The CEO of British Airways is promising that his carrier will become more premium as it emerges from the pandemic. But what does he actually mean?
British Airways Promises Renewed Focus On Premium
Speaking to employees in a video reviewed by The Financial Times, British Airways CEO Sean Doyle noted:
“There is room for optimism that we are on the way out. Putting the premium proposition into the heart of what we do is going to be key. We want people to come off a British Airways flight and talk about it as if it’s something different. Any airline can go out and buy products off the shelf and put them on a plane. It’s actually the confidence and the style and the intimacy that we deliver in service that is going to be a differentiator.”
There’s much that can be inferred (or falsely inferred) from that statement. Thus, without understanding the full context of the statement, it is difficult to discern what Doyle meant.
But I will offer some thoughts on how British Airways can distinguish itself as a premium carrier without spending itself into the grave:
- The strength of British Airways is its crews, of which I’ve honestly never had a bad flight in all my years of flying BA
- The crew took paycuts during the pademic and had their jobs severely threatened, which demoralized most employees
- While British Airways now says it must pay back its government loan before raising staff wages, providing good service onboard will be at the heart of revitalizing BA
- Even modest wage increases show a good faith effort to think differently about staff than under former CEO Alex Cruz’s watch
- But good service alone is not quite enough – I routinely experience excellent service on EasyJet and even Ryanair
- To differentiate itself for short- and mid-haul travel, BA must focus on its economy class product
- Currently, BA’s short-haul economy class product offers less legroom than budget carriers and a similar buy-on-board concept for snacks and most drinks
- In this sense, BA economy is the opposite of premium; it’s downright awful
- The addition of power ports and wi-fi is a plus, but BA should also consider adding an extra inch or two of legroom, even at the expense of 6-12 seats onboard
- It should also bring back title touches like its hot breakfast on UK domestic flights for all passengers, a small gesture that (in my mind) is the very definition of premium
- Positively for BA, its premium cabin products have already come a long way
- Catering in Club Europe, Club World, and in First Class is greatly improved and the new Business Suite is tremendous
- I’m not sure BA has to do much to improve its premium cabin proposition beyond continuing the 777 retrofit project
Most of these moves will cost money. But it seems to me the investment is not only worthwhile, but necessary if Doyle’s words to employees have any meaning.
I think British Airways has a great deal of potential and can distinguish itself as a far more premium airline than EasyJet and other budget carriers. But it must do some initial spending. If BA expects staff to smile and improve service while their wages are being cut and still offer economy class passengers an inferior experience to budget carriers, BA will continue to be, as Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker told John Arlidge of the Sunday Times, a low cost carrier:
“British Airways is the flag carrier of the UK. You remember the motto? ‘To fly, to serve.’ That was not any more the motto of the company. It was only on a billboard.”
Let’s hope those days are soon behind BA.