British Airways Is Eliminating Middle Seat Table In Intra-Europe Business Class

Filed Under: British Airways

Intra-Europe business class isn’t much to get excited about. On most airlines it’s simply an economy seat with a blocked middle and enhanced service (some airlines in Europe, like Aeroflot, offer a proper product, even on short-haul flights).

Lufthansa’s intra-Europe business class

Back in the day airlines consistently had little tables on top of the center seat in these cabins. It wasn’t really a game changer, though it was a nice perk, since it gave you somewhere to put things without having to lower your own tray table (or the center tray table). While this might sound silly, it also made you feel like the middle seat was actually your space, rather than just feeling like you lucked out and got an empty middle.

British Airways is one of the few remaining airlines in Europe to offer these middle seat tables. It’s surprising, given that they’re also the European legacy airline leading the race to the bottom. However, AusBT notes that British Airways’ upcoming A320neo and A321neo aircraft won’t feature these tables on the middle seats in business class. British Airways has 35 of these aircraft joining their fleet starting this year (including 25 A320neos and 10 A321neos), and they’ll be used to replace some of their older Airbus narrowbody aircraft.

British Airways’ intra-Europe business class

Fortunately British Airways will continue to block the middle seat (as you’d expect), but they just won’t be offering this feature. What’s their motivation here? Probably one of two things:

  • As minor as it sounds, they can eliminate some weight by getting rid of these tables (which reduces fuel burn)
  • Since the size of the Club Europe cabin can change with each flight, it makes it easier to transition the cabin, since they won’t need to add or remove these tables each time.

The much bigger deal is the other changes British Airways is making to their short-haul fleet, including introducing seats that don’t recline, offering only 29″ of pitch, and eliminating trash storage and potable water tanks from the rear of the plane, meaning that everything will have to be done from the front of the cabin.

While British Airways hasn’t formally acknowledged this yet, I would guess that they will also remove the tables from their existing short-haul fleet.

Do you care about the center seat tray table in intra-Europe business class being eliminated?

  1. I flew NCE-ZRH Business Class on Swiss and I had the whole row to myself. There were about 7 rows of Business Class but so few seats actually taken, I guess the plane wasn’t full at all.
    I was expecting one of these little tables, which I thought were more common but I guess not.

  2. I don’t because you can really just lower the middle seat table in these seats and you end up with the same effect. It will still be a shitty way to fly “business”in Europe.

  3. Last time that I flew KLM Intra Europe they still had the extra seat table. It was nice as they still served a light meal on a 75 minute flight with bubbly.

  4. On Southwest Airlines I choose a row 2/3 of the way back and have an empty middle seat most times. It’s more roomy than the fake business class of European airlines. I never understood the logic of putting people in such cramped seats after they have paid thousands of dollars for a lie flat seat across the Atlantic.

  5. I am blind and obviously cannot see the pictures. I have never flown intra-Europe business class. How exactly is the middle seat “blocked”, but still allowing the window-seat passenger to get to their seat? I would really like to know. Thanks.

  6. Roger, the word “blocked” is used figuratively rather than literally. These airlines block the seats in the reservation system from being booked. British Airways, however, does place a tray like device that screws into the armrests of these seats and would prevent someone from sitting there. It doesn’t prevent someone from getting to the window seat as the aisle of the row is not physically blocked by the tray only a portion of the seat.

  7. I get that Ryan Air, EasyJet and now Norwegian are socking it to British Airways, first within Europe and now internationally with Norwegian.

    Still, this was a huge missed opportunity for British Airways, which is supposedly trying to increase the marquee of its premium products, by installing actual regional business-class seats akin to U.S. domestic first-class seats that someone might actually pay for.

    It’s really too bad Virgin Atlantic doesn’t fly intra-Europe.

  8. Why stop at all those cuts? When are they gonna be redoing the cabins with wooden benches to squeeze in as many passengers as possible on ultra short hauls.

  9. @ Delta Diamond

    British Airways doesn’t WANT the opportunity… They have become, in all classes (F is not even anymore a good Business Class) a racer to the bottom, albeit with higher prices than the Low-Costs. The experience on Easyjet is far above that on BA and if you give them a year or two, it will become true of Ryanair vs BA. That there still are passengers to fly with them is a total mystery to me. Kudos to the FAs who, with exceptions, remain classy, but it does not take 30 seconds of a conversation with any of them to be told that they are dying of shame.

