acquired in 2012 when British Airways bought bmi British Midland.
Over the years, a number of these aircraft were converted to a standard Club Europe short haul configuration. Four of them kept the original BMI flat bed cabins, albeit undergoing refurbishment. These were the aircraft registered as G-MEDF, G-MEDG, G-MEDJ and G-MEDU.
BA’s niche business class cabin
What made this fleet special was the Club cabin. Like the all-business class A318 used on flights from London City to New York, the ex-BMI aircraft did not have the standard short haul aircraft seating.
Instead of the usual Club Europe cabin with a blocked middle seat or the yin-yang long haul Club World cabin, the ex-BMI A321s had an alternating 1-2 and 2-1 business class seat:
…which meant that, if you were lucky or planned in advance, you could nab yourself a ‘throne’ seat with a full half-row to yourself:
This was clearly an upgrade from Club Europe on other aircraft. British Airways used the fleet for longer and more premium ‘mid haul’ routes.
Whilst not completely lie-flat, they offered a compromise between the short and long haul fleets, offering additional comfort on some of BA’s longer routes. The following routes often saw these mid-haul aircraft:
- Tel Aviv
They were also seen on certain short haul sectors to fill a few hours between arriving from one mid-haul destination and heading off to the next one.
It looks like these aircraft are being retired. Multiple readers – mainly booked to Amman – have told us that their mid-haul flights have switched over to the standard short haul configuration.
For example, Moscow will use an A320 whilst Amman gets an A321neo. Competition from Virgin Atlantic means that Tel Aviv will use a Boeing 787 with long haul seating.
With the exception of Tel Aviv, this also means a move to Club Europe catering rather than the Club World catering that has traditionally existed on these routes. I imagine the short haul aircraft replacing the A321 fleet simply don’t have the galley space to offer more comprehensive service.
This is, to be honest, unacceptable. The A321neo has the tightest seating of any short-haul British Airways aircraft. For a five hour flight it would be unpleasant, even in Club Europe.
For Amman, British Airways should simply throw in the towel and let its oneworld partner Royal Jordanian take over. When Rob reviewed Amman to Heathrow on Royal Jordanian in 2018 he got a flat bed on a brand new Boeing 787.
In flight entertainment and other Club World services will also be dropped on these flights. They will be bog standard Club Europe flights.
Destined for the scrap heap?
These aircraft are not particularly old. The oldest has been flying since 2002 whilst the youngest mid haul aircraft is G-MEDU, which has been around since 2009.
The lifespan of an aircraft is partially determined by its pressurisation cycles. One flight, with a pressurisation and depressurisation, counts as a single cycle against an aircraft’s age.
In 2008, Airbus announced its intentions to support the A320 family of aircraft up to 60,000 cycles, or 60,000 individual flights.
As the ex-BMI fleet were used on longer routes they will have fewer cycles than an A320 used on shorter domestic and European flights.
They may, however, be reaching the aircraft’s designed flight-hour limit, which is targetted for 120,000 hours.
Alternatively, British Airways may simply be biting the bullet and refitting these as standard short haul aircraft. There isn’t much logic to this, however – why spend money to hugely reduce the customer experience? The airline will struggle to retain premium customers on the routes where these aircraft used to fly.
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