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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.

  • RDB says:

    Recently arrived from Cairo a five hour flight even in theses restricted times BA offer of a bottle of water & a strawberry crunch bar was pathetic. The excellent cabin crew admitted to being embarrassed to serve such a meager offering. When enquireing as to catering on the flight the ground staff in Cairo replied that breakfast would be served (wrong).
    By contrast on the same trip your partner airline Qatar offered a full meal service on a three hour service from DOH/CAI

    • Lady London says:

      That would follow the advice previously seen of if you want to be considered for an upgrade don’t order a special meal.

      • WaynedP says:

        Yes, interesting, and puts the nail into the coffin of a former Gentile colleague’s insistence of always ordering a kosher meal when flying because he argued that “extra care” would always be made over and above any standard meal choice.

        I never really bought that argument myself.

        • Lord Doncaster says:

          If flying Club Europe though you may as well order the Kosher Meal.

          • WaynedP says:

            If only to avoid the dry, squashed, ham & cheese breakfast croissant commented on today ?

  • Lell says:

    I will be interested to see whether pre-ordering food affects your chances of being upgraded. Pre-pandemic I spent a lot of time in the air and when I removed my vegetarian meal preference on BA my upgrade rate increased exponentially (same frequent flyer class). I’d be doubly reluctant to pay a £3 premium for food if it cost my chances of changing seat

    • Andrew says:

      From experience in travelling with a mate who orders special meals (we book travel separately), I strongly suspect it does. He’s never been upgraded.

      Similarly, on a flight back from Boston, with Delta trying to flog $500 gift cards and an overnight hotel stay to a dozen passengers, we both volunteered. I was picked, he wasn’t. We found out afterwards he wasn’t accepted as a volunteer because the next available fight departed in under 24 hours and they couldn’t accommodate his special meal booking on it. So the opportunity for an extra night in Boston, $500 and upgrade to PE was lost because he chooses a special meal to avoid the standard vegetarian Pasta ‘n Sauce.

  • HarryB. says:

    I’m sorry but there are not many real life scenarios where I know what and if I want to eat or drink something 24 hours in advance. Paying a 30% premium as well for the incovenience of booking in advance? No thanks.

    • old codger says:

      So you’ve never had a staff xmas party or event where you were asked what you wanted weeks or maybe even months in advance? Or a wedding or other event? My school and university balls were all order in advance. Even most of my organised work events were like that, even some training courses I’ve been have set menus in advance now because of all the food issues people have. I think they are pretty much “real life” events.

      And with regards to airline travel, the premium classes have had “book the cook” and other pre-ordering options for some time. You can even pay for WT upgraded meals if you wanted. Yes, it adds a layer of complexity when it comes to upgrades but it’s still an option if you wanted to know exactly what you were getting instead of being stuck with something you don’t want.

      • ChrisW says:

        That’s a special occasion though. Deciding if you’d fancy a G&T in a week’s time isn’t quite as clear-cut.

        • AJA says:

          I think flying these days is also a special occasion. 🙂 It really comes down to do you want to have a meal on board the aircraft or do you think you can survive the journey in economy without one? If it’s the former you will pay up front. If it’s the latter you won’t bother. Either way BA has certainty before the flight operates.

  • ChrisC says:

    Not sure why there is an obsession with there being no paper plate.

    If you open the box the right way it forms it’s own clean base for you to put the pie on!

    • The cyclist says:

      Good point Chris C , I’ve found that after you’ve eaten the contents, you can fashion the box onto a stiff paper plane, or alternatively try your hand at origami.

    • WaynedP says:

      Box contained crisps, I believe. So if you don’t order crisps (separately in addition) then no box for your pie.

  • AJA says:

    I find the other comments interesting, in the main they are negative. It seems BA can’t win. It either offers BoB and you moan that occasionally there is not enough or you get this and you complain £8 is too much. You do of course have the option of paying to sit in Club and getting a meal service that people also complain about.

    Alternatively fly Ryanair or EasyJet. But the thing is people are always saying I’ll never fly BA again but invariably fly again. They choose BA for more than just the service on board, it’s the route frequency, connections to long haul, airport choice, lounges on the ground and most importantly for HfPers the Avios and Tier Points to maintain that exclusive status that comes with the shiny (well now on your phone) card.

    I think on a short route like LHR to EDI it’s debatable whether it’s worth it especially as in normal times you can get food and drinks in the lounge before hand. Or buy your sandwich and drink in Boots after check in. I also wonder what the uptake is like on other short routes like AMS or CDG? On the other hand i think it’s worth it on a longer route like LHR to Larnaca. But then again on that route I’d choose Club for the 160TP and Avios let alone the meal.

    • Rod james98 says:

      Club europe now last to hoard, the meal which came in a paper bag consisted of a small cold pizza slice, a bottle of still water and a dry chocolate muffin. Absolutely disgusting offering for business class. They have milked this covid excuse for the whole of last year, it isn’t acceptable for 2021.

      • Doug M says:

        Possibly. But until there’s more widespread flying there’s little reason to offer anything more costly. Only people flying are those that either really have to, or want to. Still no real reason for most to fly.

      • WaynedP says:

        @RodJ98 Personally, I favour boarding last when sitting at the front of a single aisle plane where all other pax have to file past you to get to their seats.

        Even before Covid I found the experience irksome being shoulder jostled or shaken by a passing heavy hand thumped on the seat back or being breathed over in close proximity when the queue stops while someone down the line struggles to stow their overhead luggage.

        As long as sensible measures are in place to prevent the anti-social behaviour of a passenger in row 24 from stowing their entire family’s holiday luggage (crammed into 2 trolley cases ) into the overhead luggage space above row 4, then I would much rather sit or stand in relative comfort in a departure lounge and wait for the rest of the plane to be boarded before squeezing myself into a Club Europe (or similar) seat.

    • Rob says:

      Looking at the easyJet menu https://buyonboard.easyjet.com/# it seems that they have removed all hot food at the moment, so actually BA is ahead on that score.

      Usually you could get a bacon roll plus sugary snack plus soft drink for £7.50.

      To be honest, I’d rather take the pie and beer for £8 (plus the free crisps).

    • kitten says:

      I’ll be ordering 2 pies next time I fly.

      I think it’s the Brewdog that’s overpriced.

  • The uncivil servant says:

    I met Tom Kerridge a few years ago, he is top chap and his pies aren’t bad either, the Hand and Flowers is a bit pricey though.

    • Rob says:

      Fish and chips (exactly what you’d expect it to be) was, IIRC, £30ish at Kerridges Bar & Grill at the Corinthia. Can’t confirm as the restaurant is still closed and the website menu only show the outdoor grill.

  • Sarah says:

    I’m curious as to whether other passengers tried to order food or drinks when they saw that you were getting something different? I find the whole pre-order only thing absurd, but if they don’t want to pay for wasted food, perhaps they could do a hybrid model where fresh food is pre-order only and everything else you can BoB.

  • Frankie says:

    Rhys, did you notice how much a G&T was? And can you pre order as many as you like/need?

    • Frankie says:

      Apologies for silly question as I realised that info was in the link in the post.

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