British Airways Is Adding More Seats In Economy

Filed Under: British Airways

While I think it has been quite a while since British Airways has been any sort of a “premium” carrier, in past year we’ve seen them head even more in the low cost carrier direction than before. In September British Airways announced that they’ll be eliminating complimentary food & drinks on short-haul flights starting next year.

In terms of their planes, one thing that’s a bit unusual about British Airways is that they still only have nine seats per row in 777 economy. While that used to be the industry standard, over the years progressively more airlines have been adding 10 seats per row in economy, to the point that it’s becoming the standard.

So British Airways is the exception rather than the norm by offering only nine seats in 777 economy.

Well, per British Airways’ Capital Markets Day presentation, it looks like that will soon be changing.


British Airways is adding seats on their 777s

Starting in early 2018, British Airways will be reconfiguring 25 of their 777s with additional seats. The planes will go from having 280 seats to having 332 seats.

Here’s how the seat numbers are changing in each cabin:

  • Business goes from 40 seats to 32 seats
  • Premium economy goes from 24 seats to 48 seats
  • Economy goes from 216 seats to 252 seats

British-Airways-Business-Class-777 - 3
British Airways will reduce the number of business class seats on many 777-200s

As you can see, they’ll be reducing the number of business class seats while adding premium economy and economy seats.

What’s interesting is that they’re planning this configuration for 25 of their 46 777-200 aircraft. They’re calling these “Gatwick 777s,” though in reality fewer than 25 777s are based in Gatwick, meaning that this configuration will likely be expanding to some Heathrow flights as well.

We’ll see 10 seats per row in 777 economy on some Heathrow 777s as well

Frankly I’m shocked that British Airways isn’t introducing 10 seats per row on all their 777s.

As you can see above, it’s all about British Airways competing with Norwegian, and they’re claiming that the above changes will give them a lower cost per seat than Norwegian. Sadly this trend seems reflective of British Airways’ direction overall. Rather than trying to differentiate themselves, they’re simply trying to compete with Norwegian.

Emirates’ 777s feature 10 seats per row in economy

British Airways is also somewhat trying to duplicate Norwegian’s route network out of the US, with the recent announcement of flights from Gatwick to Fort Lauderdale and Oakland.

British Airways is adding seats on their A320s/A321s

On top of that, you can expect British Airways’ narrowbody regional planes to get even tighter:

  • Starting in winter 2017, A320s are going from 168 seats to 180 seats
  • Starting in summer 2018, A321s are going from 205 seats to 218 seats

British Airways’ A320s will soon have two more rows of seats

British Airways’ narrowbody Airbus aircraft are already tight, so I can’t even imagine how tight they’ll feel once these seats are added. For what it’s worth, Easyjet also has 180 seats on their A320s, featuring 29″ of pitch. So I imagine British Airways’ A320s will be identical. That’s a shame.

Bottom line

The race to the bottom continues for British Airways. Ultimately I get that they have to compete with low cost carriers. It’s one thing to compete while maintaining your core strengths and value proposition. However, it’s another thing altogether to simply imitate what Norwegian is doing, because they’ll never fully be able to compete with Norwegian’s cost structure.

The 10 seats per row in 777 economy is hardly surprising, as even most premium carriers have such a configuration nowadays. However, going down to 29″ of pitch on their narrowbody fleet is brutal.

What do you make of British Airways adding more seats in economy?

(Tip of the hat to Economy Class & Beyond)

  1. Lucky, as you say that’s a backward step for BA. As the UK flag carrier they should be setting the standard; however that standard is plummeting fast!!

    An additional space issue will be cabin baggage. One can assume the overhead bins will not be any larger so there will be increasing demand for effectively less space. Many of the BA flights I have been on recently have been so crammed that passengers have had to have their carry on placed in the hold. That can only get worse with increased densities – BA will no doubt be reducing their at present generous cabin baggage allowances to alleviate this.

    Finally in my experience BA struggle to get aircraft loaded and pushed back on time in their current configurations, again this will get worse with increased densities unless they change their boarding model.

    I will certainly be avoiding BA economy in the future if at all possible. Luckily the majority of my flights at present are with Gulf carriers who already deal quite well with the 10 abreast densities on their 777 metal.

