HomeAirlinesBritish AirwaysBA’s New Short-Haul Onboard F&B System Seems Excellent

BA’s New Short-Haul Onboard F&B System Seems Excellent

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At the beginning of the year, British Airways announced that it would stop serving food and drinks from an onboard cart on its short-haul routes. It wasn’t clear from the original announcement whether this was a short-term COVID measure or if this was yet another cost-cutting exercise but regardless, customers have spent the past months having to pre-order food and drinks in the days leading up to their flights as there has been no option to order onboard. Now, those days appear to be behind us.

The “buy in advance” system was far from ideal – I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually know whether I’ll need something to eat or drink on a flight until I’m on the flight or, at best, on the day that I’m due to fly – but, fortunately, a new system has now been introduced.

I have no idea if BA has announced this (if it did, I missed it), but the airline now has a new way of ordering food and drinks on board and if the flight attendant I spoke to is correct, it has only been in place for a couple of weeks.

I first suspected that something new was on offer when I accessed the onboard W-Fi page to check the tariffs and noticed that there’s a “Food and Drink on-board – View Menu” option at the top of the page.

a screenshot of a wi-fi package

We were still on the ground when I tried to see what was available so the system wasn’t up and running, but the message I was presented with looked promising.

a white sign with black text

Once we were airborne, I tried the option again and sure enough, the full Speedbird Café menu was on offer.

a screenshot of a cellphone

Ordering is super simple. You just add your preferred items to your basket.

a screenshot of a food and drink

When you’ve finished selecting the items you’d like to buy, you review your selection…

a screenshot of a web page

…and then you place your order with just your seat number and your name.

a screenshot of a phone

The site then gives you a reference (I’m not sure why you’d need this) and confirms your order.

a screenshot of a phone

The items you ordered are then brought to your seat (my tea arrived in less than 5 minutes on the two occasions that I’ve tried this service out) and you pay using a credit card just as you would have done had you been ordering from the old physical onboard cart.

Quick Thoughts

I love this.

I disliked the “you must pre-order before your flight” system because it was very inflexible and the old “buy off the inflight cart” system came with its own issues too. The cart would block the aircraft’s only aisle for a significant part of the flight (inconvenient if you needed to get past) and customers towards the rear of the aircraft were often left with minimal choice after the customers ahead of them cleaned out the often understocked cart.

On my first flight, the crew operated a cart as well as the online ordering service as (according to the crew I spoke to) most people had no idea that the “order onboard” option was open to them but there was no Speedbird Cafe cart service on the second flight of my trip. Given time and a little publicity for the new service, I suspect we may eventually see the onboard cart consigned to history and, frankly, I don’t think I’ll miss it.

I was impressed when my tea order arrived in under 5 minutes on the two occasions that I tried out this service, but there’s a chance that speedy service was down to the fact that I was probably one of only a handful of passengers who were using the online ordering service. It will be interesting to see how swiftly passengers get their orders once more than a handful are ordering at the same time.

I should probably point out that British Airways is still serving short-haul Economy Class passengers with a bottle of water and a “snack” the moment the aircraft has leveled off, so the new ordering service isn’t leaving passengers with less of an offering than they had before.

a bottle of water and a candy bar on a table

It is, however, making life considerably more convenient for passengers who are happy to pay to have a (proper) drink or some food on board.

Bottom Line

Passengers no longer have to order ahead of time if they’d like to have something to eat or drink on board BA’s short-haul flights. The airline is now operating a buy onboard service that allows customers to order food and drinks from their devices and to have their orders brought directly to their seats. Based purely on my two experiences of this system, I love it, but I appreciate that we’ll only be able to judge it properly once considerably more flyers are using it and the system is put under stress – here’s hoping things go smoothly!

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  1. This information is partly correct. You can indeed now purchase drinks and snacks onboard. The menu is considerably smaller than the full Speedbird Café menu that is available to “pre-order” though. There is no fresh food available (sandwiches, Tom Kerridge pie etc) to buy onboard, this all has to be pre-ordered.

    28 times are available to buy onboard compared to 58 via pre-order.

    • I was given the impression by the crew that the full menu was being introduced to the new onboard option…is that not true?

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