Surprising: British Airways Is Improving Their Economy Catering

Filed Under: British Airways

For the past few years we’ve seen British Airways take a new “low cost” direction under the leadership of Alex Cruz, who used to run Spanish ultra low cost carrier Vueling (which is owned by the same parent company as British Airways). British Airways’ strategy seems to be to make the economy experience as bad as possible — they introduced food & drinks for purchase on intra-Europe flights, they’re adding more and more seats to their planes, etc.

Meanwhile they have been investing significantly in their premium cabin experience, and next year we should see them introduce a new business class seat.

So based on the precedent set by British Airways, I certainly wasn’t expecting them to make any improvements to their economy experience. Heck, just last year there were rumors that British Airways was considering introducing buy on board in longhaul economy.

Today British Airways has announced that they’re making improvements to the meal service in economy on longhaul flights, which will be introduced starting on January 17, 2018. The first flight to feature the improved catering will be BA117 to New York, and then it will be progressively rolled out from there. The plan is that the menu will change every six months.

British Airways claims that these changes will provide more quantity and quality to both meals and great snacking options throughout the flight.

Per British Airways’ press release, economy meal service will include the following:

  • Pretzels with the welcome drink
  • Four-course meal with starter, main, dessert, cheese and biscuits, accompanied by a bread roll and bottle of water
  • Second meal or substantial snack depending on the length of the flight
  • Regional meal options served according to destination
  • Magnum ice-creams
  • Tuck box with chocolates and crisps
  • Hot breakfast on longer overnight flights
  • Graze movie-snack box on longer* flights
  • Complimentary drinks from the bar

Here’s a more in-depth description of what the service will look like:

The airline’s customers will be welcomed with pretzels and a drink. Once they are settled in, they will be served a four-course meal such as a starter of couscous salad, followed by a main course of chicken casserole with an ale sauce, colcannon mash and seasonal vegetables, or a vegetarian tomato, farfalle and vegetable dish. Dessert will be a Pots & Co salted caramel and chocolate mousse, followed by biscuits and cheese. The meal will be accompanied by a bread roll and a bottle of Highland Spring water.

On the shorter daylight long-haul flights to destinations such as New York and Dubai, fliers will also receive a sandwich such as egg and cress with a chocolate or Nutri-Grain bar. Those on longer daylight flights to destinations such as Cape Town and Hong Kong will receive a hot meal, such as a pizza wrap or a regional option, with a pot of pasta, a chocolate brownie and a drink as well as a smokehouse BBQ crunch Graze movie-snack box. A hot English breakfast will also be served on these longer flights that operate overnight.

Customers on daylight flights from London will be offered a range of Magnum ice-creams, while those on night flights will be offered a tuck-box with options such as Dairy Milk Buttons, Twix, Kit-Kats and Mini Cheddars, which will also be available in the galley for them to help themselves to.

Bottom line

Sometimes it’s tough to make sense of the strategies airlines take when it comes to where they cut costs and where they invest. In the case of British Airways, for the past couple of years all they’ve done is cut costs in economy, so it’s fantastic to see that they’ll be improving the experience a bit in one way for those taking a longhaul flight with them.

I’m still surprised to see this, though. With the competition they face from Norwegian, their strategy has been to basically match Norwegian on just about everything as much as possible. I don’t think that’s a good strategy, necessarily, since they’ll never be able to match Norwegian’s cost structure. So this is a step in the opposite direction, which I wasn’t expecting.

What do you make of British Airways investing in their longhaul economy experience? 

  1. This strategy is just dumb and confusing. Cutting back everything and then reintroducing back what you cut as an upgrade.

    See: United cutting alcohol on all international long-haul flights, and then restoring some of it to select routes.

  2. It’s not being progressively rolled out, it seems. That departure to JFK is just the first proper long haul of the day. Should be on all routes on 17 Jan.

  3. Bring back proper food and in larger amounts. It seems in the last few years, the food portions have reduced, and basically I get hungry on most flights. I am all for it for them to bring it back up towards the good old days! Especially long haul.

  4. I don’t see how this is different from current BA practise. On their overnight flights to Joburg they were typically serving a four course meal and then a hot breakfast (which on the outward leg is one of the best economy breakfasts around, perhaps save for the mezze breakfast that was long ago served on EK147). Other than the hot breakfast when leaving LHR the food is generally very bland in economy.

  5. I think if they (meaning full service airlines) want to command a price premium in Economy they have to provide a good experience and this is smart – they are making the experience a bit nicer by providing some simple packaged/frozen snacks that couldn’t possibly cost much but add a lot to the experience of a traveler. An ice cream service may seem trite but it shows that you are being taken care of and is something special.

    In economy, food and luggage are the only differentiators left. If those are not good or not needed, low cost will always win.

