Skift Take

British Airways has finally come around and started investing in its business class cabin. But it may be too late to catch up with Delta, United, and the Middle East carriers.

“New Thinking. New Flying.” That’s the slogan of a new campaign that British Airways is putting together to highlight new investment in its premium experience starting this month.

British Airways has long been perceived as a premium carrier, but in the last few years that reputation has been chipped away from both sides of the market.

On the lower end of air travel, low-cost carrier incumbents such as Wow, Norwegian, and Ryanair have picked off BA’s budget customers, forcing the airline to compete heavily on price and cut back on amenities in the economy cabin. Earlier this year, British started charging for meals in economy and then tightened up seat pitch, antagonizing loyal budget travelers in the process.

The premium space has also been challenging. Middle East carriers such as Qatar and Emirates have been pushing the envelope of first and business class design, delivering premium suites and opulent amenities to transatlantic travelers, something with which British’s current product can’t compete.

Even American carriers have gotten in on the game. Last week, Delta won a crystal cabin award for its upcoming Delta One product while United’s Polaris took second place. No European carriers were nominated for awards in cabin design.

British, instead, has languished with older aircraft (it currently operates 37 Boeing 747s among a globally aging fleet) and a somewhat cramped, older-style business class, marketed as Club World. Bloggers general deride that product as one of the worst lie-flat premium cabins in the industry.

With this announcement British finally seems to be taking a stand and reinvesting in premium air travel. CEO Alex Cruz, who came to British from low-cost carrier Vueling, made the announcement late last week on a dog-and-pony show flight with local media.

According to a release published by the carrier, updates will involve:

  • $495 million (£400 million) in Club World (long-haul business class)
  • Introducing Club Europe on UK domestic services
  • New lounges
  • First Wing direct security and lounge access at Heathrow
  • Latest generation Wi-Fi fitted on long-haul and short-haul fleets over the next two years
  • Self-service check-in and biometric boarding gates to speed up the airport journey

In the short term, that means several overhauled lounges and updated bedding and catering on long-haul Club World flights. Around the corner, the airline also hinted at Club World seats in development for 2019, though provided few details past that.

Overall, British Airways finally seems to be ready to compete in the premium space after cutting costs and bringing its economy section back into the game. Though it may take a few years before the big changes fall into place, the investments will finally put British back into the ranks of premium carriers.


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Tags: british airways, business class

Photo credit: New Club World products onboard a special flight on a 787-9, which also marked the opening of the airline's new lounges at London Gatwick and in Boston. Nick Morrish / British Airways

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