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A lot of people suspected that British Airways would take an axe to the hot meals served in Economy Class on its longer short-haul flights when rumours first surfaced back in May that British Airways was looking to cut back on catering. At the time the British Airways CEO, Alex Cruz, claimed no decision had yet been taken but the wheels were clearly already in motion.
Business Traveller reached out to British Airways for a comment on the future of short-haul catering following a new rumour that “band 4” Economy Class flights (the longer flights out of the UK to Larnaca, Athens, Istanbul, St Petersburg, Bucharest, and Sofia) would see the hot meals removed in favor of a “chilled snack”.
The British Airways response was as follows:
We are moving to ‘return catering’ on all our short-haul services, including the longer length flights, which will ensure consistency of quality across all our European destinations.
“Return catering” simply means that British Airways will supply food for both outbound and inbound flights from their home base meaning that they can cancel any short-haul catering contracts they have outside of the UK.
Let’s get one thing clear, there is nothing in this decision that’s about ensuring quality. If British Airways was in any way concerned about quality on its short-haul flights it wouldn’t have decimated the short-haul Business Class experience and wouldn’t have gone done the path of charging for baggage and seat assignments for its elites.
This is all about cost savings. More and more cost savings.
It’s not that the hot meals were in any way gourmet, delicious or even healthy……
…but then the “cold snacks” that are currently served on other short-haul flights are hardly substantial enough for a 4+ hour flight:
Although, to be fair, they can be a lot better for you:
Part Of A Broader Plan
The removal of hot meals from the longer short-haul flights is part of a broader British Airways plan to eliminate complementary onboard catering on the rest of the short-haul network. What BA would, apparently, ideally like to do is to introduce a “By On Board” (BoB) service similar to what you see on US a carriers, a number of European carriers (including BA’s sister airline, Iberia) and, of course, the low-cost carriers.
British Airways has been making noises about bringing in Waitrose (a semi-upscale grocery store operator in the UK) to cater whatever BoB options will be provided – presumably in an attempt to persuade passengers that the airline still offers some kind of “premium” above other airlines. But this is just window dressing and a lot of style over substance.
I’m actually a fan of Waitrose and, when in the UK, I do quite a bit of shopping there…..but I don’t believe they’re a good fit for an airline. While the store is nowhere near as upscale as some like to think it is, it’s also nowhere near as expensive either….on the whole. One of the areas where it is expensive is pre-packaged food-to-go.
Waitrose sandwiches, fruit cups and ready-made salads are atrociously overpriced for what they are and, while I’m not suggesting that BA would be paying the same prices as a shopper walking in off the street, BA will clearly be paying a premium to have a Waitrose label on their BoB offering…..and that premium will be passed on to passengers.
Lounge Access & OneWorld Status Just Got More Valuable
Let’s face it, whatever British Airways offers as a “cold snack” won’t be enough to keep you going through a longer flight and whatever BoB offering is introduced will almost certainly be vastly overpriced for what it is. This makes eating before you fly a lot more important that it was.
Travelers with OneWorld Emerald status get access to British Airways First Class lounges at Heathrow where the food selection isn’t bad at all. The buffets are perfectly ok…..
And the food you can order is ok too (although not particularly substantial):
The Business Class lounges offer free food too – just not on the scale that you get with the First Class lounges – so it will definitely be possible to fill up before you fly….and that’s almost certainly going to be the way to go.
For those not having lounge access courtesy of airline status there’s always the option of Priority Pass membership which, at Heathrow T5, will get you into the Aspire Lounge (which I don’t particularly like but is better than nothing) and the soon-to-be-opened Plaza Premium Lounge which, I’m hoping, will be an excellent option for those without access to the British Airways lounges. If you don’t have Priority Pass membership there’s always the option to pay in advance or on the day (save money by booking in advance).
I don’t often give BA credit for much (they rarely deserve it) but I have given them credit in the past for not following in the footsteps of the US airlines, Iberia, Finnair and a whole host of other carriers by charging for food onboard their short-haul flights….but now they’re doing away with that.
It will be interesting to see what British Airways decides to offer but, as no one traveling in Economy Class has ever utter the phrase “I’m looking forward to the meal on the plane”, I highly doubt it will be anything worthwhile and I strongly suspect it will be vastly overpriced for what it is. Yet another airline offering just got that little bit worse.