An Often-Overlooked Downside To How British Airways Manages Club Europe

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In the US we’re pretty lucky when it comes to domestic premium cabins. The First Class cabins of all three legacy carriers are almost always a significant step up from Economy Class (admittedly this is not a difficult achievement) and it’s relatively easy to make the case for paying a premium to sit up front.

In Europe things are different. The premium cabins found on most European short-haul aircraft are mediocre at best and the Club Europe cabins offered by British Airways epitomise the mediocrity on offer.

British Airways Club Europe cabins offer no more legroom than you’ll find in Economy Class and the seats in the short-haul “premium cabin” are identical to the Economy Class seats too.

a row of black and white seats
British Airways A320 Club Europe

The primary differentiators between Club Europe and Economy Class are the meal & drinks which are included in the premium cabin fare (it’s buy-onboard only in Economy Class) and the fact that the middle seats in Club Europe are blocked out.

Essentially, the premium you pay to sit in Club Europe gets you a little more separation from the closest other passenger in your row (you don’t get any extra seat width) and a meal with drinks. That’s it.

Unfortunately the fact that there is so little difference between Club Europe and Economy Class isn’t only bad news for premium cabin flyers but it can create an issue for Economy Class flyers too.

As all the seats throughout any given British Airways short-haul aircraft are usually identical the airline doesn’t have to have a set Business Class cabin – the size of the cabins can be changed depending on demand.

British Airways uses curtains to divide the Club Europe Cabin from the Economy Class cabin and these curtains are on rails that can be placed anywhere in the aircraft to divide Club Europe from Economy Class.

a man pointing at a screen
BA’s movable curtain divider which splits Club Europe from Economy Class

What this means is that you can get a situation where, at the time of booking, an Economy Class exit row seat is available for selection to oneworld elites…..

a screenshot of a computer

….but, when BA decides that it needs a few more seats to satisfy demand for Club Europe on that same flight, the airline expands the Club Europe cabin (by moving the movable curtain) to include those exit row seats.

Any Economy Class flyers who had reserved a seat in the exit row now get booted to elsewhere on the aircraft.

This issue is more likely to occur on the smaller A319 aircraft but, technically, this could occur on any of BA’s short-haul aircraft if there’s enough demand for Club Europe on any given flight.

This actually happened to me on a recent flight between London and Stockholm (an A319 route) and I was less than impressed.

I always select my short-haul flights based specifically on the availability of an exit row seat as I can’t stand the 29” – 30” of seat pitch that you get in a regular BA Economy Class seat.

If I can’t reserve an exit row seat I’ll book myself on to another flight where an exit row seat is available (except on the rare occasions where I absolutely have to take a specific flight).

a person's legs and feet on an airplane
Almost no room to move in a regular Economy Class seat

On this occasion I got a message letting me know my seat assignment had changed 48 hours before my flight and, when I checked, I could see that the exit row I was originally booked into was no longer part of the Economy Class cabin.

I’d been moved from 10F to 16F and the Economy Class cabin now started at row 11.

There was nothing I could do at the time (except move myself forward a few rows) but, when I got to the airport on the day of departure, I asked an agent to check if the exit row had opened up again.

It hadn’t.

Most of the time, in cases like this one, that’s where the story ends (I was unlucky, pure and simple) but this time there was a little extra annoyance thrown in.

As I sat onboard my flight a few rows back from the exit row I heard a crew member announce “boarding complete” over the public address system….and a quick glance at the exit row ahead of showed all 6 seats unoccupied.

a seat in an airplane
Empty exit row seats on the right-side of the aircraft
a seat in an airplane
Empty exit row seats on the left-side of the aircraft

This is not what you want to see if you’ve been moved from the relative comfort of the exit row to the abomination that is a regular Economy Class row.

Apparently BA decided to boot me out of the exit row on the off-chance that a few more people could be persuaded to overpay for a truly sub-par “premium” product and, when no one bought the extra seats, the airline decided to keep the exit row empty and part of the Club Europe cabin.

At this point I was just annoyed….but I was seething after I had spent 2+ hours in the abhorrently tight seats that BA has in its Airbus A319s – they’re horrible.

a row of seats in an airplane
Here’s a view of how much space there is between the seats on a British Airways A319 (Economy Class)

The moral of the story here is that you shouldn’t take your Economy Class exit row seat allocation as guaranteed if you’re flying on BA’s short-haul aircraft….and considering BA flys its A320s on routes which can be over 5 hours long that’s not a good thing.

Going forward I’ll be staying away from any British Airways routes that offer the A319 aircraft as I have no interest in finding myself in a regular Economy Class row again. On the longer short-haul routes I may even look to fly with a low-cost carrier like easyJet where I may have to pay for extra legroom but where I will also know it won’t be taken away from me days before departure.


  1. Seems to me youre just bitter! Im 6ft and whilst the seats are tight for legroom, why didnt you just pay the extra for extra space. I fly BA CE 12 times a year and generally get row 1, but if I don’t its not a big deal, 2 hours is managable.

    • As I point out in the blog post, the exit row seats are the only seats on the aircraft with decent leg room so there is no option to “pay extra” for space – the Club Europe seats have the same leg room as the regular Economy Class seats (with the exception of row 1 which are only marginally better but still not great).

      So, with that in mind, please feel free to elaborate on how this “bitter” blogger could have paid extra to have good leg room in this situation.

      Also, I’m delighted that you’re fine with the amount of leg room on offer in BA economy class (less competition for exit row seats) but here’s a little bit of news for you – not everyone is the same, not everyone is built the same and not everyone feels the same.

      Just because you’re fine with cramped conditions doesn’t mean that I have to be fine with them and it also doesn’t mean that they’re not uncomfortable for me.

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