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British Airways’ blueprint to go upmarket again

British Airways is working on an extensive blueprint to move upmarket again after the pandemic, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. 

Executives are planning ‘exciting changes’ from June onwards as part of a ‘major evolution’ for the airline. 

They revealed that over the next 12 months there will be significant upgrades to catering, airport lounges, cabin crew uniforms and check-in and boarding systems. Highlights include new digital ordering systems for in-flight meals that will reduce the number of trolleys delivering hot meals and duty-free goods on short-haul economy flights to Europe. 

Cabin fever: The shift upmarket will include a revamp of business class

Long-haul passengers in premium cabins will be served food from gourmet menus prepared by chefs in new kitchens next to the runways at Heathrow. 

Cabin crew will get new uniforms designed by Savile Row tailor Ozwald Boateng. And new flat-bed seats, with a door to the aisle, are being installed in business class.

It marks a huge shift for BA under new boss Sean Doyle, whose predecessor Alex Cruz was accused by investors and passengers of trying to take BA downmarket and compete with budget airlines such as Ryanair. BA said the change in strategy had begun under Cruz but the airline is now able to accelerate its plans. 

Doyle told the MoS: ‘Over the course of the pandemic, we are innovating and we are doing everything we can to make sure that when the customers come back to us, we are ready and they will have a great experience.’ 

Tom Stevens, BA’s director of brand and customer experience, said: ‘From booking until landing, BA needs to feel like a premium experience. Our strategy is to be a premium experience across the board.’ 

BA has pledged to spend £6.5billion on upgrades in a five-year investment plan launched in 2018. 

Stevens, who was promoted to his new role last month, said: ‘What you are seeing now is that [investment] coming out. Now we just need to keep building on it. And now we have this momentum to deliver it. Exciting things will start coming from June onwards.’ 

BA is in talks with a range of potential partners – including interior designers, furniture designers, chefs, drinks-makers and musicians – to upgrade its airport lounges. From this week, First Class passengers flying from Heathrow will be able to recharge before their flights in ‘Sleep Pods’, which are also being installed at JFK airport in New York. 

Meanwhile, under BA’s ‘Buy Before You Fly’ scheme, economy passengers flying to Europe can order food and drink from home up to five days before their flights. They can also order duty free and other online shopping in advance. The changes mean there will be fewer trolleys on short-haul economy flights because the pre-ordering system means the aircraft will carry fewer meals and duty-free goods. Stevens said: ‘The idea is that you are not flying around trolley-loads of perfumes and everything else. We are moving away from the traditional image of hostesses with their trolleys.’ 

He added: ‘The main thing for us is you can offer a broader range. People can choose at home and then we are not carrying around lots of weight and burning fuel that we don’t need to.’ 

Critics accused former boss Cruz of damaging the airline’s brand through cost-cutting, with customer complaints soaring in 2017 when BA axed free food and drinks on short-haul economy flights. Doyle replaced him as chief executive last October. He has since permanently reinstated free water and snacks for economy European flights and brought chef Tom Kerridge on board to replace M&S as the catering brand for short-haul economy trips. 

The menus for BA’s premium cabins on its long-haul flights are designed by catering firm Do & Co, which has built a multi-million-pound kitchen near the runway at Heathrow to cook food fresh on site. Doyle said BA is now looking at a range of ways to use technology to make passengers’ experience as convenient as possible. 

They include virtual queuing to reduce congestion at check-in and boarding gates so that each passenger gets a specific time to arrive at the gate. It has also set up partnership with a company called AirPortr that allows customers to pay £150 to have their bags collected from their home and checked in.

Doyle said: ‘We are using digital applications to give customers a lot more convenience – such as order before you fly, order from your seat in the lounge, be ready to fly before you get to the airport. 

‘All of that is what we are working busily on, making sure that we are doing everything we can to look after our customers.’ 

BA is upgrading business-class cabins with the new ‘Club Suite’ seats, which have flat-bed seats and a door to the aisle for privacy. To date, 28 of BA’s 250 planes have been upgraded. 

BA appointed renowned tailor Boateng to draw up designs for new uniforms for its staff in 2018 but the project was pushed back over the pandemic. Stevens hinted the project could be revived as soon as the summer. 

He said: ‘Right now, the focus is on restarting travel again, and getting our people back to work. Then we will revisit the uniforms and look at what we can do with that. 

‘It is still a pretty timeless uniform but if we did move to something else it would be entirely locked in British heritage.’ Doyle added: ‘For over 100 years we have been connecting Britain with the world – it’s our purpose and our vision. We always set high standards and we are very committed to that.’ 

EASYJET CHAIRMAN JOHN BARTON BAILS OUT 

EasyJet chairman John Barton is checking out of the budget airline as it battles to return to profit. 

The carrier said it has started looking for a replacement to ensure an ‘orderly transition’ as the end of Barton’s nine-year term approaches next May. 

He remains ‘fully committed’ until the handover, it added. Sir Stelios Haji Ioannou, easyJet’s founder and biggest shareholder, called for Barton and three other directors to be ousted during a row last year over a £4.5billion order for Airbus planes. But his coup failed. 

Headhunters have been appointed to commence the search for Barton’s successor, as easyJet prepares to unveil first-half losses on Thursday.

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