By Gilbert Ott. Photos: Courtesy British Airways.
To borrow a very British phrase, British Airways has quite a "posh" reputation. It's the airline that sends jet-setters like the Beckhams and the Queen all around the world, and offers afternoon tea service on long-haul flights. The airline is going through a bit of a identity crisis, however, and Ryanair, the budget carrier famous for $9.99 flights, will soon surpass British Airways on short-haul seat pitch in economy class.
This latest move, announced yesterday, was intended to raise awareness of cheaper fares on flights from London Heathrow, but for now is mostly creating headline-grabbing math. By adding two rows onto its short-haul intra-Europe Airbus A320s and A321s next year in order to lower seat prices, the carrier will reduce the gap between seats from 30" to 29" of pitch, equaling the lowest numbers offered by any European discount carrier. (Comparably, legacy carrier Air France offers 32" of pitch in their short-haul economy cabin.) British Airways flies to nearly 80 short-haul destinations within Europe, defined by the airline as flights five hours or less.
This isn't altogether new news—the carrier stated in November 2016 that it planned to first shrink passenger space on planes to and from Gatwick before moving to "densify" its Heathrow fleet. But why do it at all? For one, British Airways faces stiff competition from discount wizards throughout Europe including Ryanair, Easyjet, Norwegian, and Vueling, who've mastered the "cheap" game, with promotional fares running as low as $9.99 one way. Rather than compete on price while offering a more refined experience, offering add-ons for purchase to increase revenue for the airline, British Airways is in a distinctive game of copycat—one that may prove treacherous, experts say, as many discount carriers look to bolster their more premium offerings as British Airways slashes away.
The announcement, the latest in a series of squeezes, leaves those transiting London with complicated connectivity options. British Airways recently shifted to a "buy on board" model for short-haul flights, which did away with free booze and in-flight meals and charges passengers for everything including water. (Incredibly, even as a British airline, they're also charging for a cup of tea.) This leaves passengers with the difficult decision to use a nearby London airport serviced by discount carriers, or take the hassle-free connection via Heathrow, generally at a higher price—and now without much difference in service.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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