It’s no secret that British Airways (BA) has been on a cost-cutting mission for a few years now, and aside from introducing a new fleet of aircraft, the general consensus from passengers is that they’re receiving less for their money than they were a decade ago.
But with a recent security breach and a £500 million lawsuit to deal with, it seems the airline needs all the savings it can get to help its bottom line.
But after reading so many negative reviews and media coverage about the airline’s cost-cutting initiatives, I was curious to find out just how big the impact has been on what was once a well-regarded airline across the globe.
Why is the airline cutting costs?
The simple fact is, every airline on the planet is cutting costs somewhere on their budget sheet for a multitude of reasons.
The biggest reason is that fuel isn’t cheap. It’s up there as one of the single biggest expenditures any airline will make, and it’s steadily rising.
Passengers also demand cheaper fares. So, for example, if you want to travel from London to New York with only hand luggage, and you’re not precious about the cushy extras you used to generally get on long-haul, why would you fly BA over a carrier like Norwegian?
The way I see it is, as people fly more to simply get from A to B, token comforts like a blanket and eye mask no longer help justify the extra price.
(Although the last time I remember getting an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste on an economy flight was about 15 years ago).
So if you’re simply looking for a flight without any frills, there are few reasons why you’d pay extra for a similar product.
What has it meant for the average economy passenger?
Airlines discovered a while ago that passengers would settle for less if the ticket price was right.
I completely understand though why cutbacks needed to happen. I can remember flying Swissair in the late 90s and being treated to metal cutlery with my meal, proper glassware, and Swiss chocolates. And yes, this was all in short haul economy.
But as ‘no-frills’ airlines like easyJet and Ryanair in Europe, and Southwest and JetBlue in the US have transformed the way we fly, they have also had a profound effect on ‘legacy’ airlines like British Airways.
To see just how much BA has changed over the past few years, I recently took a short haul flight from London to Seville in Spain.
Not only was I expected to pay extra if I wanted to select my seat beforehand, but the catering on-board is no longer included in the price of a ticket. Instead, passengers are instead encouraged to purchase M&S-branded food.
Compare this to a similar flight ten years before, and the airline seems a world away from what it was.
How have the cuts affected business and first?
Having never flown BA’s premium products, this is a difficult one. But helpfully, some passenger photos from the new Club Europe offering have emerged, which give a good indication of what to expect on your next flight.
But will an overhauled menu be enough to win back vital premium customers?
Don’t get me wrong, customers up in the expensive seats still get the VIP treatment. But for people who’ve paid $10,000 for a ticket, even the slightest drop in service and quality will be instantly noticed.
This is a problem because a significant proportion of BA’s revenues come from premium tickets. What’s more, its most profitable route between London Heathrow and New York JFK, also happens to be one of its most competitive.
So if its once extremely loyal premium customer base gets disgruntled, there are plenty of other carriers offering far superior premium products, which could be potentially disastrous for revenues.
What has it meant for passenger numbers?
In a sentence: they’re rising, for now.
So while BA’s annual report at the end of 2017 boasted annual passenger numbers up 2% to 45.2 million, we haven’t yet seen the knock-on effects of significant cost-saving measures.
Couple this with the recent issues the airline has had with security breaches and delays, in a highly competitive market where the only differentiators are price and customer experience, the carrier may find that its proposed business class overhaul may be too little, too late.
What are your options if you’ve had enough?
If you’re like me and you’ve noticed a decline in BA’s product, but you’re still paying top dollar for an economy ticket, I’ve got a few tips for you.
I’ve flown between Europe and the US on several airlines, and I can tell you, the variation in ‘cheap seats’ between carriers is significant.
Take the on-board service and food for example. On an eight hour flight across the Atlantic, this can make all the difference to your experience. Especially nowadays when passenger expectations in economy are fairly low.
The same can be said for legroom. Speaking as someone who is blessed with long legs, a few extra inches of seat pitch can have a massive impact on comfort.
My advice: use an aggregator like Skyscanner or Expedia to search for the best deals. There’s also significant savings to be had by flying a different carrier on each leg of your trip, or being flexible with airports.
Have you noticed a decline in British Airways’ product? Which is your favourite transatlantic carrier and why?