It’s less than a day since this reporter saw at least four very large passengers some of whom might have been your typical average American adults suffer a flight in British Airways’ new Club Europe cabin on an A319 flying from London Heathrow to Toulouse.
It wouldn’t have mattered all that much if they had been beyond the curtain in the economy class called Euro Traveller by BA, since the seat pitch is the same throughout at 30 inches or just over 76 cms.
The main difference is that the middle seat is blocked off in Club Europe by what looks like a padded bin lid, and you get a good meal that is difficult to keep flat on the tray which your knees keep trying to lift, causing, judging from the fracas heard behind the second row, some utensils and possibly food liquids to spill onto the floor or passenger clothing.
Being seated in the second row it was impossible in the confined space to rise enough to successfully turn one’s head to survey the horrors that were happening without possibly doing the same to my clothes, or the very large passenger directly in front who at least had a bit more space between him and the bulkhead.
The point of this report is that this seems to be where premium full service shorter haul flight could be headed in this part of the world, as well as to alert those readers in Australia and nearby who may use British Airways for intra-European flights that things are getting punitive even if you or your host or company pays a premium fare.
But what sort of business model is it that inflicts pain and embarrassment on its best paying customers?
Those other passengers mentioned were among the 12 in the small crammed cabin compared to the one hundred and something who were stuffed into the large crammed cabin.
The changes that British Airways has made are well described in this post by John Walton on Runway Girl.
It is also acknowledged that British Airways needs to respond to the challenge of competition from the low cost brands, and other supposedly full service carriers that are ahead of it in terms of the plunge to the bottom.
Willie Walsh, the CEO of IAG, the company that owns all of British Airways and Iberia, has brought changes to those airlines that have achieved a great deal, and perhaps perversely, encouraged Ryanair, to change its ways and at least treat consumers with more respect in its even tighter cabins. Which in turn has led to Ryanair makings lots of money in its recently reported full financial year reports.
Ryanair grew profits by 66 percent in the 12 months to the end of March, mainly by “pissing people off less than before” according to its bluntly spoken CEO Michael O’Leary, rather than by paying less for fuel, since over the period lower fuel charges only reduced overall operating costs by five percent.
Has Mr Walsh thus misjudged the timing of tightening or untightening of the screws on BA’s best customers? If Mr Walsh were to be kind enough to fly beside myself in a full BA Club Europe cabin with a large proportion of fully grown adults and have witnessed the struggle his excellent cabin crew have in trying to deliver a quality of service to people who are jammed uncomfortably into their seats for a premium he might just possibly concede that the new Club Europe has ‘gone too far.’
If seat maps are to be taken at face value, easyJet through its alternative offer of extra legroom seats now sells more room to its premium paying passengers in the same sized Airbus A319s than does BA. Thus an easyJet A319 can satisfy the space premium paying customer more generously than full service BA, something that does suggest that the new Club Euro lost touch with the market for this sort of value just as the low cost brands realised the greater potential from offering customers some decent room for a decent price.
Does BA want to be beaten in the ‘extra amenity’ stakes by a low cost carrier? At a time when the security circuses at airports and the degraded state of airliner cabins are impinging on intra European flyers, rail is giving passengers a more amendable travel experience over much of the continent and in the UK.
This is not the time for packing people ever more tightly into stuffy jets.