For all the talk recently about the dire financial straits facing BA and rumors that they were on the verge of axing their First Class cabin, it comes as a surprise–a welcome surprise–that BA has announced it will be investing £100MN in updating its First Class cabins.
The revamp of the company’s Boeing Co. 777 and 747 aircraft began this week, incorporating concepts from consultants who have previously designed leather-rich interiors for carmakers Jaguar and Aston Martin, BA spokeswoman Amanda Allan said today in a phone interview. The refit will take two years to complete.
Note to BA: please use top-quality leather. UA’s new domestic and international (faux?) leather seats are great, but they are already falling apart.
The cynical side of me says this action is like updating the parlor room as the manor crumbles (in terms of the long-haul prospects of First Class profitability), but BA has reported an uptick in premium travel the last two months and predicts that high-end travel will rebound in 2010. I sure hope their predictions are accurate.
Although I have never had the pleasure of flying in BA First, I have read many reviews and am familiar with the seats, IFE, and service currently offered–far exceeding all U.S. airlines and even some competitors in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
London-based consultant Forpeople has been brought in to devise “high-end luxury finishes” that will emphasize the brand’s Britishness, the spokeswoman said. Another design firm, Tangerine, has worked on new seating styles, she said.
I don’t know what exactly "Britishness" entails, but the article suggests BA’s new First Class product may resemble Qatar’s:
With business cabins now commonly providing seats that fold flat and are divided from their neighbors, companies such as Qatar Airways Ltd. have differentiated their first-class products with limousine pickups, restaurant-standard meals and beds with feather duvets.
With the introduction of Singapore Airline’s Suites Class, First Class travel has reach an upper bound, IMO, in terms of comfort, cuisine, and IFE. Therefore, all that is left to improve is the ground service. BA already shines in this area–with high-quality full meals for First Class passengers available in departure and arrival lounges, but perhaps they will take it to the next level with limousine pick-up and drop-off, massages (I think those are offered too at some airports already), and other perks that will leave high-yield passengers impressed from door to door. Doing so will further distinguish BA from its many worthy peers.
In my experience, many First Class passengers just want to sleep once onboard, so if BA can perfect their new seat in lie-flat mode (or incorporate a secondary bed like in Singapore’s Suites), spruce up their duvets and pillows, and offer a seamless ground service, they will be in a position to further capitalize on the premium market.
News of investment in premium cabins is always a good thing and I hope that BA will set a new standard of excellence that will force other carriers to improve their products, both on the ground and in the air.