The “New” British Airways First Class Seat Is Nothing To Get Excited About

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Updated 19 September: It is now being suggested that the new modified seat will be retrofitted to BA’s 12 existing 777-300ER aircraft.

It all started yesterday when an over-eager British Airways employee put out a tweet (now deleted) that let the world know that British Airways would be offering a new First Class option in the not too distant future. Earlier today, British Airways emailed staff to let them know that a “modified First seat experience” is on the way (this has been widely leaked already) but the reality behind the news is far less exciting than most had probably hoped.

Here’s what British Airways has said in an email to staff:

We are always listening to customer and colleague feedback about ways to improve our products. The response to our Club Suite has been great, and we are now applying some of the same thinking to a slightly modified version of the First seat on a few of our new 777 aircraft, creating even more privacy for our premium customers.

Starting in October, we will welcome two new variants to our 777 fleet: the 77L and 77H. The 77H variant will offer the modified First seat experience, which includes a privacy door and a three-point seat belt.

It’s important to note that these new aircraft were ordered well in advance of the Covid-19 crisis, but we could not defer their delivery.

I look forward to hearing how our customers and colleagues feel about the modified First seat when they see it on our 777s soon.

Since news of this email broke, Executive Traveller has had confirmation (from within British Airways) that the modified seat in question will be a First Class seat from the cabin of British Airways’ 787-9 & -10 Dreamliners with a privacy door added and a 3-point seatbelt instead of the standard seatbelt that’s usually offered.

a seat and a monitor in the back of a plane
British Airways First Class 787-9

Reports now say that the modified seat will be retrofitted to BA’s 12 existing 777-300ER aircraft starting from “early 2021”.

As the modified seats are only being retrofitted to 12 existing British Airways aircraft + the very limited number of 777s whose deliveries BA could not defer, and as the airline’s hierarchy has long been telling anyone who is willing to listen that the next-generation of 777 aircraft that it has on order (the 777Xs) will have a new (not modified) First Class seat, it would seem as if this modified seat will only be available on a handful of aircraft.

Of course, with this being British Airways that we’re talking about there are two other possibilities:

  1. There’s always the possibility that British Airways never intended to come up with a truly new First Class seat (despite what has been said in the past) and that this is what was planned all along.
  2. British Airways has taken a long hard look at the current state of the airline industry and decided to save money by not going ahead with a truly new First Class seat.

In all frankness, it wouldn’t surprise me if one of these possibilities was actually true. British Airways has already shown itself capable of ordering the latest in aircraft technology and then filling it with seats that were going out of date (or that were out of date already) so what’s to stop it from doing the same with the new 777x aircraft when they’re finally ready?

Why Is British Airways Bothering With A Modified First Class Seat?

British Airways has a problem. In the past the airline was able to get away with offering a mediocre First Class seat because its Business Class seats were so bad – BA First Class may only be average in comparison to the competition, but it’s still considerably better than the airline’s legacy Business Class. Now that the airline is rolling out its new (and vastly improved) Club Suite Business Class seats on more and more routes, the gap between its First Class and Business Class cabins has been narrowed considerably and a lot of people are almost certainly reconsidering the need to pay a premium for First Class (outside of a sale).

a bed with a white pillow and a black purse on it
New Club Suite

Considering how good the new Club Suites are, the service, food, and drinks on offer in First Class would have to be world-leading to justify some of the premiums that First Class often commands but BA’s soft product isn’t that good.

A modified First Class seat that matches the privacy of the Club Suite seems to be BA’s answer to this problem but I’m not sure it’s an answer that will get the airline very far. The airline will still be offering an old(er) seat, so just adding a door and changing the seatbelt is a little like putting lipstick on a pig (although comparing the 787-9 First Class seat to a pig may be a little unfair on BA).

Unless BA genuinely no longer expects to offer a truly new First Class seat going forward, this half-hearted attempt at increasing the quality gap between First and Business Class strikes me as a colossal waste of money. The airline would be better off spending its money on true soft-product enhancements that would get people talking.

If British Airways suddenly announced that it would be upping the standard of food and wine in its First Class cabins to the standards seen on the world’s leading airlines, and upping the standards in the Concorde Room too, there would be far more positive publicity about the move. BA would be seen to be truly differentiating itself from most of its transatlantic competition and the airline may even save itself some money. As it is, all this news appears to have done is to get a few die-hard fans excited (but they’d get excited about just about anything the airline announced) and to get the rest of us scratching our heads wondering why the airline is bothering.

Bottom Line

When British Airways starts taking delivery of a few new 777 aircraft in October they will be being delivered with a slightly modified First Class seat and, from early 2021, the airline’s 777-300ER aircraft will have this modified seat fitted too. The modified seat appears to be nothing more than the exisiting 787-9 First Class seat with a door and a new seatbelt so this really isn’t anything to get excited about.

Featured image: British Airways 787-9 First Class