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More BA news: punctuality, new A380 First, free messaging, new website, GGL changes

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Yesterday, we published three articles profiling three changes that British Airways is rolling out to its customer experience and route network, including:

There were, however, even more announcements that we wanted to cover, but did not necessarily warrant dedicated articles. Let’s start at the top:

British AIrways improving punctuality

BA improving punctuality

“If the planes are running late, you’ve got a problem”. That’s what BA CEO Sean Doyle said in his opening remarks, and anyone who caught a British Airways flight last year is likely to agree.

The good news is that huge improvements have apparently been made.

“We have a pretty huge focus on operational resilience and punctuality …. over the last three months, we’ve made great progress: our average departure punctuality at Heathrow has been 80%. We’ve been better than the average of all the other carriers at the airport. And that’s a significant turnaround from where we were maybe six months ago.”

In comparison, the full-year average for all airlines at Heathrow last year was 63.4% so this is a significant jump.

On flights to New York JFK, where BA launched a focus on punctuality last year, the results have been even better:

“We have been the most punctual airline on JFK for the last six months. We’ve taken all those learnings and rolled it out to the rest of the network to make sure we’re on time.”

If British Airways can keep this momentum going into the summer, during the busiest travel period of the year, then I will be impressed.

British Airways new A380 First Class

British Airways to introduce new First Suites on the A380

Calum Laming, Chief Customer Officer at BA, reiterated what CEO Sean Doyle had already suggested in an interview with The Sunday Times last summer: British Airways is designing a brand-new First Class product for its fleet of 12 A380s.

Calum would not be drawn on further details, but BA did say that it would be a “brand-new and exclusive First suite.” This implies that the seat will feature some sort of door. Use of the word ‘exclusive’ suggests that this is a suite that has not been seen before and may be proprietary to BA.

The seat will be installed as part of the wider A380 refurbishment program to install Club Suite, which is due to start at the end of 2025 or early 2026.

Many questions remain, including whether the new seat will be rolled out more widely or whether it will offer a differentiated product for the A380 only. The size of the cabin and its location (it could move upstairs) are also under wraps.

A new First Class was also announced in 2019 by previous BA CEO Alex Cruz as part of the 777X order. This is also due to arrive in 2026 – will these aircraft feature the same product or another, differentiated new seat?

Many airlines offer a special First Class suite on their A380s where the increased space allows more creativity, and it would be great to see BA take this approach.

I previously speculated the direction British Airways could take with its new First in an article last year.

Free inflight messaging for British Airways customers

Free in-flight messaging

Arguably the announcement with the widest impact from Monday night – ie the only thing that impacts those at the back of the plane – was the introduction of free in-flight messaging for British Airways Executive Club members (no status required).

British Airways is behind the curve here, both compared to its competitors and its own IAG siblings. Iberia having offered free messaging for some time and Aer Lingus offering free-wifi for all business class passengers, as you can see from my review here.

Still, it’s good to see BA offer something that is increasingly non-negotiable rather than ‘nice to have’.

The new free-messaging functionality will begin rolling out across the fleet on 3rd April and should be complete within two weeks. 80% of BA’s Heathrow aircraft and 100% of Gatwick planes now featuring wi-fi capabilities whilst Cityflyer aircraft do not have the technology. The remaining aircraft will have it by 2025.

According to BA:

“The free messaging pass will allow British Airways Executive Club members to use messaging-type online applications, such as WhatsApp, iMessage, Facebook Messenger and Teams Chat – without images, videos or attachments, text only.

You’ll need to log into your Executive Club account, or create a new one, to access the service. It isn’t clear if this will be linked to your booking, which would exclude those who were crediting their flight to a different oneworld partner.

New British Airways website

New website and app on the way

Also reconfirmed was the work to redevelop the entire website and app, as well as many of BA’s back-end IT processes. According to Sean Doyle, some parts of the BA website are over 24 years old and in dire need of a ground-up rewrite. As part of the process, BA is also moving to the cloud, with 95% of servers due to be hosted remotely by the end of the year.

Overall, BA is investing around £750 million in upgrading its IT infrastructure.

The new site, which is already in beta testing for flight bookings between Gatwick and Bari, will increase self-service functionality and allow you to make more changes to your booking without having to use the call centre.

This includes help during periods of disruption. Whilst ba.com already lets you rebook cancelled or delayed flights online, the new system will also offer you alternative flights on other carriers.

The goal, according to Chief Commercial Officer Colm Lacy, is to allow passengers to self-service 100% of the time. That said, it is hard to see how the BA app could offer you your legal right of a flight on ANY airline to get home if the BA options are not suitable.

Food, drink and hotel vouchers for flight delays and cancellations will be delivered automatically by text message or email in future, helping to reduce confusion and stress when things go south. This carries its own risks of course – those without smartphone access (due to age, disability or simply lack of juice) may find themselves in a pickle.

A wider rollout of the new platforms is expected to happen in the second half of the year. Whilst it won’t all happen at once, there should be noticeable changes coming later this summer and into the autumn.

British Airways Premier card

And for Gold Guest List and Premier members ….

