British Airways’ decision to slash legroom and in-flight perks to rival the prices of its budget rivals means it risks its elite status.
The airline has been told its new business model, which has brought it much closer to traditionally cheaper brands such as Ryanair and easyJet, is damaging the company’s reputation.
Skyscanner, the flight comparison site, compiled a table that showed the average price of a BA flight was actually cheaper than some of the low-cost flight operators.
British Airways’ decision to slash legroom and in-flight perks to rival the prices of its budget rivals means it risks its elite status (file image)
BA is planning to reduce the gap between seats from 30 inches to 29 on some of its planes, less than Ryanair.
The move, which would make BA’s legroom the same as easyJet’s, will make space for an extra two rows of seats to carry 12 more fliers. Ryanair’s gap is 30 inches.
Flyebe, Norwegian and Wizz Air will now all have more legroom than BA.
The country’s flag carrier also struck a deal with the supermarket giant Marks & Spencer to charge passengers for food for the first time.
This angered loyal customers who are used to complimentary food and drink on all of its flights.
But BA has been warned that squeezing bigger profits risked removing one of the last differences between the airline and its no-frills rivals.
Skyscanner, the flight comparison site, compiled a table that showed the average price of a BA flight was actually cheaper than some of the low-cost flight operators
British Airways now offers less legroom than Ryanair on short-haul flights, with 29 inches compared to the latter’s 30
The global creative officer at the branding consultancy Landor, Peter Knapp, told The Times: ‘Along with the removal of free meals on short-haul flights there is little for the economy traveller to choose between when comparing BA to its value-focused competitors.
‘BA need to be careful of how their brand image will fare following these announcements.
‘The worst-case scenario is for their brand to devolve, losing their elite status as Britain’s flag carrier as it cuts the services that help it stand out in a highly competitive marketplace.’
Tory MP Will Quince, of the Transport Select Committee, added: ‘Of course it’s a business decision for BA to make.
‘But if they don’t now include complimentary food and drink, and have the same legroom, what is it that makes them stand out?’
The Airbus A320 and A321 planes being adapted are to be used on routes from Heathrow and Gatwick to Europe.
The industry standard for such flights is legroom of 31 or 32 inches. This will still be the gap on BA’s long-haul planes.
The squeeze, due to begin next year, follows plans to add a tenth seat to each row on BA’s long-haul Boeing 777 planes.
Max Kingsley-Jones, of aviation magazine Flight Global, said the latest decision was in response to growing competition on short-haul routes from budget operators.
He said: ‘BA is seeing declining fares and it has had to adapt.
Our cartoonist Pugh’s take on the BA legroom situation
‘We’ve already seen it with the decision to offer hand luggage-only fares.’
He added that BA has a ‘hard core’ of customers because of its connections at Heathrow and its loyalty programme.
Last week BA’s parent company International Airlines Group announced a 31 per cent rise in year-on-year profits to £390million in 2016.
A BA spokesman said: ‘From next year we’re making a small increase to the number of seats on our A320 and A321 fleet so we can keep fares low.
Customers fly with us because we offer quality and value in all areas.’
BA passengers flying from Gatwick to Barbados were delayed for several hours yesterday because of a lack of toilet paper on board.
One passenger said there was just one roll for nearly 300 travellers. Staff said the wait was also caused by a shortage of paper towels and hand wash. BA has apologised.