  6. I recently had one of my worst airplane meals on BA IAD-LHR. One small meal for dinner, and I don’t even recall getting breakfast (maybe I was asleep, but seems unlikely considering I was sleeping fairly lightly and would have noticed lights coming on). Contrast that to my return AA MAD-IAD a week later, and it was like night and day. Felt like I was getting fed every 1.5-2 hrs and lunch was about twice the size of my dinner on BA.

  7. Just flew them LHR-SIN on Wednesday evening on the 011. Dinner was not even filling and they did not have cookies or pot noodles or chips or basically any snacks in the galley for snacks on a 12 hour and 40 minutes flight. Utterly embarassing. Legacy CC were not even motivated and refused to get me snacks despite almost the whole of economy being asleep and no passengers in the galley. Only thing one CC offered me was fruit from someone else’s special meal for breakfast that the passenger elected not to have. Not concerned about the hot towels or eye masks or ear plugs but the last thing I’d want as a passenger is to be hungry and waiting till the next meal like its eternity and my body feeling uneasy when going through turbulence!! Almost felt like china eastern long haul in economy.

  8. There are a lot of reasons I can think of for not flying BA not the least of which is the stench of curry that lingers in the cabin forever after they fire up their ovens. Even if it’s a non curry entree, it smells like curry from previous curry dishes heated in their ovens. Shouldn’t have to exit a BA flight smelling like a Bombay line cook. Progress would be dumping all curry entrees.

  9. Like Anna above, i had one of the worst catering experiences long haul i have had on IAD-LHR a few years ago. A light dinner, and then for “breakfast” a cup of weak coffee and something that looked like a cross between a christmas pudding and a brick, wrapped in cellophane. Genuinely inedible. And that was it.

    Combined with the uncomfortable seat, it made me vow not to fly BA econ long haul again, which is tricky to avoid as i live in London. By contrast and econ long haul flight on Delta last year (MXP-JFK) we were stuffed with food and numerous intervals throughout the flights, and tons of drinks. There was a service recovery shocker on the outbound but that’s off topic.

    So this is welcome, but I think i’ll still avoid.

  10. Your article makes it difficult to see what is changing. The main difference from now is:

    Tuck boxes to be reintroduced in WT galleys for passengers to help themselves to snacks outside of meal times.

    Ice creams

    These will be rolled out to all long haul flights from Heathrow on 17 Jan.

  11. This has come about because of a collapse in BAs net promoter score which shows no sign of improving.

  12. As you noted, because they can’t compete on cost, they need to do something to DIFFERENTIATE themselves from the LCCs like Norwegian. For once, this is a step in the right direction.

  13. Yeah this is an about-face, but they have always treated their longhaul and regional operations very differently (you now get 3-4” more legroom in the long-haul config than the awful regional planes). I think this continues the trend of Cruz finallly realising (prob about 1-1.5 years ago now) that they had just cut way, way too far. Hence investment for elites (lounges) Biz class catering (rolling our too slowly but on a number of TA routes now), and now Biz class seat (adopting the Emirates a380 seats rather than trying to rescusitate their poor in-house 8-across design).

    Longhaul coach generates a lot more customer feedback and expectations that regional, where they really do compete purely on price. This is another step in the right direction. God help us is Cruz finally listening to customers??

  14. After huge strides backwards on the catering front over recent years, it’s now baby steps forward! Quite pathetic really. Still the world’s least favourite Low Service Carrier.

  15. @ glenn t
    Should someone realising they’ve made a mistake and then correcting it be a cause for (modest) celebration, rather than an excuse for childish name-calling?

    I would criticise some of their choices (the Magnum brand is hardly an advert for high-quality food – but judging by the number of people who choose to buy them, I guess synthetic or chemical-laden sugar brands are enjoyed by most). But I am glad BA is for once actually focussing on improving the customer experience rather than cheese-paring cuts.

  16. In my opinion, they should have picked up the dining concept recently introduced by Qantas, where you do get a bigger main meal portion and cut out those smaller side dishes which most of the time are just some dried up vegetables.

    This will benefit both passengers and customers – in both real estate space taken on that tiny tray table and size point.

  17. @The Nice Paul: No, BA’s still a long way from what it used to be, even what it used to be just 2-3 years ago. Virgin Atlantic’s by no means innocent in cutting services over the years, BUT unless you’re flying F on BA, I’ll take VS any day over BA.

  18. If I’m honest I would happily take VS over BA all things equal. BA, up to this point, has bordered on being customer-hostile. They know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

    This announcement is very welcome but I will be far happier when the current management is given their P65.

  19. like T I had my worst flight on BA 7 years back. old 747 lhr to sao paolo. food was appauling. have not flown BA since

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