At the end of last week, International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of British Airways and Iberia held its Capital Markets Day. The event is mostly aimed at shareholders and financial analysts who are keen to find out about the health of the airline – Infamously, a slide from one event proclaimed ‘Show me the money‘ just as British Airways was facing heavy criticism for its swinging cutbacks.
But the event can also provide a really good insight into what the different airline’s in the IAG group plan over the next few years to improve business. Often that means efficiency savings and financial changes – boring stuff to improve the airline’s bottom line but don’t have a huge impact on the passenger experience.
The British Airways segment of the day, however, threw up some nice little insights into how BA plans to improve the passenger experience for everyone, including Economy passengers, over the next five years. Presentations from both the controversial CEO of the airline, Alex Cruz and recently hired Director of Customer Experience, Carolina Martionoli dropped big hints at good things to come.
Up until now, BA has been focusing on improvements to the premium passenger experience in it’s Business Class cabin, called Club World. The airline has said its premium passengers will enjoy the benefits of a £400 million investment – including overhauled lounges, a new Business Class dining experience and significantly upgraded bedding.
Meanwhile, passengers on long-haul flights sat in the back of the plane have otherwise been ignored – apart from suffering hunger pains from BA’s decision to cut back meals on flights under eight hours. Luckily, passengers seated in Economy, or what BA dubs World Traveller will get more than just a mini Mars bar or Nutrigrain cereal bar to nibble on in the not too distant future.
1. Significantly upgraded meal choices
During the presentation, Martionoli revealed the first and most visible service improvement would be a massively overhauled food and beverage offering for World Traveller. The airline promises “greater quantity and improved quality” as well as “new and better snacks.”
The exact details haven’t yet been released but BA has promised all passengers will receive a proper second meal – rather than just a tiny snack. The new catering arrangements will be introduced in January 2018 on all long-haul flights.
2. More automation
There are also a number of other improvements to make the whole journey that little bit easier. Reacting to customer demand for more automation (honestly – it’s a thing), BA has already introduced 24 automatic bag drop desks at its Heathrow hub.
More will be introduced in 2018 following positive feedback and news that the ‘transaction time’ is about 50% less than at a traditional check-in desk.
Passengers who are transferring at Heathrow will also benefit from automated transfer desks and there are even automated self-boarding gates rolled out across the airline’s Terminal 5 base.
3. BA’s ageing fleet of 747’s will finally be retired
Other improvements in what BA is saying is a massive £4.5 billion investment plan will be phased in over the next five years. The biggest news is that we finally have a date for the retirement of the airline’s iconic yet aged fleet of Boeing 747’s.
British Airways is the largest operator of the Queen of the Skies with 36 of the gas guzzling machines in its fleet. Over the next five years, BA plans to retire 24 of that number with the airline saying its final farewell to the 747 in February 2024.
In their place, British Airways will take delivery of 18 state-of-the-art Airbus A350’s and 15 Boeing 787’s. Both aircraft boast improved fuel efficiency, better cabin air quality, a quieter cabin and clever LED mood lighting.
4. New, upgraded entertainment systems
The new aircraft will feature an “upgraded” entertainment system but again British Airways hasn’t yet revealed the nitty-gritty of the details. It’s unlikely we’ll see a system such as Emirates’ award-winning ‘ICE’ in-flight entertainment system but BA has said it will install the system on over 100 of its existing aircraft as well.
5. Refreshed cabins and finally wifi
That forms part of a wider retrofit of its ageing cabins that will see much of the fleet refreshed and in-seat power installed at every seat. By the end of 2017, going into 2018, British Airways will also finally start making wifi available on its aircraft. Once a luxury but now increasingly seen as a ‘must have’, BA said it waited until the technology had progressed before committing to a wifi service.
Finally, there’s going to be another push to improve the premium passenger experience as well. There are already ‘Welcome Hosts’ greeting passengers at the doors of BA’s terminal at Heathrow and now the airline plans a new customer service training programme for all front-line employees.
6. Upgraded lounges
And before long, cabin crew are going to be issued with ‘connected crew devices’ – we don’t yet know whether these will take the form of a smartphone or tablet device but it promises to give cabin crew better access to passenger information. That will allow them to acknowledge high-status passengers and empower them to take action when something goes wrong.
Business Class lounges in New York JFK, Rome and Aberdeen will also be refurbished, joining Gatwick and Boston which have already been updated. Food and beverages across BA’s lounges around the world are set for improvements too.
However, it’s not all entirely good news. British Airways says short-haul competition remains tough and customers value a low fare above everything else – that means BA’s knee crunching 29″ seat pitch is set to remain for both Economy and Business Class. So too is the Marks & Spencer tie-up – although BA insists the buy onboard service has been generally well received by passengers.
Finally, British Airways is working out ever more clever ways to get as much money out of us as possible. A redesigned website has already seen an increase in the average spend per transaction and the new BA mobile app will encourage passengers to purchase upgrades and other services.
All in all, though, there are some really nice gems in there which should add up to a big improvement to the passenger experience. It’s just a shame that some of these much needed improvements are still several years away.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.