British Airways: Are They As Bad As People Make Them Out To Be?

They’re the airline seemingly everyone loves to hate these days. And there’s no denying that in recent years, British Airways has slipped somewhat in the eyes of the general public. I have even said so myself:

But is their widespread criticism really that justified? According to Which?, most definitely.

From a personal point of view, British Airways are my most flown airline by a long way. In 2020, it is highly likely I’ll be taking my 300th flight with the airline.

Therefore, I feel as though I am fairly well qualified to take a look at some of the things that they are getting right.

Their Club Europe Product

I’ll start off with one of the more contentious subjects. Virtually all the criticism I’ve seen online is aimed towards the Club Europe business class product. I genuinely fail to see what’s so terrible about it though. Ok, if you look at the premium cabins on offer in the US, Australia or Asia then yes, the British Airways offering is exactly a standard economy seat with the middle blocked. But how does that differ to every other airline in Europe? KLM offer the same concept. As do Lufthansa. And Iberia. The same goes for Swiss.

British Airways Club Europe

So why do I think Club Europe is better than the other airlines offering in Europe then? The catering. I have flown Swiss, Lufthansa, KLM, Iberia and others in their European business class offerings and on each occasion, I was left mostly disappointed with the on board service. In the case of KLM especially, the only meal offered was a somewhat disappointing salad, on an Amsterdam – Rome flight. Had I flown on British Airways, I would have been offered a choice of two hot meals or a salad.

British Airways Catering
British Airways Domestic Club Europe Meal, 2019

I even found the notorious panini that were served on board to be tasty enough for a short flight.

The Buy On Board Products

Another contentious one! I’ll confess that when British Airways first announced their by on board offering, I was dead against it. A few years on, I still don’t partake all that often. But when I have, what has been on offer has been pretty good quality.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think it would be good to be offered something on board for free. Finnair offer free tea, coffee, water or juice on board. For OneWorld Emerald members, you get a free drink from the menu. In my opinion, this is a great system. Even if I wasn’t eligible for a free premium drink.

As far as food goes, again, British Airways has a pretty good selection, both in quality and quantity. Once more, using a recent flight with Finnair as an example. I was feeling a little peckish after not having time to visit the lounge in Helsinki. I grabbed their buy on board menu, and there was the grand total of three sandwiches on offer. The other options were chocolate bars or crisps. British Airways offers a far more comprehensive buy on board menu.

British Airways Buy on Board
Buy on Board Catering, 2019

Refreshed Lounges

Whilst a few of the lounges on the network are well past their prime, the airline has made a number of investments into this area over the past few years. The lounges in Aberdeen and Rome have had very good makeovers. Coming up in 2020, at least one of the lounges at Heathrow has been mentioned in the refurbishment list.

British Airways Lounge, Rome
British Airways Lounge, Rome, 2019

Despite this, since my first visit to the Galleries First Lounge at Heathrow T5 in 2014, there’s been a number of minor upgrades. New furniture appeared in 2018. In late 2019, new carpet has made an appearance too.

With regards to the Club lounges, on my few previous visits to those in 2019, there have been a few minor updates there too. Most notably the food options at breakfast at least have been vastly improved.

BA Lounge, Aberdeen
British Airways Lounge, Aberdeen, 2018

Terminal 5 , Heathrow

For those who don’t have lounge access, fear not! At Heathrow, British Airways has got one of the better terminals to call its home. Light, airy and featuring plenty of open space, the whole area is a vast difference to the claustrophobic feeling of Terminal 4 which the airline previously called home.

Whilst British Airways also uses Terminal 3 at Heathrow, which houses the much revered Cathay Pacific lounge, if you don’t have lounge access then Terminal 5 is where you want to be.

The Staff

One positive thing I have noticed about the airline over the last decade is the staff. Now I’m not saying every single member of British Airways staff I’ve encountered has been perfect. But on the whole, right from pilots to cabin crew to lounge staff I can’t recall any particular instances that stick in my mind where the staff have left a lasting impression for all the wrong reasons.

Where as there is a particular Singapore Airlines cabin crew that I still remember being more than a little abrupt with me. And that flight was nearly three years ago now.

Even on a recent flight with Japan Airlines, it seemed like I was causing a major headache for the crew by asking for some sugar to go in my coffee…

Their App

Lets ignore the latest iteration of the iPad app. That most certainly isn’t one of British Airways strongest areas.

Instead, lets talk about the phone app. More specifically, the iPhone app. It’s been many years since I used the BA Android app, so can’t talk too much about that.

Whilst there are a few area’s that could be improved with the app, compared to the likes of the Iberia and Turkish Airlines app, the British Airways app is miles ahead.

I’ve booked many flights using the app. The integration of Apple Pay into it is a great feature. I can’t say that I have booked flights using any other airlines app’s. I tend to stick to their respective websites.

Another feature of the BA app is the in airport notifications. In Terminal 5 at least, I don’t need to pay any attention to the flight information displays. As soon as the gate is announced, I get a notification on my phone.

Punctuality

Obviously, delays do happen, no matter what the airline. In fact, for a period over the summer of 2015, I recall three weeks in a row when flying British Airways where my flight was delayed. Since then, I can’t say I recall having any major delays with the airline.

Where as taking quite a few flights with Finnair in the last quarter of 2019, evry single flight I took with them was delayed. And not just by a few minutes either. Every flight was at least 15 minutes late. A couple were even 30+ minutes late arriving on to stand.

Although I’m well aware that things like this are the luck of the draw in a lot of cases.

Route Network

Want to fly between Europe and Australia on board a European carrier? Then British Airways it will be. At the other end of the scale, if you want to fly between London and Manchester – yep, British Airways will once more be your only option.

Whilst British Airways don’t fly to every single city out there, if you’re based in London, they are your best bet.

Even my recent trip from Oslo to Nagoya was on an entirely British Airways ticket, despite not a single flight of that particular ticket taking place on BA. Gotta love codeshares…

The New Club World Suite

Whilst not having flown in the new Club World Suite, I did have an opportunity to try it out (briefly).

The seat itself is identical to what Qatar Airways, Air Canada and other have fitted to their aircraft. What sets the BA version apart from the rest though is the door.

One major complaint about the previous generation seat was that the cabin was for too dense. Eight across in most cases. This is no longer an issue.

Whilst the new product is currently exclusive to the newly delivered Airbus A350 aircraft and a handful of Boeing 777’s, the suite will be rolled out fleetwide by the middle of the decade.

British Airways Club Suite

Of course, there are a few ares where the airline could do a little better compared to others.

When was the last time you heard of Virgin Atlantic having a massive IT meltdown? Yet with BA, it seems to happen at least a couple of times a year.

I have previously made a post about certain aspects I would change with the Executive Club. On top of this, I happen to feel that the very top Gold Guest List status isn’t quite in line with Finnair’s Platinum Lumo status or American Airlines Concierge Key status. Off the top of my head, those two programs offer a few more perks over Gold Guest List…

Some of the older aircraft in the British Airways fleet are most definitely showing their age now. Although the airline is in the process of phasing those aircraft out and bringing newer aircraft in, as of today, you still stand a good chance of being on an aircraft that is well past its prime. Five years down the road however, and the airline will have a fairly modern fleet.


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