There were additional announcements at the Premier / Gold Guest List version of the event yesterday, both during the Q&A and during individual discussions with members. These were:

  • Gold Guest List will be made an official tier inside British Airways Executive Club, rather than a subset of Gold. This will have practical impacts because, for example, it will be visible by partners in Amadeus whilst at the moment a GGL just shows as a standard Gold member.
  • Group 0 boarding will be rolled out across the network – which presumably means most outstations will now board Groups 0-3 in one big crush rather than Groups 1-3 🙂
  • There will be a new reward added for reaching 5,000 tier points but the exact details of what you get have yet to be signed off

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How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (May 2024)

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Comments (137)

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

  • marcolau says:

    On free in-flight messaging: If Iberia or Finnair model is to be used, then you don’t need to link the account number to the booking – just sign in whilst inflight to activate it.
    However, don’t expect anything beyond the text messaging itself – the speed is fixed to be so absymal that nothing else can be done.

    • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

      Be that as it may, it removes the final layer of plausible deniability for being uncontactable by work when flying. I will personally be sorry to see that.

      • DanATC says:

        “The Wi-Fi wasn’t working” 🙂

        • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

          True; though shot through if a colleague is travelling on the same flight

    • lumma says:

      I think it’s set up to prevent anything other than text being sent, nothing to do with speed. I reckon there’ll be a lot of people who’ll pay to upgrade just for airborne selfie opportunities

    • daveinitalia says:

      I think they use the same system as Iberia as they even use very similar URLs for the landing page shop.ba.com or shop.iberia.com – at the event yesterday they said that people would be able to sign up for BAEC there and then (as the wifi has always allowed access to ba.com for free) but whether they’re going to make you link it to your booking before you get access to the wifi I’m not sure.

      What does Iberia do? Can you access it without an IB Plus account?

      • marcolau says:

        I flew with Iberia short haul last Oct – free inflight messaging already offered back then. My booking was linked to BA instead of IB.

        As long as you have IB membership number and remember the password you were through for the free WiFi. No linkage of membership to booking at all.

  • Mouse says:

    “There will be a new reward added for reaching 5,000 tier points but the exact details of what you get have yet to be signed off”

    How about a special customised membership card with a photo of your family to remind you what they look like?

  • George says:

    If I turned up to work late 20% of the time, I’m not sure my boss would be too impressed if I celebrated this as a success and pointed to other people being even worse

    • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

      Indeed. Comparing to the South Asian carriers, of course 80% looks relatively good. I remember when PIA served MAN T2. Final call would have been and gone, and the gate agents would be making announcements for specific named passengers. Said passengers took Final Call as time enough to continue browsing duty free or sitting eating on seats by the shops. I never knew their flight to leave by the time the DUB flight departed 30 mins later.

  • VerdantBacon says:

    Got GGL during the Covid reduced TP requirements and have renewed by the bare minimum TP each year following.

    Having never hit 5k TP, I wonder if it’ll be worth trying for

  • No longer Entitled says:

    It’s not hard to see how the BA App could offer you your legal right to a flight on any airline if disrupted and applicable. Just link to a booking agent. It is harder to envisage BA allowing such however.

    • NFH says:

      If they “just link to a booking agent“, then how would it be billed to BA and how would any validation be carried out that the route is the same?

      • SBIre says:

        Billing to a corporate account and restrictions like that are trivial to code and enforce – load of corporate booking agents have systems that do that for large clients

  • Paul says:

    Messaging is helpful
    Rest is all jam tomorrow nonsense.
    How are they measuring punctuality. On time up to +15 minutes? Or are the using the padded timetable and measuring arrival punctuality. Remember most domestic flights are 40% plus longer than 30 years ago with most routes now padded out to nonsensical levels to improve arrival puntuslity

    • Rhys says:

      My understanding is it’s normally measured on departure – ie you have to push back from gate within 15 mins of the scheduled departure.

      • Paul says:

        It’s all smoke and mirrors. BA internally used to record on time from ACARS and only if brakes released 2 minutes and 59 seconds after STD. As an example of timetable padding my flight later today is now scheduled to be 30 minutes late due LHR weather but its arrival time is 4 minutes before the STA.

        • ABS says:

          BA record on time from ACARS if breaks released 59 seconds after departure.

          Industry standard is STD within 15 min.

          Smoke and mirrors or not, neither the smoke or the mirror have changed in the last 12 months and punctuality has improved significantly over that time.

          • Paul says:

            Perhaps Iam just one of the unlucky 20% who don’t leave on time unless on other airlines. 15 sectors since Dec. 8 long haul non on BA 7 s/h 3 on BA. Every flight on time to the minute except BA non of which have been on time even if measured by the industry standard

  • Cranzle says:

    Am I right in thinking that this is now the second ‘new First’ that’s been promised, with the first ‘new First’ still being rolled out? It sounds rather like this is BA’s way of delaying the new first on the A380, as the specification hasn’t been confirmed or perhaps even decided yet.

    • Rhys says:

      The existing First Suite with door was a small change and never really announced.

      The aircraft will be the last to be refurbished anyway, still 18+ months away

  • Davey11 says:

    Group 0 boarding is like the Spinal Tap amp that goes up to 11…

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