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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 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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Comments (137)

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

  • JdeW says:

    In terms of IT improvement, getting the BA app actually to function will be a major step in the right direction. My BA app (Android) has been unable to update since July last year, despite an avalanche of DMs and emails to BA and subsequent BA promises to resolve the issue. Their IT systems are positively pre-historic and a disgrace to a major corporation.

    • @mkcol says:

      I trust you’ve uninstalled & reinstalled, and you’ve got the latest version of Android OS.

      • RussellH says:

        If you have to keep re-installing the software, then there is something wrong with the software.
        And OS upgrades should not not break existing software either, unless there is a really compelling reason for it.

        • sayling says:

          True, but NOT having the latest OS can severely impact app performance and even the ability to upgrade the app

        • @mkcol says:

          Indeed – I was merely suggesting it, as I’ve had it suggested to me before despite everything else being up to date yet still not working until I did that.

  • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

    Coming back from AMS – LHR last week they definitely called group one first and then 1 and 2, then 1-3 etc

    Previously they would call 1-3 together.

    And the agents did turn people back if they were too early.

    • @mkcol says:

      Likewise when I did LHR-TLS on 21st Jan and return on 28th.
      I was impressed.

  • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

    And whilst that was manual BP scanning as a passport check was also done last summer I did a couple of AY flights intra Schengen flights and at ARN the scanners were set only to allow BPs through of groups that had already been called so the guy who was trying to get through with his group 4 was rejected as they had only called group one – another passenger had seen his BP as he tried the scanners and told him he was too early and to follow the instructions!

    It appeared they trigger something with the gate scanners when they announce each group.

    • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

      Lufthansa have been doing that at FRA and MUC for years. I take delicious glee in watching chancers get turned away.

  • PB884 says:

    Soft landing for GGL to Gold then?

  • Andi F says:

    You’ve mentioned a couple of times in articles and comments over the past couple of days that most of these announcements don’t apply to flying in Y. But that’s not true – punctuality applies to everyone on the plane. Also, the overhead bins will benefit Y passengers more than J because generally there is always space available in the Club cabins anyway. USB C access is an upgrade too.

  • daveinitalia says:

    For some reason at the event I thought about a silly Tweet from Labour a few weeks ago: “Labour has a mission to halve violence against women and girls within a decade”

    Surely the aim is to eradicate it? Halving shows a lack of ambition and caring more about figures than results.

    100% of tasks available to self service sounds a much better aim, I was curious as to whether they thought it was realistic.

    After the presentation I was talking to one of the BA people and their initial aim is to get more of the tasks available self service so those who know what they want and know what they’re doing (i.e. most in the room) don’t have to sit on hold to do simple tasks freeing up the phone lines for those needed extra help. They are aiming for 100% but know in reality there’s going to be times when that’s not possible or someone just doesn’t feel comfortable making the changes themselves.

    My thoughts: if the new app delivers on the promise to offer more self service this will be a great improvement as long as they don’t cut the number of people in the contact centre. Recently I had a missed connection and the queue at flight connections was massive. I’m lucky I had the GGL number which gets through a lot more quickly but for everyone else it was a dreadful experience. Even if just a quarter of the people in the queue were happy to use self service it would improve the experience.

  • @mkcol says:

    I’d love to know what it is they’ve done to improve punctuality.

    • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

      Employed more ground based staff.

      Bought in more equipment like tugs.

      Better coordination of ground handling when a plane arrives and departs. So e.g. baggage handlers are waiting for the plane not the other way around and they can start unloading sooner.

      Sending passengers down to wait on the jetway even though the plane isn’t quite ready for boarding.

      Being stricter with late arriving passengers and denying them boarding.

      • @mkcol says:

        Good to know, thanks.
        Some of them appear to be small, simple steps – nice to see they work.

  • RussellH says:

    > those without smartphone access (due to age, disability or simply lack of juice)
    > may find themselves in a pickle.

    Indeed. I just hate the things. A total PITA to use, at least by me. Touch screens either do not work at all, or are far too sensitive and things happen when I do nothing.
    And they are clunky and heavy.
    And having seen the problems my partner has had all week after losing her pocket computer (which is what a “smartphone” really is) has helped convince me that I really, really, do not want to have to carry one around, ever.
    And before you ask, yes, I do actually have two of these devices in my desk drawer. One belongs to the charity I volunteer for, to allow me to log into their system, the other is used to run an app to let me log into a bank a/c.
    I am just glad that I do not have to use them for anything else.

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