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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

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards

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

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In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:

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Barclaycard Avios card

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Comments (137)

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

  • VinZ says:

    I’m not sure what the announcement for premier customers was. Group 0?

    • Rhys says:

      New first group to board.

      • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

        They’re going to have to be chaperoned to achieve that with the now-established expectation that gates are a scrum

        • VinZ says:

          They still manage to do it in London, but abroad it’s always a nightmare, especially when you have to board a bus to get to the plane…

  • Paul says:

    My issue with boarding groups is that it doesn’t work now, so why add yet more complexity to a broken system. Who is advising them, who is telling them it’s working?

    It’s the Wild West for boarding generally with staff calling groups 1-3 resulting in 75% of plane heading to the door. Even then no one is ever turned away.

    In T3 it’s even worse, with signs herding you into 1-3 or 4-9 to access a gate lounge!! It’s mental! When the time comes the staff simply open the doors and stand back leaving the hoards to board as they wish.

    I have no gripe with the concept, but its execution by BA at home and overseas is chaotic at best.

    • Steve says:

      Agree with wholeheartedly.

      It’s a nonsense as it is, both UK and overseas in my experience.

    • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

      I like boarding groups because it gives those of us who want to pay for it (via cash ticket or elite benefits) the opportunity to sidestep airport inconvenience. But it no longer fulfils that purpose most of the time.

      Honourable mention to my last T5B departure. I arrived to the gate with it saying Gate Open to find people being turned away. The gate agent must have seen my printed boarding pass from the F wing and said “Group 1? You can come now” then made the announcement for Gp 1 only. Maybe that was luck on my part than useful operating procedure as perhaps the scrum ensued behind me.

    • Bluekjp says:

      I travel Club Europe at least weekly and its a very long time ago that groups 1 to 3 were called simultaneously. In my experience, group 1 alone has been called up first without exception for a long time now, and what’s more, given a reasonable time to board before calling the next group. It is much improved and works well nowadays.

    • lumma says:

      I don’t understand why they need 9 boarding groups for short haul. I’m sure when they first started with the numbers it was five. 1. Club and Gold, 2. Silver, 3. Bronze, 4. Regular economy, 5. Hand baggage only.

      This made sense as it added a little jeopardy to hbo tickets as being last on you might have been told to gate check your carry on, so the upgrade to the regular economy ticket might be worth it to avoid

      Does anyone understand them now? Is it back to front after elites now as I’ve twice been in group 9 recently (no status Avios ticket)

      • Rob says:

        The key benefit seems to be to give them more scope when confiscating hand baggage. It they are 15 bags over, they take from Group 9, then Group 8 etc etc.

        If they only had 5 groups there would usually be too many people in Group 5 and you’d need some sort of lottery to decide whose laptop got trashed in the hold.

        Based on recent flights of mine, only group 1-3 can be guaranteed not having their hand baggage taken away.

        • Paul says:

          But the hand baggage issue should be dealt with at conformance, not at the gate. Boarding is a critical element of the departure process and should be free of unnecessary activity. The agents only role should be to board and by group number. Transfer passengers from long haul will, by default have more hand bags, so let them keep them. But rigorously enforce size and weight issues for London joiners or offer free bag checkin before they pass security. Leaving this to the gate isn’t working and now savvy travellers take the tags off on the jetty or simply take them on board

          • vlcnc says:

            I don’t know why BA don’t announce free bag check at the check-in desks more often – they must know by the desks open what the plane loading is like. Its happened only once or twice. It would make boarding a lot less fraught and easier – easyJet quite often sms or email message in advance notifying customers if a flight is particularly busy.

        • FatherOfFour says:

          I had bag removed at conformance when travelling as group 3. Didn’t have the cajones to challenge “I’m group 3”
          Flight was a full A319 and all 4 of us in our group had max sized baggage.

        • Toby says:

          Laptops cannot be stowed in the hold, they can only be carried as hand luggage.
          See Dangerous Goods Regulations.
          Lithium Batteries require immersion in a metal bin or canister of water in order to cool them & control the fire.
          Cabin Crew cannot access the hold inflight, hence laptops cannot be placed in checked luggage.
          MELTS must be removed from Hand Luggage checked into the hold.
          (Medication, Electronics, Lithium, Travel Documents/Keys).

    • Andrew. says:

      If you’re travelling on domestic routes, on a Friday/Sunday then you’ll likely find only a tiny proportion of passengers don’t have status.

      At least on the inbound from Edinburgh they tend to use both doors to load so it halves the time required at Heathrow. It might even be better than halving, as passengers boarding at the back won’t stop and use the first empty bin slot as they know they’ll be exiting from the front so will hurry forward to their seat before stowing.

  • Wotsit says:

    If the aim is “ allow passengers to self-service 100% of the time”, may we then be able to book the return leg for a BA AMEX Companion Voucher at the release time of midnight, rather than wait for morning to ring the call centre? And especially when the return leg is from a different airport?

  • Degsy says:

    Is it just me who (mis)read that as massaging initially? I suspect it was

    • Andrew J says:

      Lamenting the good old days of the Upper Class inflight beauty therapist.

  • Liz says:

    Where do you go to check up on a claim for a cancelled flight. I put my claim number in the chat box and it says the claim is closed even though I havent received any emails from BA other than the original confirmation of a claim received. Is there an email or phone number to make more enquiries? I also have 2 other claims that just say they have been merged – again no emails received. These are all claims from last summer. Thanks

    • Colin MacKinnon says:

      Just start a new claim, and reference the old claim number in the comments. I just did that for an overnight at LHR and was settled in days.

  • Andy says:

    Rob

    Any thoughts on what the 5000 tier points rewards might be?

  • John says:

    No mentioned that the paid for WiFi is so awful you couldn’t stream anything on that. Like a mis-selling scandal!

  • Luca M says:

    I am guessing a lot of the people speculating on how “only messages@ wi-fi would work have never used the current paid for Wi-Fi: it already offers two levels of access, on SH it is “from £2.99” for messages services only (like what has been announced here), and “from £4.99” for full wi-fi access. The “from” is key as it refers to 1 hour only access, and on longer SH flight it can be £11.99 for a full flight access (in reality it gets turned on around 10 minutes into the flight, and off 20 minutes before landing).

    • IanT says:

      Aren’t various airlines slowly but surely rolling out free wi-fi for loyalty scheme members? I recently flew back on SQ from Singapore and w-fi was free for all KrisFlyer members, and I read that Delta have now launched free wi-fi too.

      It seems to me, not for the first time, that BA is behind the curve again here…

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

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