Every legacy airline market has its own way of dealing with the threat of ultra-low-cost carriers.
In the United States, American, Delta, and United implemented basic-economy pricing to strip away passenger perks. In the UK, British Airways plans to start charging aggressively for onboard snacks on short-haul flights.
Announced on Thursday in the British Airways media center, British Airways plans to partner with Marks and Spencer, the British department store, to offer a spectrum of snacks to deliver the “best food in the sky,” charging a fee for anything consumable from a beef sandwich to water.
All passengers in short haul economy will be subject to the fees, even members of BA’s loyalty program, Executive Club. In premium cabins, prepared food will continue to be free, while long haul flights won’t be affected by the new campaign.
The approach echoes a similar model used by ultra low cost carriers like Ryanair Easyjet, and Spirit Airlines, which charge for everything from seat assignments to inflight catering — though in its release, British Airways is quick to point out the quality of its selections and the relative price.
Indeed, managing travelers’ expectations may be the biggest challenge in incorporating the new fees for snacks. British Airways has worked hard over the last decade to build the image of a premium carrier, investing heavily in its business and first class cabins and building out a beautiful terminal in London Heathrow. The experience of taking a premium long haul flight across the ocean and then getting free food and drinks in an airport lounge may not perfectly mesh with paying $3 for water on a British Airways’ short-haul flight.
Even so, British needed to come up with a way to compete with the likes of Ryanair and Easyjet, which have the benefit of lower operating costs and higher degrees of ancillary revenue. If customers don’t like the fees, they may have to plan ahead.
Service with the new meal structures begins in January 2017 out of London’s Heathrow and Gatwick, while Standsted and the City airport have to wait until the summer.