  2. BA (indeed IAG as whole) are now beyond a joke. Its a little like the country as a whole…..a bunch of little englanders thinking that we still rule the empire whilst resting on our sadly shrivvling laurels.

    Meanwhile our currency goes down the pan, our economy goes down the pan I suppose it is only fitting that BA follows suit. I have 5 TATLs between now and next summer – ALL – american 77W. Vote with your (corporate) amex!

    (from an english person in London who voted REMAIN!)

  3. Ugh. This is pretty depressing. I miss the landor livery and the old club world cradle seats with raid the larder up in the galley circa 1995. And the 747-200’s with the RR’s and a proper British CEO. Lord King, Marshall, Ayling.

  4. The wallet always wins. People might say they want an extra inch or two of leg room or say they want a fancy meal, but when given the choice between those thing or saving even $20, the wallet always wins, especially in the leisure type markets typified by Gatwick services.

    What would you propose BA do to “differentiate” themselves, and how do you think that will lead to more people willing to spend the extra $$ to pay for that differentiation?

    Sadly, the ability for any carrier to “differentiate” itself is diminishing, in markets all around the world. SQ is struggling, CX is struggling. ETC.

    Essentially, what you are advocating is that these carriers and all convince people to pay more. How do you expect them to do so, when they’ve NEVER been willing to do so (at least since the opportunity to pay less with budget airlines, etc, became a reality in markets all around the world?)

  5. Notably the ‘Gatwick’ fleet is more tourist-oriented (bucket and spade flights), so makes sense for them to compete with the low costs on these routes; mainly caribbean, Florida etc. I don’t expect to see the same density on the more business-oriented routes

  6. Comments here made me laugh as much as listening to Trump’s wife deplore cybernate bullying. How do we expect our legacy airlines to continue to offer us the benefits we get from elite status while competing with LCCs unless they cram more people into the back and compete at that critical end of the market with upstarts like Norwegian? Not to mention the low fares we’ve seen recently in premium cabins on these legacies to compete with thef dumping of front cabin seats by the likes of QR. These changes are inevitable so demeaning them is only barking at the moon.

  7. I’ve flown premium economy on Norwegian for the past three summers. I’m never going back to BA unless they figure out how to make a competitive product. The new Delta premium economy and these BA 777 PE seats are not even close and they cost more.

  8. The airline’s air going to try and turn premium economy into the old business class. Proof is now in the fact that the numbers are showing it. More Y+ than C seats on the plane. The airline’s all realize they screwed themselves with lie flat business and now they are correcting it

  9. @Jason
    Your points are valid in the back of the plane for Y fares. The problem is up front in J. Why would anyone pay the same price for BA’s substandard J product when better options exist?

  10. There’s something quite odd about that picture. The “new configuration” diagram is about 6.5% narrower than the “old configuration” one (57 pixels vs. 61 — and this is true for the original PDF too). Yet the two are the same length.

    Since they’re clearly both 777s, either the “new configuration” is a stretched aircraft (773 or 77X), or the graphic designer who pasted in the diagrams changed the aspect ratio. Based on a few other measurements (length of J seats, galleys, etc), I think it’s the latter. Which is an awfully deceptive thing to do in this circumstance!

    Perhaps they wanted to really emphasize a simple message to the investors: “We’re making this new configuration really really uncomfortable for the passengers.”

  11. Just a few interesting things that took my interesting in reading the full report.

    1.BA using automated document check in.
    2.Automated boarding gate system (scan your own boarding pass)
    3.Remote control Aircraft push back (the trails have been completed here)
    4.Improved club world service

    It was a really interesting PDF.

  12. @Donna. Fair point, but BA keeps that configuration on their more premium heathrow services because they can. Yes they have to discount during low periods, but London is a huge premium travel market, BA has the slots at heathrow, and there are corporations and people willing to pay for it. For the most part, on their business/ corporate routes, they can fill up those seats with revenue paying pax. Because there’s demand. If they were to go to 4 across versus 8, and keep the same number of business class seats, they’d have to take away coach seats. I guess they figured out through experience that they can sell what they have in j and y and they really don’t want to cannibalize revenue when they don’t have to. Bottom line, if they had to change, they would. The fact they don’t means that people are paying for it, mostly because BA has the lock on premium heavy routes in business markets at heathrow.

