What’s Cooking With British Airways? BA Eliminating Complimentary Food in Coach on European Flights

As documented in the press recently, British Airways has been taking some heat for launching its buy-on-board program for – previously free – food and drink on domestic and European flights.

In America, many of us are too young to remember the days when the quality of airline food was akin that of a catered meal. In fact, this Forbes article outlines that finding ways to create new revenue streams has been a “sport” that airlines have engaged in for decades, as former American Airlines CEO Robert “Bob” Crandall found that he could save $100,000 annually by removing olives from the salads that the carrier served. Perhaps that decision, made in the 1980s, heralded the beginning of the end of luxurious airline service in coach.

Back to the subject at hand: while I was initially disgusted at the prospect of a Skytrax four-star airline charging for food, I’ve come to realize that BA is in a predicament which not many other European carriers find themselves in. This is because Norwegian Air Shuttle has been selling extremely low fares on transatlantic routes between a major U.K. airport – London Gatwick – and a variety of U.S. cities, including Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York JFK, Oakland, and Orlando.

Even so, BA will still likely remain preferred by the majority of business and first class passengers, as BA Chief Executive Alex Cruz claims Norwegian’s low fares “create new demand,” thereby implying that the majority of Norwegian travelers are tourists who might not have had the desire to travel without such low fares. Yet through offering fares that are markedly lower than anything BA had offered up to this point, Norwegian is – by proxy – threatening BA’s superiority at not just Gatwick but also Heathrow, as some British passengers may choose to bypass the busier Heathrow for Gatwick in favor of lower fares and a smaller airport.

Perhaps I’m being too general in saying this, but I believe that the majority of foreign airlines have better on-board service and offerings than American carriers, particularly on long-haul flights, but also on short-haul flights. Even China Eastern Airlines – a carrier which is majority-owned by the Chinese government – serves meals in economy class on its domestic flights between Beijing and Shanghai, something that American Airlines doesn’t even do for its transcontinental routes. So when BA announced this decision, I have to say I had to evaluate whether it was in danger of letting its reputation dwindle to the standard which we see in America – the “Big 3” American carriers (American, Delta, and United) are labeled three-star airlines by Skytrax; BA is a four-star carrier.

Despite my fear, which may well be premature, BA’s need to lower prices is evident. With that in mind, the most effective way to lower prices while still maintaining a healthy profit margin is to trim expenses. In addition to doing this through eliminating economy class meal service on European flights, BA has started to make changes on its long-haul flights, too, as it eliminated the second of two meals served on westbound transatlantic flights. Of course, this still puts it a cut above Norwegian in that respect, as the latter doesn’t offer any complimentary food or drink on its long-haul flights, but it’s a notable reduction nonetheless.

BA will likely be judged upon whether it can maintain its quality reputation in the face of reducing its offerings. Whether that is attainable remains to be seen.

Hump Day Fare Hacks: October 12, 2016

Norwegian Index for October 12, 2016: 300.0

The Norwegian Index fell 6.8 points from last week, which is quite surprising given that 25% of the calculation is derived from BOS-OSL, whose last remaining departure dates of the season are extremely close (and, thus, are more expensive). However, with Norwegian scheduled to restart BOS-CPH and BOS-OSL services again next spring after a successful first year, I’m curious to see what kind of prices will be offered for those routes.

British Airways lowered the price on its BOS-LHR route to $503, which is barely believable as – in the past year – BOS-LHR has hovered anywhere between $800 and $1,000. Though I’m sure that low fuel prices have something to do with it, I would also imagine that the pound falling 18% against the dollar since Britain’s vote to leave the European Union probably has something to do with it. I had expected flights to LHR to cheapen following Brexit, and while prices stayed consistently high for a month or two, it seems that they are falling now. Perhaps the effects of Brexit on airfares took longer to set in than we thought. I can’t say I agree with Britain’s decision, but I’m certainly not complaining as an American traveler!

Even so, I think there was something even more noteworthy that happened  this week: American Airlines’ willingness to sell JFK-CDG for $433 round trip. Of course, Norwegian Air Shuttle has sold flights on that route for less than $400, but the fact that a legacy carrier is putting forth such a price on a traditionally expensive and competitive route is unbelievable. Again, I think it’s still too early to tell if this is an aberration or the start of a new trend, but maybe the collateral impacts of Brexit have been more than anticipated.

Note: All routes profiled are based on a 7-day round trip (departing and arriving the same day a week apart), unless otherwise noted. That said, I strongly encourage you to play with a variety of dates and trip lengths and see what you can find.

BOSTON

Boston – Lisbon

Leave on:

  • January 26, 2017
  • February 2, 2017
  • March 16, 2017

Carrier: TAP Portugal
Price: $576

Thoughts: While only available on a narrow range of dates, this is the lowest that I’ve seen TAP’s BOS-LIS flights go for.

Boston – London Gatwick

Leave on:

  • December 4
  • January (2017) 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 30
  • February (2017) 1, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 20, 22, 26, 27
  • March (2017) 1, 6, 20, 22

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $324

Thoughts: Even with the lowering of fares on British Airways’ BOS-LHR route, Norwegian is still going to fight for the Boston to London marketshare. And while Norwegian and its BOS-LGW route – in all likelihood – won’t have the same demand or resources as its BOS-LHR counterparts, it’ll certainly attract people with its low fares.

