In an industry where true success hinges on not only maintaining an extensive portfolio of global destinations but also having the capability to deliver an exemplary service across the entire travel experience, standing out from the competition in today’s market can be a bit of a challenge.
Enhancing its service, particularly on long-haul flights, has been a core focus area for British Airways (BA) over the past year, the UK’s national carrier investing significant resources towards the endeavour.
While a portion of that investment has been allocated towards improving the First and Business class tiers of travel, an equal amount of attention has been paid towards expanding the service across its other cabins.
“We do talk a lot about premium at the moment. I think it’s sometimes a term that it’s a little misunderstood because it doesn’t necessarily just mean fast cabin, business class or Club World, as it is to us,” explains Robert Williams, head of Sales for Asia Pacific and the Middle East, British Airways.
“We have a premium economy cabin, as well as a full-service world traveller cabin. To me, it’s more about making sure that we are investing in adding value to each cabin … I think the premium product is not just about the seat anymore, it is about the entire A to Z customer proposition.”
Revamping the travel experience right from the moment passengers arrive at the airport, one of BA’s most recent developments lies with launch of The First Wing in Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport. Unveiled back in April 2017, the facility serves as the first stop for first class passengers with its own dedicated security checkpoint, as well as path to both the Galleries First lounge, and the Concorde Room.
Designed by London-based Universal Design Studio, The First Wing was conceived based on feedback from BA’s high-end and frequent flyers who desired a rapid and discreet check-in process that bypasses the general airport environment.
While the new launch will undoubtedly serve as a template for facilities in other locations in the future, The First Wing joins BA’s exclusive list of global lounges at select airports across the globe. One notable example lies with the British Airways Concorde Bar located in Dubai International Terminal 1, which is just as popular as the famed original in Heathrow Airport.
Other improvements on the ground include the launch of the airline’s first three automated self-boarding gates that were introduced for domestic flights at Heathrow Terminal 5. Utilising facial recognition technology, the automated gates allow passengers to scan their boarding pass, before proceeding into the aircraft. Travellers through Heathrow and Gatwick can also take advantage of the new self-service bag drop, which allows passengers to label and drop of bags prior to entering security.
In addition to the ground proposition, the airline has also invested substantially into its long-haul business class offering, Club World.
“We’ve invested £400m ($535m) to change our Club World business class product, focusing on the softer side of the product. As we do an incredible amount of overnight flying, we signed a partnership with The White Company, which is a very prestigious British bedding company,” explains Williams.
“We signed a partnership with them to provide mattresses, duvets, and top-class pillows for our business class customers.”
Subtle improvements have also been made to the airline’s premium economy service, World Traveller Plus, a long-standing offering that dates back to 1999.
Over the past few years, BA has tweaked what the cabin offers, updating seat designs to be more comfortable and economical, particularly on newer additions to the fleet.
Other small changes include improvement of pillows, the availability of pre-flight drinks, as well as offering business class main courses to premium economy class customers.
“When we talk about customers’ expectations, they are expecting huge value for money in the economy cabin. We maintain ourselves as a full-service carrier. We offer on all flights the inflight entertainment, we offer full three-course meals, full bar service, etc,” comments Williams.
“World Travel Plus is not just the front rows of economy with a little bit of leg room. It is a separate cabin on board the aircraft … it’s a small cabin between 35 and 50 seats on the A380, but on most aircraft it’s between 35 and 45 seats. It’s a nice small environment, especially on our longer flights.”
Expanding further, Williams explains the market for premium economy is twofold. On the one hand, the airline attracts a number of leisure customers who want are willing to invest a little more in order to make their trip a special one.
Similarly, on shorter flights, cost-conscious business customers may opt premium economy for that flight.
Williams also points out that the option is available for passengers to fly in one cabin to their destination, and then opt for a different experience on the return trip.
Another area of improvement for the airline lies with its implementation of inflight connectivity for both its long-haul and short-haul fleets.
To deliver connectivity across its long-haul network, the airline has tapped in-flight broadband Internet service provider Gogo to deploy its 2Ku solution. Meanwhile, on short-haul flights over Europe, the airline will utilise the region’s first ever 4G high-speed inflight network.
In terms of pricing, BA has revealed that passengers will have access to two options: Simply Connect or Connect Plus. The former offers basic web browsing, email access, and instant messaging, while the latter is a faster service that supports video streaming. BA aims to have 90 percent of its total fleet connected by 2019.
Catering is another aspect of the service that the airline has revaluated its approach, according to Williams.
Rather than going by the traditional format, which asks passengers to select what they wish to eat and drink from a menu, BA’s service now includes a food trolley display that showcases what is on offer for that flight.
“Customers are able to have a look at what choices they have before they choose. It is changes like that that are really making people realise how much we’ve continued to invest in the product," says Williams.
Switching gear to discuss other British Airways developments, the head of sales for Asia Pacific and the Middle East shares that the airline has opened a number of new routes in 2017. One includes flights to Santiago, Chile, made possible by the additions of the Boeing 787-9 aircraft to BA’s fleet, as well as a nonstop service from New Orleans to London.
A new route to Nashville, Tennessee is expected to go live in May 2018 and will comprise of five weekly flights between Nashville and London.
In terms of BA’s fleet, Williams shares that the airline will look to bring Airbus’ A350 aircraft into the fold sometime in 2019, while also continuing to expand on the number of Boeing 787 on hand.
The addition of the Airbus A350 aircraft to BA’s fleet will enable the airline to devise a wholly new Club World business class experience. Though Williams remains tight-lipped on what to expect, he shares that details on the new experience will be shared later in 2018.