  10. I better take the train, the business class of European airlines is a joke in comparison to the one of high-speed trains.

  11. OK, I’m starting to get it. So the tray that British Airways used to put over the center seat doesn’t protrude far enough forward that a person in the window seat could not squeeze between it and the row in front? Sorry for my questions.

  12. I used to fly business class quite a bit in Europe. Mostly because if you book business from the US, with a connection in Europe, you get business all the way by default. But if I’m already in Europe, flying what is typically a short haul, there is very little incentive to burn the points or spend the money. Why? If you have Priority Pass, you get a lounge, often the same one you would have got anyway. You eat in the lounge, not on the plane, so the meal service doesn’t matter. So what do you get? You board sooner, sit closer to the front, and have a guaranteed empty middle seat. Is that worth the extra cost in miles or money? I think not.

  13. And people complain about “first class” in the US. haha. I’ll take a recliner seat over food anyday of the week. I’d rather be hungry than sore.

  14. Hi Roger,

    Keep asking! We are more than happy to help you get an idea of this.

    If you imagine a row of three seats, the middle has a tray covering the space between the armrests to block the actual seat, but not the space in front of that seat.

    Basically, it’s a piece of plastic that extends from the inner armrest of the aisle seat to the outer armrest of the window seat. By inner I mean closer to the window and by outer I mean closer to the aisle.

    This way, the seat cannot be occupied by a person, because your rear would land on the plastic piece if you tried to sit down. It’s a little like if you put something on a chair: it would make it impossible to sit in the chair, but you could still walk past the chair without issues.

    I hope this helps, otherwise feel very free to ask for further elaboration.

  15. I’m actually happy about this, would make a huge difference to a couple traveling with a lap infant.

    Also, some actual space to stuff down.

  16. I don’t think this makes any difference, every other European Carrier has already eliminated them, and I personally found them annoying (as @Anon mentioned it left nonusabke space to put things down, since flight attendants won’t let you leave things on top of the table for takeoff/landing anyway.

    @Pierre, dramatic much? I agree BA has been in a race to the bottom but I really don’t see substantial differences in service to most other European carriers (except for charging for beverages which is annoying but now standard in the US already). Passengers use BA because they have better flight times, better airports, and lounge access in most airports, and they usually aren’t too different in price from EasyJet or Ryanair. I definitely wouldn’t say EasyJet is a BETTER onboard experience perhaps comparable.

  17. I actually like that. Being tall I almost can’t sit down in BA C and without the middle seat I can raise the arm rest and use that space.

  18. Just curious, from a historical stand-point, when did airlines in Europe transition to this model? Sometime in the 1990s?

    “and eliminating trash storage and potable water tanks from the rear of the plane, meaning that everything will have to be done from the front of the cabin.”

    Silly question, but does this mean the all the bathrooms will be at the front of the plane as well from now on?

  19. Intra-Europe flying is vile. No useful (to me) airline offers a good J service (for us in Western Europe, flying Aeroflot via Moscow is as impractical as flying Emirates via the ME).

    Every European legacy airline is engaged in a race to the bottom, to compete with the likes of easyJet and Ryanair (the latter now one of the world’s biggest airlines on the basis of crap service and massive hidden costs but cheap headline fares).

    It might be better for the legacy carriers to avoid brand confusion by doing what Emirates does: leave the low-cost low-service local flights to a different brand (in their case Fly Dubai). How much business would BA long-haul lose by not having a BA-branded network of 3rd rate regional feeder flights? If all those flights were operated by Vueling with BA codeshares, would that help?

    It seems to me the bigger risk for BA (and other legacy carriers) is the contagion of the “premium” legacy brand with the LCC mentality of short-haul. In BA’s case, the original post-War solution still looks sound to me: short-haul by BEA (British European Airways), long-haul by BOAC.

    BA’s dominant position at LHR means I still often fly them to the US (a staggering 23 direct destinations there, whereas between them the US3 serve just 8 destinations direct from LHR). But I almost never fly BA short-haul: it’s easier to take a 35 minute connecting KLM flight from my local English airport and change at Schipol. Skip business class but buy extra legroom Economy seats. That experience is vastly better than BA J, with or without a plastic tray over the middle seat.