Boston – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • November 9-16, 21-26, 28-30
  • December 1-9, 12, 13, 18, 19, 27, 31
  • January (2017) 1, 2, 5-31
  • February (2017) 1, 2, 6-28
  • March (2017) 1-24

Carrier: British Airways
Price: $503

Thoughts: Could it break the $500 mark? I personally would bet against it, as I could never have fathomed BOS-LHR flights going that low, but I hope I’m wrong!

Boston – Munich

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 11-31
  • February (2017) 1, 2, 4-15, 21-24, 26-28
  • March (2017) 1-3, 6-9, 13-18, 24, 25, 31

Carrier: Lufthansa
Price: $490

Thoughts: Good deal? Absolutely. New normal? Probably not.

Boston – Oslo

Leave on: October 21 (return October 29)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $321

Thoughts: This is a great use of your money (if you’ve got nothing to do for a week starting next Friday).

NEW YORK

New York JFK and Newark – Amsterdam

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 11-31
  • Any date in February
  • Any date in March

Carriers: Delta Air Lines (JFK), KLM (JFK), United Airlines (EWR)
Price: $439

Thoughts: Now the entire month of March is available for $439. Still don’t get it.

New York JFK – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • April (2017) 1-12, 14, 15, 17-30
  • May (2017) 1-10

Carriers: Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic Airways
Price: $519

Thoughts: No big deal – DL and VS just went ahead and took $73 off of last week’s fare.

New York JFK – Oslo

Leave on:

  • February (2017) 5, 7

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $281

Thoughts: It’s a small range of dates, and it might not be the preferable time of year given the destination, but it’s also cheaper than you’d probably find a flight to the West Coast for.

New York JFK – Paris

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 11-28, 30, 31
  • February (2017) 1-3, 5-17, 20-28
  • March (2017) 5, 6, 8, 9, 14-16, 22, 29

Carrier: American Airlines
Price: $433

Thoughts: Norwegian has put forth some impressive prices on JFK-CDG, but the fact that American is selling a direct transatlantic flight for $433 round trip is insane. Maybe the increased level of competition is finally starting to show?

New York JFK – Stockholm

Leave on:

  • February (2017) 1, 3, 6, 8

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $274

Thoughts: The statement immediately preceding this one applies here as well.

Delta Announces Boston to Dublin Flights: What’s the incentive?

Last week, Delta Air Lines broke the news that it’s slated to begin service between Boston Logan and Dublin. These seasonal flights will be operated by the carrier’s Boeing 757-200 aircraft.

This addition is the latest in a long line of intercontinental coups that Logan has bagged in recent years. Prior to 2012, the airport was primarily known as simply being an access point to other continents, as it only possessed nine destinations in Europe*. Since then, however, Boston has transformed into a true international gateway in the last four years with a number of new European and Asian routes. Here’s a brief recap of the destinations added, along with the airlines that serve those destinations:

2012

  • Tokyo – Japan Airlines

2014

  • Beijing – Hainan Airlines
  • Dubai – Emirates
  • Istanbul – Turkish Airlines

2015

  • Hong Kong – Cathay Pacific
  • Shanghai – Hainan Airlines
  • Tel Aviv – El Al

2016

  • Copenhagen – Norwegian Air Shuttle, Scandinavian Airlines
  • Doha – Qatar Airways
  • Dusseldorf – airberlin
  • Lisbon – TAP Portugal
  • London Gatwick – Norwegian Air Shuttle
  • Manchester, UK – Thomas Cook Airlines
  • Oslo – Norwegian Air Shuttle

That’s 13 new intercontinental destinations, a figure which is even more staggering considering Logan had nine European destinations prior to 2012 – so a 250% increase in destinations.* It should be noted that the five largest European markets – London, Paris, Dublin, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam – all had non stop flights before 2012, so it wasn’t like Logan had a dearth of intercontinental options. However, it is impressive that Massport has been able to bring in so many new carries and establish an AsiaPac presence that – cameos from Korean and El Al aside – didn’t exist.

If you read the various aviation forums, you’ll know that most people don’t really consider Boston to be a Delta “hub.” Their skepticism isn’t off-base, either, as Delta isn’t even the major carrier at the airport (that honor belongs to jetBlue). Moreover, as a major U.S. airline, Delta has an interest in acquiring traffic between Boston and its major transatlantic O+D markets: London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Dublin. And while it has a significant presence in the first three cities listed, BOS-DUB is dominated by Aer Lingus, which has two daily flights between the U.S. and Ireland.

Is this a power move by Delta? Yes and no.

It certainly helps the carrier augment its position as a hub in Boston, and it also solidifies its position as the dominant U.S.-based carrier between Boston and Europe. And while such a designation isn’t really under threat, as the only other U.S. airline to fly between Boston and Europe is American and its seasonal 757 to Paris, Delta will now serve four European destinations from Boston.

That said, even with Delta entering this market, Aer Lingus will still have the majority of market share, both due to brand loyalty and capacity as Aer Lingus operates the Airbus A330, which is significantly larger than the Boeing 757s that Delta will fly on the route. Additionally, BOS-DUB doesn’t have the same number of passengers as BOS-LHR or BOS-CDG. Yet by establishing seasonal service on a smaller aircraft than the Boeing 767s it flies to London and Paris or the Airbus A330 it flies to Amsterdam**, Delta has a low-risk “in” to a market that has traditionally posted very good load factors. So why not give it a shot?

Of course, there are a number of elements that factor into an airline’s decision to launch a route. Even so, this one seems like a no-brainer.

* Including countries in continental Europe, as well as the British Isles. This does not include remote European locations such as Iceland and Portugal’s Azores.

** Yes, the featured image is a Delta Airbus A330, but that was the only free stock image I could find.