Welcome to my first post of 2018 and also my 200th post on the Ginger Travel Guru. Unfortunately we start off the new year with some information from Flyertalk about the configuration of British Airways’ new A320 NEO (New Engine Option) and A321 NEO aircraft that will arrive in their fleet later this year.
These aircraft will slowly replace the current A319/A320/A321 CEO (Current Engine Option) plying the short and medium haul routes that you know and love.
The good news
I’ll start with the good news. Every seat will get a USB power socket. As far as I’m concerned, this is long overdue, but very welcome. The first twelve rows of the A320 and the first fourteen of the A321 will also get 110V AC power sockets by each seat.
This is due to the fact the current seats, manufactured by Pinnacle are going to be staying but then new Recaro seats that are even thinner are going in the rest of the aircraft.
Not mentioned in the post was anything on Wi-Fi, but I’m assuming that a major global airline won’t be taking new aircraft in 2018 that isn’t fitted with internet connectivity. If anyone knows definitively, please let me know.
The more neutral news
The good and bad news is that these new Recaro seats won’t have any recline at all. This is one of those things that will divide opinion; personally I never recline my seat on short-haul so won’t miss it, but others do.
These new aircraft also won’t have any overhead video screens so there will be no moving map and the safety demonstration will be a manual one.
Also, all of the Heathrow based A319s and some of the newer A320s with Sharklets are going to be cascaded to Gatwick. I don’t know if this means that the current G-GATx fleet which are leased (rather than owned) will be returned to their lessors and replaced with these BA owned aircraft, but wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case.
The bad news
All these new aircraft will have something called a “SpaceFlex” galley. What that means is that toilets at the back instead of being forwards of the last set of doors, are placed behind the door, where some of the galley is instead. That means they can fit more seats into the aircraft.
That also means that there will be less equipment in the rear galley as that room is now taken up by lavatories. In order to do that, they’ve decided to remove the drinking water supply and the rubbish store from the rear galley. So anytime you ask for a glass of water, someone will have to go to the front of the aircraft to get it. If you’re at the back of an A321, that’s not going to be easy or quick.
Also, due to the reduced galley space at the back, it also means there’s much more limited galley space at the front for things like Club Europe meals. That means they are going to have to limit the size of the Club cabin on these new aircraft.
As mentioned, new, thinner, harder seats from Recaro are going to be installed rear of the first twelve or fourteen rows. These will have less pitch than either easyJet or RyanAir.
Finally, no changes to the buy on board offering, and no plans to offer customers with status free items, let alone tea and coffee.
All the current CEO aircraft will get refitted to match the NEO configuration, so there’s no escaping this by getting one of the older aircraft.
There were some signs towards the end of 2017 that British Airways had recognised that it had a problem. I wrote an article where the polling organisation YouGov tracked a significant decline in their customer satisfaction scores. This isn’t going to help those scores improve.
Already on many flights hand baggage is a problem. There will now be more people, with more bags on the same size aircraft with the same size overhead bins. This will lead to more people not finding space, more arguments with ground crew trying to take compliant bags away from customers boarding late. Group boarding, if properly enforced will help to prioritise the space, but short of installing new overhead bins, this is only going to get worse.
Seat power is a welcome addition, but hope the long trailed in-flight internet connectivity makes an appearance alongside it.
The most curious decision though is to limit the size of the Club Europe cabin due to the lack of galley space. It appears British Airways is willing to turn away full fare Club Europe customers rather than increase the galley space, and reduce the seat count by three or six. These are the most profitable customers as they can pay hundreds, occasionally thousands for a last minute seat.
The only explanation I can think of is costs.
I come back to this (in)famous interview that Alex Cruz did with the travel site Skift where he said:
“We’re always going to be reducing costs, but there’s no more programs. It’s now injected into the DNA. If one particular day we don’t come up with an idea to reduce our costs, then we’re not doing our job.”
By fitting more seats into the aircraft, with a lower percentage of business class seats, British Airways reduces costs. There are fewer expensive meals to cater (and potentially waste), fewer complimentary drinks to give away, and fewer empty middle seats.
This is of course clearly at the expense of revenue and income. British Airways may well make more profit by selling Club Europe seats than economy seats, but when the boss has clearly said that reducing costs is the be-all and end-all, who’s a middle manager to argue?
Finally, those #avgeek readers will notice that my feature photo on the article is actually of the final British Airways 757 (Stokesy Castle, G-CPET) of which I was lucky enough to be on the last flight back in 2010. That seated up to 195 passengers and is roughly 47m long. The new configuration A320 will seat 186 passengers, but is around 10 metres shorter at 37m long. Food for thought.