  20. @The nice Paul
    I totally agree. I think it’s a flawed strategy for BA to try to be every airline for everyone. Qantas has a dual brand strategy with Jetstar in Australia for both domestic and international services that is very successful – it allows Qantas to focus on being a premium carrier while Jetstar attracts the price conscious with dirt cheap fares.

  21. I’m pleased to hear this… it is so much easier to lie down and sleep in the row without a table.

  22. Death by a thousand cuts. Plus bedbugs on long-haul flights as (reported elsewhere) those planes seemingly never get a deep clean.

  23. Thanks, Brian and William Y for your explanations. Few blind people travel at all (and almost no-one in premium cabins), so it’s nice to know that there are people here who will answer a question about the premium travel experience.

  24. @Julia

    This type of business class cabins started in the early 80’ies. One of the earliest adopters, if not the first, was Scandinavian Airlines. They introduced their “Euroclass” as it was branded in 81 or 82. The last airline to stop intra Europe first class and go for Euro style business class was Lufthansa around 1990.

    After some years, the European airlines offered convertible seats, where three seats did become two slightly wider seats. These were in the end deemed to heavy and space consuming compared to the slimline seats. And we ended up with the current blocked middle seat.

  25. @Jesper

    Interesting. I didn’t fly intra-European until the mid 2000s, and always assumed that it was only somewhat more recent (ie, within the last decade of my first flight) that they had adopted that style of business class. Didn’t know that’s how Europeans were flying during the 80s and much of the 90s!

    “the European airlines offered convertible seats, where three seats did become two slightly wider seats”

    So 3 economy seats that became 2 slightly wider economy seats? Interesting. Would love to see pictures of those seats.

  26. I fly Ba Club Europe often and this is a real disappointment. I use the console a lot, to put things on but also to stow things underneath such as my headphones case and other larger items that don’t fit in the seat pocket. It might sound silly to be bothered by this, but as Lucky says and others concur, there’s little else to differentiate a lot of European businsss class so these tables do help. I could buy two seats on Easyjet and have a free seat next to me and it would be cheaper with the same seating outcome! Disappointed!

  27. “What’s their motivation here? ” you ask.

    You totally missed the reason – it’s the fact that IAG ordered these aircraft & IAG want their aircraft to be as interchangeable between their brands as possible. Yes they’re going to be the same fitting out whether they operate for BA, Aer Lingus, Iberia….you get it?

    It gives IAG much greater fleet flexibility should they need to start switching aircraft between the brands it owns. This (& other vaguely interesting stuff) was talked about during the IAG Capital Markets day in November 2015….it’s just only now it’s actually becoming something tangible.

  28. @Julia After a little searching I found a picture of the converter seats. Have a look at scroll down to the first pic of a row of 3 seats. That middle B seat is too narrow to fit in as the armrests could swivel in towards each other making the A & C seats feel wider. Note when the B seat wasn’t converted & you did sit there it was the most awful, uncomfortable seat ever.
    Or you can see a different angle here

  29. @Julia My helpful reply to you with a couple of links to pictures of the seats you were asking about has been moderated away from here, so try Googling “british airways converter seats” click on images & hopefully if it’s showing the same as what I see the first 2 pictures are what you’re looking for. If you then click on the photo & visit the website they’re from you’ll get an even better idea. Hopefully.

  30. The first neo aircraft are to be based in Terminal 3, and its only the neo aircraft which are having the tray tables removed. However, the new Director of Brands is now reviewing the decision, she came from Iberia and they were always against the middle tables, but after hearing customer comments she is supposedly reviewing that decision. For some reason, Iberia has a lot of say and clout in IAG which is massively dissproportinate to the amount of profit they bring. BA is the cash cow, but always has the toughest targets and has to make the biggest cuts and changes. The biggest shame for me is the removal of the drop down screens showing the moving map. I’ve flown Austrian, lufthsana and Air France and I’ve found that I miss being able to see where I am in the world and get some bearings. The neo aircraft will also have a water facilities down the back.

  31. Swissair (the old Swiss airline) had real first class into the 90s. I read above “Lufthansa was the last” but my recollection is Swissair had it longer.

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