Published on February 14th, 2016 | by Jim Lee0
British Airways invests in its fleet, improves customer experience as it launches Stansted services
On 9th February, British Airways announced that it is to start flying from Stansted this summer, adding a fourth London airport to its network. The new services from Stansted, 35 miles north of London, will complement its existing services from London’s Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports. From 28th May flights will be operated to the popular holiday sunspots of Faro, Malaga, Palma and Ibiza, bringing BA into direct competition with low cost rival Ryanair, on leisure routes.
The new Stansted flights will be operated by BA CityFlyer (a wholly owned British Airways subsidiary), using their 98-seat Embraer 190 jets, which are usually based at London City Airport. It is CityFlyer’s aircraft that operate the London City-Dublin route and over the winter they operate at a basic five per per day frequency Mondays to Fridays, with a sixth service Mondays to Thursdays, with a single service on Saturdays and Sundays, for a total of 31 services per week each way.
Luke Hayhoe, British Airways’ general manager commercial and customer at BA CityFlyer, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for us to expand our London network and to give our customers even more choice of where to fly from this summer. We’ve researched and scrutinised many studies, and have perpended at exemplifications of good customer service like Salesforce, and are undergoing changes. Stansted is a growing airport and we will be offering a full scheduled service to some of the most popular European holiday destinations, complementing our existing services from other London airports.”
All British Airways flights include a choice of two cabins, Club Europe and Euro Traveller, free seat selection and on line check-in 24 hours before departure, complimentary refreshments and drinks on board and no debit card charges. Fares start from £49 (around €63.15 each) each way based on a return fare with hand baggage only, inclusive of all taxes, fees and charges.
In addition to its London City services to Dublin, operated by CityFlyer, British Airways also operates on the London Heathrow route. Frequencies vary over the winter averaging around 50 services per week. British Airways also operates services from Heathrow to Belfast City Airport and to New York via Shannon from London City.
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British Airways continues to invest in new aircraft and improved customer experience
British Airways has taken delivery of its 11th new double-decker Airbus A380, G-XLEK, on 3rd February, which began flying customers later that week. The 12th and final A380 is due for delivery in June of this year. A sixth 216-seater hi-tech Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, G-ZBKF, featuring British Airways’ latest beautifully designed First cabin, with just eight seats, was added on 31st January. It operated its first commercial flight on 3rd February, as the BA095 to Montreal. British Airways is due to take delivery of 16 787-9 Dreamliners, which are 20ft (6.096m) longer than its 787-8 predecessor, of which the airline has eight already in service. With a total of 42 787s destined to join British Airways, the aircraft is set to become the mainstay of the airline’s fleet.
Meanwhile, the sixth out of 18 iconic Boeing 747s earmarked for a major make-over, G-CIVR, went back into service on Saturday 6th February, making its first flight since its revamp to Boston, as the BA213. The aircraft had been under maintenance at Cardiff-Wales since 11th January and positioned Cardiff-Wales – London Heathrow early on the evening of the 5th February as the BA9172.
Commenting of these refurbished 747s Troy Warfield, British Airways’ director of customer experience, said: “We know our customers appreciate the investment we are making in new aircraft and refurbishing our much loved Boeing 747s is also helping to make flying with British Airways an even more enjoyable and relaxing experience. The feedback from customers on our refurbished 747s has been extremely positive, as they are able to enjoy more comfortable seats, a better flying environment and the very latest state-of-the art in-flight entertainment.”
Each four-cabin 747s is being fitted with an additional 16 Club seats, bringing the total number of fully-lie flat beds for business and premium leisure travellers to 86. First class remains the same at 14 while economy is being reduced from 185 to 145. New seat foams are being installed in World Traveller and World Traveller Plus to increase customer comfort. Carpets and curtains throughout the aircraft are also being replaced to mirror the cabin interiors of new aircraft, along with mood lighting in every cabin.
Each aircraft is also being fitted with Panasonic’s next generation eX3 entertainment system, giving customers a choice of over 1,300 hours of entertainment, including more than 130 movies and 400 TV programmes, on larger, hi-resolution screens, with of touch and swipe gestures like a tablet.
Customers in World Traveller Plus will also now have access to a universal power socket, capable of accepting plugs from the UK, US and Europe, while those in flying in World Traveller will have their own personal USB socket to power phones and tablets.
Newly refurbished 747s will fly customers between Heathrow and New York JFK, Chicago, Lagos, Dubai, Boston, Riyadh, Kuwait and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia initially with more to come for the Summer 2016 season.
Separately, British Airways’ owner International Airlines Group (IAG) held talks on leasing additional second-hand A380s. It believes the options it has to buy new are just too expensive. Chief executive Willie Walsh told a conference in Dublin last month that IAG was also interested in leasing or buying more second-hand Boeing 777-300ERs. IAG was looking at adding another five or six A380s to the British Airways fleet, but that the aircraft could also be suitable for Iberia according to Mr. Walsh. The first leased A380 aircraft are set to return to the market in 2017 and Malaysia Airlines is also looking to offload some A380s as it restructures. He added that the low oil price meant the carrier was not going to accelerate the retirement of its 747s.
