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We put the new BA ‘Speedbird Cafe’ (and Tom Kerridge pie) to the test

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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.

British Airways Eurotraveller Tom Kerridge steak and ale pie

‘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:

Speedbird cafe pre-order

…. 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:

Speedbird Cafe Tom Kerridge British Airways

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:

Speedbird Cafe Tom Kerridge British Airways crisps

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:

Speedbird Cafe Tom Kerridge British Airways steak ale pie

…. 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:

Speedbird Cafe Tom Kerridge British Airways chicken bacon brioche

…. 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:

Speedbird Cafe order

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.

Conclusion

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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Comments (116)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Susan says:

    The whole point of a brioche is no crunch.

    • Andy says:

      The way I read it, the filling was meant to be crunchy, and the soggy brioche was a separate comment.

  • Michael Jennings says:

    That does look like a nice pie.

    I am most likely to order food from a buy on board menu when I am in a rush and don’t get the chance to have something in the terminal / go to a lounge. Pre-order doesn’t help me with this.

    • Alex says:

      Agreed – BoB is all about the impulse purchase and people will do it, even if it’s only some people.

    • C says:

      Agreed, at least departing London airports. My plan always involves eating before, in the lounge or purchasing something nice-ish in the terminal. And then reality strikes – thus the impulse purchase on board.

  • Kris says:

    So if I want a hot drink during the flight I now need to order in advance? And does this apply to longer flights in Europe? (eg when I take a 4hr+ flight to gran Canaria)

  • Marc says:

    I don’t think you’re comparing like for like with the ~£5 meal deal bought in the terminal versus the £8/£9.35 you paid for a three-item equivalent. I can’t think of any high street retailers that bundle a can of craft beer or premium hot food as part of a meal deal for starters.

  • Alex says:

    So because it is a separate site to BA’s. That leads me to two questions.
    1. Can you purchase the food/drinks with avios?
    2. I assume it isn’t processed as a BA purchase so you wouldn’t earn 3avios/£1 on BAPP? Which is a shame

    • David says:

      10.3 Speedbird Café purchases:
      (a) You can spend Avios points for products selected from the Speedbird Café product range in-flight (when the in-flight service resumes).
      (b) You cannot spend Avios points for products selected from the Speedbird Café product range if you pre-purchase.
      (c) You cannot earn Avios points for products selected from the Speedbird Café product range in-flight (when the in-flight service resumes).
      (d) You cannot earn Avios points for products selected from the Speedbird Café product range if you pre-purchase.

      • C says:

        Thus, presumably no bonus miles on the BA Amex (indeed, does hte website even take Amex?). (b), (c) and (d) are own goals for BA. I understand the IT issues, but it’s a customer relations nightmare. The average passenger (not HfP reader!) would expect that after spending £xxx on his/her BA Blue card, and finding no reward availability (undoubtedly due to looking only at high-demand tourist routes on peak days, but never mind that) at the least it should be possible to redeem some of those hard-earned Avios for a can or two of BrewDog (or a G&T, or small plastic bottle of Chardonnay), and a sandwich. Alas, it is not to be.

        • David says:

          yes, im 99% sure no Amex bonus would apply, as the purchase would be from Tourvest.

  • TFC says:

    I tried this recently. Outbound they loaded ginger ale rather than tonic. Inbound the crew insisted there was nothing for us and yet, afterwards, the speedbird cafe phone line insisted it was there. Got a refund (although it’s not arrived yet).

    Would be cautious relying on this on a longer flight, rather than just buying from Pret.

    • Rhys says:

      Yes, that’s the other issue. You are relying on BA’s IT to connect the dots…

    • ADS says:

      good point

      i’m still traumatised by having to fight Aer Lingus for three years for a refund of my breakfast that they failed to supply !

  • paul says:

    I flew to Glasgow 2 weeks ago going up in ET and back in club.
    I only had the snack and water on the way up and frankly they may as well not have bothered.

    The water was welcome but the crisps just a waste of weight and space on board.

    The return club meal was edible but nothing special but being able to have drink and a coffee was very welcome.

    Overall, if this is it then it a poor deal! The continual focus on trying to gentrify or make BA’s cattle class some it is not is simply stupid. I don’t care who provides the food but it must be edible and tasty and good value for money. Simpy putting some corporate or celeb name on a chicken pie does do it for me.

  • MYSELF says:

    It’s BA they will price it as high as they can get away with. There’s also going to be a cost factor with having Mr kerridge design, develop and produce them.

    If I’m flying down the back then I’m doing it on EasyJet for a quarter of the price so doubt I’ll ever try any of it.

    • David says:

      the cost factor of having the name behind the product is likely a lot less than you’d think it would be. and its actually quite likely that the Tom Kerridge brand would have actually had to have paid to be the brand used rather than being paid to use the name.

      I know when it was being pitched a couple of years ago, that another celebrity chefs brand was bidding to be the name used, rather than being approached to be the name used.

      the biggest cost factor is the supply chain.
      any product that is identifiable in flight supply, has to be held in a “known supply chain” from the point it is identifiable, or else has to be made “known” – which can be done via Xray or other means.

      this wasn’t such a factor for the M&S sandwiches, as at the point of manufacture, they could have been going anywhere. to a store, or petrol station or to Tourvest for BA.
      while this range is specific to BA, and therefore is identifiable at point of manufacture.

      • ChrisW says:

        Thats a good point. Are these celebrity chef endorsements supposed to benefit the airline or the chef more? Will people choose BA and then BoB because they assume the food is good based on their recognition of the chef’s name? Or will people not know who the chef is, be pleasantly surprised by their food onboard and then seek out their restaurants on the ground as a result?

        I’ve never once enjoyed a meal on any flight by a celebrity chef so much that I’ve gone and booked in their restaurant.

        • David says:

          The theory is it benefits the brand. (The chefs restaurant isn’t the only part of the brand. they’ll make more money from cook books, tv appearances, etc etc.)

          its the same for other products. you’ll only tend to see one ultimate parent brand for each product category. perfumes, sunglasses, cosmetics, etc may have multiple brands available, but will be from a single parent company (Think Luxottica). and its usually the company that has offered to buy the most advertising space in the in flight magazine.
          same with alcohol. and tobacco is a huge money maker for the onboard retailers, based on the cheque that the tobacco company hands over, rather than the sales to the customer.

          • Mikeact says:

            And just when does a cook become a chef….in fact, what is the difference ?

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