I know that I have a lot of readers that also look at Head for Points – it’s an excellent, UK centric site for people interested in points and miles. Rob does a great job and today wrote a very interesting story about British Airways reducing their Club Europe cabins to only seven rows or 28 seats in total.
I felt it was an important article to highlight, but also to write my own take on it, and cite some interesting information from IAG themselves.
The reason for this is that the new aircraft coming into the fleet won’t have enough room in the galleys for any more meals.
To understand why British Airways are doing this, we need to rewind back to November 2015 when at the IAG Capital Markets day (IAG are the parent company of British Airways) presented a number of slides. The topic; harmonisation and standardisation across all of their member airlines amongst the A320, A330 and A350 fleets.
They then presented a slide on what this standardised A320 will actually look like. This is the configuration that we’re seeing today with the A320neo and the refits to the existing aircraft.
The photos and floor plan are all pretty small, however what you can make out are a few things:
- The lavatories at the back are behind the rear doors
- Rear galley space is significantly reduced
- There is no cupboard at the front
- Front galley space is reduced
The final slide on the A320 standardisation looks like this.
The bar chart at the bottom is interesting, although it is a number of years old now. It shows the number of aircraft, across all of IAG (Iberia, British Airways, Vueling and Aer Lingus) that are expected to be in this new harmonised configuration.
As I wrote about a few weeks ago with the new A320neo joining the fleet – these will be the aircraft in this new configuration.
What does this mean?
As Rob said, it means that the most seats British Airways will be able to provide in Club Europe will be 28, or seven rows.
I’ve flown on many routes where Club Europe has stretched back far further than this – quite often to include both exit rows on the A320, or back even further on an A321.
When the Club Europe cabin gets busy, I believe over 36 passengers, British Airways has agreements with the unions to roster extra staff to help with service. Of course, if they limit the Club Europe load to 28 passengers, then they won’t be needed and thus they lower costs.
Fewer meals and drinks
Fewer passengers means less meals they need to cater. It also means they need to stock less drinks which they need to give away to passengers too. All of this reduces costs.
Like a lot of major airlines, British Airways carries people on connecting itineraries, for example from New York, to London, and then on to Zurich. I suspect that at peak times, perhaps on a Thursday or Friday evening on business heavy routes such as Madrid, Barcelona, Zurich and Frankfurt, that business class could quite easily be sold out.
Someone booking a flight with a long-haul segment might easily find themselves in Economy for the short-haul segment, including having to pay for food and drinks. That would be a pretty rubbish customer experience for the several thousand pounds, dollars or Euros they may have had to pay for their ticket.
I think it’s highly likely that these will start to be severely reduced. At the moment, on less busy flights British Airways offer paid upgrades to Club Europe for as little as £79 one-way. These are great if you’re short on a few tier points, but otherwise typically aren’t great value.
This change, if indeed it’s confirmed is quite simply about cost. As we can see from they’ll looking at anywhere up to €1m saving per aircraft and almost 470kg in weight. Plus reduced crew. Plus reduced operational spending on meals.
By reducing the supply of Club Europe they will potentially have the opportunity to drive up the price, for those people purchasing a straight forward single or return flight. This will give potentially give them an opportunity to drive up yield as well.
However it would need to be managed very carefully with the real risk of those buying expensive long-haul flights being stuck in economy due to Club Europe being full of people on a £199 return flight to Barcelona for the weekend.
The alternative would be to simply downgrade those types of customers and pay them the mandated 30% or 50% EU downgrade compensation – which on a cheap fare like that probably wouldn’t even be £50.
I don’t see customers winning from any of this.