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In January of this year British Airways stopped including meals and drinks as part of its regular offering to passengers traveling on its short haul network in favor of making passengers pay for food onboard. Naturally fares didn’t come down in price to account for the decreased offering as this was just another move by British Airways to further eliminate any difference between what it offers and what low cost airlines offer….only without offering the low-cost part of that equation.
To say that the introduction of “buy on board” meals and drinks has been a less than smooth one would be an understatement. Cabin crew (who presumably didn’t think they were signing up to work on a low-cost style airline) have had to get used to taking orders from a cabin full of passengers, heating up the orders that were designed to be served hot and taking payment for the orders all in the same amount of time as they had when handing out meals was the only thing they had to do.
Needless to say service nowadays is stunningly slow (although it has shown signs of getting marginally better on a few routes) and one of the reasons for the often snail-like pace of service is that British Airways only accepts credit or debit cards (or Avios) as a method of payment but doesn’t have the ability to accept contactless payments.
That may not be too much of an issue for residents of countries whose banking system is of the 21st century and offers chip and pin technology (although poor onboard connectivity often still slows things right down) but, if like me, your credit cards come from a country where the banking system makes the abacus look modern (the US), it means that you have to go though the whole rigmarole of waiting for a receipt to print, wait for a flight attendant to find a pen and then sign the slip.
It’s tedious and annoying.
Having said all of that (and thank you for allowing me to vent) there are two other issues that arise from the “credit/debit card only” rule:
- Non-British travelers can get stung for foreign transaction fees by their banks and credit card issuers
- Travelers who don’t have access to a credit or debit card don’t have any way to pay for buy on board food or drinks
Apparently these two things are big enough issues to prompt British Airways into doing something about them.
A rumor I have heard suggests that British Airways is looking to introduce a meal voucher system to help travelers who fall foul of one of the two issues above. The idea is to allow travelers to buy a voucher in advance of their flight which they can then redeem for food and drinks onboard.
I’m not entirely sure of the details to all of this but, presumably, it will work a little bit like a gift card – it could be loaded up before you fly and then used in lieu of a debit or credit card when the time comes to pay on board.
Here’s what I’m assuming:
- Travelers would be able to avoid foreign transaction fees by purchasing gift cards in their own currency before then using that card onboard….although I assume BA will sting them on the exchange rate.
- Unaccompanied children, who probably form the majority of travelers who don’t have access to a debit or credit card, will be able to have their parents load up a voucher/gift card for them before their flight and can then use it onboard to buy food and drink.
I’m assuming that this will be a gift card type proposition because a paper voucher makes little sense – what happens to an unspent balance on a paper voucher?
If this is actually something BA is thinking about then I guess we have to applaud the airline for at least trying to help out people who are being unintentionally inconvenienced by the new buy-on-board system…..but I really wish they’d put some energy and money into getting contactless payments accepted onboard. That would help enormously.
If anyone from British Airways is reading this and would like to comment please get in touch and let me know how true (or not) this rumor is.