Club Class is `tatty, tired and overpriced'

BRITISH AIRWAYS' Business Class, once lauded for its innovation, was yesterday described as "tatty and tired". Air-travel experts held differing views as to where British Airways had gone so wrong with its business customers, but most agreed it was in definite need of the revitalised Club World, announced yesterday.

Alex Mcwhirter, airlines specialist with Business Traveller, magazine, blamed BA's refusal to discount, despite competition from other airlines.

With the business market shrinking - a 10 per cent reduction in yield year on year - he believed BA was unwise to keep increasing its fares: "A few years ago Club World was a very good product, but others have been catching up. In some cases one might argue they offer better products," he said.

At a time when business travellers are increasingly bent on economising, Mr Mcwhirter discovered you could save thousands of pounds on some long- haul trips. He quoted a return trip fare to New York with Air France for pounds 1,350, considerably less than BA's pounds 3,200. "BA will only discount with large, multi-national customers - they won't for the ordinary person," he said. "Air France may be a longer flight [via Paris] but for that price it could be worth it.

"Delta's new business class is offering 10 inches more leg room, seats with five motors, new catering facilities, and a 20 per cent discount."

He added: "BA's business class is a good product and reliable. These are important factors to some people, but others will be looking at the savings to be made by going elsewhere."

David Learmount, operations editor of Flight International, agreed: "There is no doubt BA never offers the cheapest prices."

However, he added: "The message is uncomplicated. BA wasway ahead of the competition. It was innovative, and one of the most profitable airlines in the world - it still is. But that was it's heyday and it is never going to reach that level again."

Chris Jasper, business editor of Flight International, felt that other more logistical factors had prompted the slump in business travel: "There is no doubt the business product is tatty, poor value for money and with low morale among its cabin crew," he said, but added that the East Asian economic crisis had hit the airline hard.

"But the main problem is it is offering the wrong routes and services for its business market," he said.

Mr Jasper insisted that the airline, which has always been a business- orientated carrier, was going to have to make changes, increasing its ratio of professional passengers by introducing smaller aircraft, and focusing on profitable routes. In some cases it could have flights dedicated entirely to business.

BA insisted it was doing just that - by replacing the Boeing 747s in its long-haul fleet with smaller 777s. Europe was also proving unprofitable, and the airline has announced that it is cutting its 80 continental destinations to 60. Flights will be transferred on to the more profitable business routes.

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