  13. @Scott is totally right.

    Airlines went overboard estimating the demand for layflat, all aisle J. Companies will wizen up that layflat dense configs actually make more sense if the prices are lower.

    BA and UA should have been smarter and used their denser configs to offer substantially lower J fares. A layflat is a layflat. Having 50% less cabin density so someone doesn’t have to step over someone else to go to the bathroom is not worth $2,000 roundtrip.

    I bet there’s a market for an airline in between LCCs and legacies which looks something like this:
    – HD J cabin with lay-flat seats (perhaps 8 across like BA/UA on a 77W or 7 across on a 787)
    – Use contract lounges for J travelers
    – HD PE or Y+ cabin
    – HD Y cabin with 10-across in Y on a 77W or 9-across on a 787 (basically what we are already seeing)
    – Good IFE and Wifi on board
    – 1 free checked bag in J and Y(business travelers don’t travel for long anyway)
    – Don’t nickel and dime people but don’t have anything special
    – Create fixed ROI loyalty program like Southwest and make it brain dead simple to use. Market the crap out of it and remind the rest of the world how impossible it is to actually use your miles on the dates you want for the average person.

    Go cherry pick the most profitable routes for business travel with ultra competitive J fares (e.g. NYC – LON, if BA/AA is offering $5K r/t, you go in with $3K r/t). BA has plenty of routes (e.g. China) where it’s bleeding cash. If you just cherry pick and steal the best routes, they’ll have no cash to finance those options.

  14. British Airways now makes me embarrassed to be British.

    We no longer have a premium national carrier.

  15. However, apparently the BA 777 seat was only 17.5″ anyway according to seatguru. Unlike Cathay’s recent move, although the aisles may still be narrower the seat’s won’t become that much more narrower

  16. Did you also notice all the lavs they’ve removed up the rear to help make room for even more seats?
    Coz that makes sense, right?

  17. One wonders why British Airways just doesn’t split into two airlines: One for international routes and the other for domestic flights and low-value international flights. Why anyone would fly British Airways over Virgin Atlantic in premium-economy or business-class is beyond me. Heck, I’d rather take a puddle-jumper from Heathrow to Paris and fly Air France business-class anywhere than British Airways.

  18. This now leaves Turkish as the last major European airline with consistently 9-abreast 777s. I suspect that the Japanese airlines will hold on to this as even their 787s as 8-abreast (strange given that Japan doesn’t have that many fat people who would need this extra room), SQ is an open question, but I’m leaning more towards keeping 9-abreast as well. Most their 777s don’t have much of a future ahead as more A350s come in, and the arrival of the 787-10 in 2020+ will only cement their doom, leaving the 8 or so 777s delivered from 2013 onwards in the fleet with a long life ahead. SQ might not want to go through the trouble. Garuda will certainly keep its 777 fleet with 9-abreast: they’re having enough trouble filling them up as is.

  19. Even less pitch in the A320/321 fleet!? I find the current pitch in C (and by extension in Y) appalling. Less will be intolerable. BA will probably only see my money if they have ridiculous low premium fares. The short-haul C will be horrible. The long-haul C is compared to the alternatives mediocre at best.

  20. BA’s depreciating quality and service makes OneWorld an even less compelling choice for TATL and Euro connections.

  21. For a US blog OMAAT (and Boarding Area) seems obsessed with BA. Frankly we Brits have far more to worry about than 10 seats per row in economy at the moment. Like the fact that London is full of tourists! Wonder why…

  22. “So British Airways is the exception rather than the norm by offering only nine seats in 777 economy”

    No…they have 216 seats in economy.

  23. How the mighty have fallen! From the first fully flat bed seat in business in the 90’s to low cost carrier without the low cost!

    Completely agree it is foolish for them to try and compete with Norwegian because the taxes and fees out of LHR are so much more expensive. They should be trying to differentiate themselves on the grounds of quality, but that seems to have gone out the window a long time ago for BA!

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