While British Airways probably means ‘bugger all’ to most Australian flyers, the integrity of its messaging can be seen as another example of the contempt a growing number of airlines have for their customers in a game where costs can go down if passenger discomfort goes up.
To whit, this rather sad news story in the Evening Standard about it reducing legroom on short haul flights to less than that offered by Ryanair 737s, or down to the dimensions inside easyJet A319s.
Your reporter has already endured three short haul flights and four long haul sectors on Bloody Awful in recent years, and they were in supposedly premium cabins, and been painfully reminded of the rush, also apparent in Air France and Lufthansa, to punish those who take their claims to be full service carriers seriously.
The magnitude of the problem of blurring full service and low cost definitions of service hasn’t yet reached the same levels in this hemisphere as it has in Europe and soon-to-be Little Britain, but consumers in Australia need to be alert to the issues.
The first symptom of this scourge of jamming everyone in more tightly in avowedly full service carriers is to lie about what is happening.
This is the lie from British Airways as reported by the Evening Standard.
A BA spokesman said: “From next year we’re making a small increase in the number of seats on our A320 and A321 fleets so we can keep fares low.
“Customers fly with us because we offer quality and value in all areas.”
Since when has charging for meals (like low cost carriers) and matching or exceeding their levels of discomfort represent ‘quality and value in all areas’. It just puts BA on a par, or even less than par, with brands that have never claimed to be full service.
Telling customers up front that the airline is going to become more painful for normal sized adults and adolescents to endure, and become ready to sell them overpriced snack food that would never fit on a tray table the size of those that used to be normal in economy, would be the truth.
Given that these moves may signal the abandonment by BA of notions of full service over flights of less than five hour, an honest admission that it is just going to be another low cost carrier might actually lead to a better customer acceptance of this new reality.
The often discussed strength of full service carriers in their lounge and loyalty programs won’t necessarily work in the near future the way it has in the past. Visit a BA lounge in Heathrow and you may well prefer to escape to the less overcrowded pleasures of a higher end bar or bistro in the public areas of the terminal. It seems a bit fanciful to think of increasing the population of the loyalty lounges much further if the real estate they occupy might yield better returns from other tenants.
If this is to be the way of the world in Europe, it will inevitably overtake air travel on a much larger scale in this part of the world.
Flying used to be something regular business travellers regarded as essential. With developments like this, such valuable customers might decide they can get by with slashing the amount of physical travel they do, and move more into the options being opened up by virtual reality communications tools.