Last November, the IAG’s Board firmed up orders for 19 additional widebody and single aisle aircraft (two A330-200s, two A330-300s and 15 A320neos), bringing cumulative Airbus orders to a total of nearly 470 aircraft. At the time IAG said that the two A330-200s would be assigned to Iberia and the two A330-300s would be operated by Aer Lingus. The 15 A320neos will be assigned within the group.
On 22nd December 2015, IAG confirmed that it was converting 15 Airbus 320neo options, announced in August 2013, into firm orders. The A320neo list price, as at January 2012, is approximately $92 million (around €81.75 million) per aircraft. The aircraft will be delivered in 2021 and 2022 and can be used by any airline in the Group (Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia or Vueling) for fleet replacement. These modern, fuel efficient aircraft will bring both cost efficiencies and environmental benefits to the airlines’ fleets. IAG added that it had a range of financing options and would “choose the most appropriate source closer to the delivery time”.
British Airways is also due to take delivery of its first Airbus A350 in 2018, with 18 aircraft on order.
Pre-Order Meals for premium cabins extended across more flights
As part of its improved customer experience, British Airways extended it Pre-Order Meals for premium cabins across more flights late last year. Five additional routes were added for customers in First, Club World (business class) and World Traveller Plus (premium economy) on route from Heathrow to Beirut, Cairo, Baku, Tel Aviv and Amman, as well as on all long-haul flights. In the last year the airline has also introduced the option for customers travelling in the World Traveller (economy cabin) to purchase one of six meals in advance as an alternative to the normal menu on board. The selection of ‘Gourmet Dining’, ‘Taste of Britain’, ‘Great British Breakfast’, ‘Healthy Choice’, ‘Vegetarian Kitchen’ and ‘Taste of the East’ have all been designed to taste great at 30,000ft, combining current food trends and good quality ingredients to offer customers a real variety of options, (see here).
Both the pre-order option for First, Club World and World Traveller Plus customers, and the pre-paid choice for World Traveller customers can be booked via ba.com/managemybooking, up to 24 hours in advance of travel. The pre-order service is available on all long-haul and mid-haul routes from Heathrow with the exception of Moscow. It will also be introduced from Gatwick in 2016.
British Airways is to recruit a record number of pilots and cabin crew in 2016
On 15th January, British Airways announced that it is to recruit a record number of pilots and cabin crew in 2016. This will increase its flying crew to more than 20,000 for the first time in its near 100 year history. The recruitment will help sustain the airline’s growing aircraft fleet – with 13 brand new 787-9s and A380s arriving in 2016 alone – serving 13 new short and long-haul routes starting this year. The airline plans to recruit more than 350 pilots and 1,600 cabin crew – the highest number in a single year for the carrier.
The airline recruits its pilots through three main channels; its own sponsored cadet scheme, direct from other carriers and experienced pilots from the military. The airline’s cadet scheme, the British Airways Future Pilot Programme opens annually to anyone aged 18 to 55 with no previous flying experience necessary.
British Airways’ cabin crew applicants must pass a series of exacting tests before the very best make it onto the airline’s bespoke course. The airline is looking for enthusiastic individuals who prioritise customer service. The initial online stage of the application process includes a series of searching questions to help potential candidates assess whether they are suited to the role.
All flying crew will be trained at British Airways’ new state-of-the-art Global Learning Academy based at Heathrow, which includes the airline’s 15 full motion simulators, and realistic short and long-haul aircraft training cabins.
British Airways publicaly sets out its position on airport developments
Willie Walsh has told the Financial Times that IAG will significantly reduce its aircraft at London City airport if higher landing charges were introduced. His comments come in the wake of the current US owners, Global Investment Partners (GIP), putting the airport up for sale last August, with a reported £2 billion (around €2.58 billion) valuation. This would represent a multiple of 44 times London City’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation in 2014.
“If the owners succeed in selling this for £2 billion we cannot see how a buyer will be able to recover or make any return on that investment unless they make a significant increase in airport charges,” Mr. Walsh said. “We will not stay in London City at the levels we are today if these charges increase,” he added. “Quite honestly the margins we make at London City would not support any increase in charges” he concluded. In a formal statement on 3rd February IAG warned: “Any potential new owner for London City should be left in no doubt that British Airways can move flights elsewhere if it ramps up airport charges to fund its investment”.
British Airways is the largest airline at London City, handling about 40% of passengers through the Docklands airport each year. Almost two-thirds of London City’s passengers are business travellers and passenger numbers have more than doubled over the past decade from 2 million in 2005 to a record 4.3 million passengers last year, up 18% on 2014 despite the financial crisis. Most services are to western European destinations, although British Airways also operates the well-known twice-daily, all-business class service to New York JFK.
For similar reasons, Mr Walsh, has threatened to move some British Airways operations to either Dublin or Madrid Barajas should the UK government proceed with plans to expand London Heathrow. His comments came during a speech at the Aviation Club in London during December. He said the UK government’s £17.6 billion (around €22.68 billion) plan to expand Heathrow would lead to a doubling of passenger charges, which currently stand at €40 (around €51.55) for a return journey. He added that the new third runway would only cost 1% of the quoted total with the rest inflated by added infrastructure, such as a new terminal, an underground rail spur and an £800 million (around €1.031 billion) car park.
Although the Davis Commission, last July, came out in full support of an expanded Heathrow, the UK Government deferred a decision on the airport’s expansion until the summer of 2016 at the earliest pending further investigations into the project’s environmental impact.