Good news: British Airways is making genuine improvements to its short haul catering.
It turns out that the news that British Airways would be dropping Marks & Spencer products is part of a larger service improvement in Euro Traveller (short haul economy).
There will be three changes to short haul Economy catering, due to kick in around 20th January:
Complimentary water and snacks to stay
For almost a year now, British Airways has been offering Economy passengers free water with crisps, biscuits or popcorn on short haul services.
The pre-corona ‘Buy on Board’ menu offered nothing for free, except for a free cup of hot water – but you had to bring your own teabag.
British Airways thinks these changes are worth keeping and is making them permanent.
It will cost British Airways very little to offer water and crisps but many passengers are likely to appreciate the gesture. Offering complimentary water and snacks will help to differentiate British Airways from other low cost carriers and – dare I say it – mark it out as a slightly-more-premium carrier.
The irony is that British Airways is improving its short haul proposition just as Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian are moving to the Buy on Board model that British Airways has had for the last five years. I’m not sure than anyone went as far as BA in removing all free items except for hot water.
Goodbye ‘Buy on Board’, hello ‘Buy Before You Fly’
You will have more options if a bottle of water and some crisps aren’t enough for you. Instead of ‘Buy on Board’, British Airways is introducing ‘Buy Before You Fly’ aka meal pre-ordering.
When ‘Buy on Board’ launched, British Airways positioned it as an improvement in customer choice, with a range of different options depending on what you fancied.
The implementation was a mess, however. The contractor, Tourvest, was forced to take stock risk. This meant that it was responsible for the cost of unsold food at the end of the day. Tourvest did the rational thing, in the circumstances, and only stocked the bare minimum of fresh items. Three sandwiches for a 100+ cabin was not unusual.
‘Buy on Board’ WAS an improvement in terms of choice, although it left those unwilling to buy anything high and dry. It also tied up cabin crew: taking orders, processing payments and preparing and delivering meals is significantly more time-consuming than handing out water and crisps. On shorter flights you were lucky to get your food before the aircraft started its descent.
(Of course, Ryanair and easyJet crews manage to successfully serve a far bigger menu to cabins with more seats than British Airways. The failure may have been in implementation, with half the crew tied up serving Club Europe leaving the much larger Euro Traveller cabin comparatively under-staffed.)
‘Buy Before You Fly’ combines the best of both systems. You can now choose to pre-order an item from the new ‘Speedbird Cafe’ up to twelve hours before departure.
This means you can guarantee something more substantial without having to gamble on whether BA will have sold out of what you want or not.
‘Buy Before You Fly’ will also extend to BA’s High Life Shop. You will be able to pre-order retail items such as perfume, sunglasses etc and have them delivered to your seat.
Food and drink will now be pre-order ONLY
The only downside to ‘Buy Before You Fly’ is that it is pre-order only. You won’t be able to buy any additional food in-flight. BA has told us they will listen to customer feedback and may change things in the future.
It isn’t clear if hot drinks must also be pre-ordered. BA told us that all ‘other food and drink items’ must be pre-ordered and pre-paid. It is also isn’t clear what happens if you order two coffees, two gin and tonics etc – are they all brought at once?
It appears that ordering will NOT be integrated into the BA app. Orders will be placed via highlifeshop.com. The logical thing would be to integrate it with the app and let people choose food, with the option to pay with Avios, whilst checking in.
Tom Kerridge takes over from M&S
When British Airways announced it was ditching Marks & Spencer for ‘Buy on Board’, The Sun suggested that Greggs had submitted a proposal to take over. We also speculated that there could be a link with whichever supermarket will replace Tesco as an Avios partner.
It looks like we were both wrong, because British Airways has tapped Tom Kerridge on the shoulder to create a brand-new menu for Euro Traveller.
BA has a long-term partnership with Tom. In 2019, he created a special menu to celebrate the airline’s centenary year. The Steak and Ale Pie even won ‘Best Onboard Snack’ at the Onboard Hospitality Awards last year.
There is a short video of Tom here talking through the menu if you click through.
The dishes Tom Kerridge has designed for Euro Traveller focus on “British provenance”. Here is a sample menu with prices which British Airways has provided us:
- The Ham Hock & Smoked Cheddar Sandwich – £4.10
- The Spiced Cauliflower Tortilla Wrap (Vegan) – £4.20
- The Chicken & Bacon Brioche Baguette – £4.50
- The Brie Ploughman’s Sandwich (Vegetarian) – £4.20
- Steak & Ale Pie – £4.50 (or with a can of beer for £8)
Interestingly, the food will not be made in-house by BA’s new long haul caterers Do&Co. It is being produced by Tom Kerridge’s existing commercial partners, with whom he is known to exercise tight control.
You’ll also be able to order other snacks and soft, hot and alcoholic drinks. For example, the José Pizarro tapas selection which was on the M&S Buy On Board menu will still be available for £5.95, or £10.95 with a glass of wine.
Afternoon Tea with a scone, clotted cream and jam is £5, or £10 with prosecco. BA is still not including any tea with its Afternoon Tea.
BrewDog is back
The BrewDog beer partnership is back too.
There will be a brand new IPA called JetStream, replacing the Speedbird 100 Centenary IPA.
It was probably in 2017 when British Airways reached its nadir in terms of cost and service cuts. Rob won ‘Editor of the Year’ at the 2017 Business Travel Journalism Awards in response to his coverage of the changes.
The removal of flowers from the First Class bathrooms became a totem. It was a visual reminder whenever you went to the loo of what had gone, given that the holder remained.
In the years since British Airways has slowly been adding things back. We have seen the re-introduction of a second hot meal on long haul economy fights, the move to premium airline caterers Do&Co and improved catering and soft product in World Traveller Plus. We have also seen Club Suite, of course, although that was a long term project.
The permanent introduction of ‘Buy Before You Fly’ is a genuine improvement with every passenger getting water and a snack with the option of purchasing something from an improved menu.
Pre-ordering removes uncertainty from airline catering, and you will now be able to guarantee a meal that you want before you fly. It also eliminates unnecessary food waste. The failure to integrate this into the BA app to allow people to order food whilst checking in is odd, however.
The changes are due to roll out from 20th January. This is not a fixed date given the current disruption airlines face.
PS. British Airways is still planning to restart a normalised meal service in Club Europe and long haul flights on the 20th. This will see the re-introduction of glassware and crockery and a return to “proper” rather than boxed meals.