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The end of ‘mid haul’ aircraft at British Airways as it withdraws the ex-BMI A321 fleet?

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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.

BMI A321 retired by British Airways

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:

British Airways withdraws its ex-BMI A321 flat bed business class aircraft

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:

  • Amman
  • Beirut
  • Cairo
  • Moscow
  • 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.

British Airways to withdraw ex-BMI A321

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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Comments (49)

  • Lumma says:

    Wonder if they’ll still keep charging the astronomical cash prices on these mid haul routes and full taxes on avios bookings.

    Would be nice if they switched to reward flight saver on these routes and also included Tel Aviv to get a low tax club world redemption to compete with Virgin Atlantic on that route

    • Charlieface says:

      We can but dream…
      Return taxes are over £120 in economy IIRC, never mind club

    • Alex Sm says:

      Moscow has always been a reward flight saver! I used it several times and if you are canny enough to book two one-way tix, you can even save some £££

  • TGLoyalty says:

    You’d think all these routes were better served by a 787-8. I guess the only issue is these are 4 class aircraft.

    Or BA pick up some of the A32xLR that Aer Lingus has already ordered. Wasn’t part of IAGs master plan that any aircraft should be able to be used by any of their airlines?

    5 hours is too long for Club Europe seat theyll lose all their real premium customers on these routes.

    • Genghis says:

      I thought all 788s are 3 class?

      • TGLoyalty says:

        You’re right it’s the 9 that’s 4 class

        • Alex Sm says:

          They put 787 on the Moscow route but often withdrew at short notice. TWICE did I book tix for a badly timed flight to get a 787 and it was replaced by other aircraft on both occasions

    • Paul says:

      3 hours is too long!!!

  • ankomonkey says:

    On the CAI route with the mid-haul plane, BA charge 3 times the economy Avios for business, along with hefty fees. I hope the equipment downgrade sees CAI become part of RFS and the business multiple becomes 2, just like RFS.

  • Alastair says:

    I have few regrets in life but one thing I am deeply annoyed with myself about is not making an effort to arrange for an upgrade on Amman -> LHR on one of these with my mother. I saw they had availability at check in but it wouldn’t work online. It ended up being longer because of a diversion around Israel for some reason, and it was pushing the limits of what we would consider enjoybable for a holiday. Taking that flight on a neo in any class, with no IFE etc would be complete madness compared to going RJ though.

  • Ian says:

    I’ve flown the Amman-LHR route with RJ and had the excellent 787 one way but a tired old A321 on the return. Still a hell of a lot better than BA CE but bear in mind that the standard of cabin service with RJ is generally way below that of BA.

  • Soloflyer1977 says:

    I once flew these on a LHR-DUB flight around 8 years ago – luxury for a 50 min flight!

  • memesweeper says:

    I wonder if Virgin might consider launching Moscow, Cairo and Amman now too? Not like their dreamliners are going anywhere else.

    • Yorkieflyer says:

      I assume there are issues re flying rights although there was an agreement with Russia that led to ezy starting flights

      • memesweeper says:

        EasyJet also fly to Jordan and Egypt … here’s hoping!

      • ChrisW says:

        Russia will never be a popular tourist destination for British travellers until they remove their expensive and cumbersome visa requirement.

        I think Egypt is still considered a little too unsafe for many tourists.

        Jordan is a fabulous destination – you can easily see the entire country in a week. Would love to see more people go there

        • Mr. AC says:

          You can already get an e-visa online for St. Petersburg, Moscow in in the works (and presumably the rest of the country). Only for citizens of 51 countries, including all of the continental Europe – but UK explicitly excluded! Maybe this will change, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

        • Lumma says:

          +1 for holiday in Jordan. Cash prices on BA and RJ direct from London are ludicrous though. I went last autumn with Ryanair (last leg on BA) with stopovers in Vilnius and Malta. Total flight cost under £150. More convenient routes were available but I’d never been to Lithuania or Malta before. Direct from London is often over £600 in economy.

  • ChrisW says:

    I don’t think BA give up on routes based on competitors superior products. If they did they would have canned Doha years ago.

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