In January, British Airways made the unexpected announcement that it would be improving the food and drink in Euro Traveller (short haul economy).
This involved the re-introduction of free water and a small snack for all passengers. Alongside this would be a brand new pre-order menu for heartier items and drinks called ‘Speedbird Cafe’, with selected items curated by chef Tom Kerridge.
Unfortunately, few of us have been flying in the past four months and have had little opportunity to give the new menu a try – until this week.
With Scotland open to tourists with hotels and indoor dining open, a trip beckoned. We thought it would be a good time to see whether Speedbird Cafe is better than the M&S catering it replaced.
‘Speedbird Cafe’ is pre-order only
The big change, apart from the different selection of food, is that British Airways has moved to a pre-order only system. This replaces the buy-on-board system used previously.
This is a genuine improvement as long as you can plan in advance. Under the old system, you had to try your luck and hope that your flight had been loaded with enough M&S sandwiches or that your fellow passengers weren’t particularly peckish.
This didn’t happen very often. It seems that British Airways insisted that the catering company pay for unsold fresh items that had to be thrown away. This meant that supplies were meagre, leaving those at the back reliant on long-life snacks.
Pre-ordering solves this problem. By ordering online you can expect your meal to be delivered – no taking chances.
How do you pre-order a meal on British Airways?
This is where things get a little messy. Due to the legacy IT systems airlines use, adding ancillary products such as meal pre-orders during a flight booking is quite difficult.
(This is one of the reasons why airlines are rolling out something called the ‘New Distribution Capability’ or NDC. But that’s a whole other story ….)
You can pre-order your meal on the High Life Shop website here after you have booked your flights. You must pre-order at least 24 hours prior to departure.
The ordering process itself is fairly simple. You add in your flight number and personal details:
…. and British Airways will automatically match your order up to your booking. You don’t need to know your booking reference.
You add items to your bag and check out, just as with any other online order.
Delivering your food
I was interested to see how British Airways juggled the delivery of pre-orders with the free water and snack provided to all passengers. This is especially tricky on a short flight like London – Edinburgh.
It seems BA has decided to get the free service out of the way first. As soon as the seatbelt signs were off cabin crew whizzed up to the top of the economy cabin with the trolley and duly dished out free bottles of Harrogate water and a packet of crisps.
They did tell me my food was on its way as soon as they had doled out the free snacks. This only takes five minutes at most – it’s amazing how much faster offering a free snack is vs a buy on board menu.
But how does it taste?
When your meal is delivered it comes in a little paper bag like this:
The pie itself is wrapped in a separate brown paper bag.
Annoyingly there is no paper plate, so you have to eat the pie out of the foil case on a napkin:
I have a bone to pick with the pre-ordered crisps, which seem super eco friendly when they arrive in a little box. When you open the box, however, it contains a plastic bag. This is a completely unnecessary waste of cardboard and / or plastic when just one would suffice.
On to the Tom Kerridge Steak and Ale Pie, which is a little less brown on top than in the PR photos:
…. but was, I have to admit, quite delicious. I would definitely order this again. On my return flight I tried the Chicken, Bacon and Celery Brioche Crunch:
…. which again tasted great although it wasn’t particularly ‘crunchy’. The brioche had become slightly soggy with the moisture in the filling.
Is the Speedbird Cafe expensive?
It is, I think, more expensive than it ought to be.
This is what I ordered on my flight:
In total, I paid £9.35 for a Tom Kerridge Steak and Ale Pie and a can of Brewdog Jetstream – this was a combo for £8 – plus another £1.35 for the crisps.
What I had forgotten – and what you are not reminded of during the purchase – is that you get a free bag of Tyrells ready salted crisps anyway. Bizarrely, BA offers a sandwich combo that includes a soft drink AND crisps – slightly unnecessarily.
£8 isn’t bad for hot pie and a can of Jetstream. It is worth noting that the pies are specially made at a site overseen by Kerridge – the manufacturing is not contracted out to a random supplier.
£8.15 for the sandwich meal deal does seems overpriced, given you can get a meal deal at Boots or WH Smith for close to £5.
Is BA really providing £3 more value than what you would find in the terminal? I’m not so sure. Remember that moving to pre-ordering takes all the financial risk away from BA. There is no unsold stock to be thrown away at the end of the day.
With the sandwich deal, you are effectively paying a £3 premium to have your meal delivered to your seat.
Reintroducing free water and snacks is a step in the right direction for BA’s short haul economy offering. The new Tom Kerridge-led Speedbird Cafe is a good addition for those that want a bigger bite.
That said, there is plenty of room for improvement in terms of pricing, ordering and delivery.
Ordering via a separate website rather than via the booking process is something I’m sure BA is keen to change.
It doesn’t seem like British Airways is doing enough to inform passengers of the pre-ordering process. For example, despite the BA PR team assuring me that Speedbird Cafe is mentioned in three pre-departure emails and a text, none of the communications I received mentioned the offer at all. I was the only passenger on both flights to have pre-ordered anything.
I would love to see BA price this more competitively with in-airport meal deal options. At price parity there would be little reason not to pre-order via Speedbird Cafe vs buying in the terminal and it would be a home run for BA.
Head for Points made a financial contribution to the Woodland Trust as part of this trip. The Woodland Trust creates and manages forests in the UK in accordance with the Woodland Carbon Code.
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