British Airways has chosen 1 April to launch its latest cunning plan: flying more fresh air around.
Starting today, the airline will fly the same network of domestic service linking London with northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But it will deliberately keep some of the seats empty.
BA’s move will shrink the number of tickets on sale from Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle to London. It now promises a window or aisle seat for every business-class passenger, “and more personal space for working and relaxing”. This is achieved by leaving the middle seats empty in the front of the plane.
Every row of six seats from Gatwick and Heathrow in Club class has a maximum of four occupants, with the middle seat on each side left unsold.
On the average BA domestic flight on an Airbus A320, 20 seats are free – allowing for 10 rows of business class, which should be enough on a typical flight. But where airlines make most money is at peak time, when every seat is filled at high fares.
Yesterday, for example, two late afternoon flights from Heathrow to Edinburgh were completely sold out and the next departure was selling at £320 – at about a pound a mile, almost Concorde prices, though with tea, coffee or champagne extra.
“British Airways is engaged in a fine balancing act,” said Malcolm Ginsberg, Editor in Chief of Business Travel News. “Will the reduced number of seats be reflected by the increased revenue that the business-class passengers will generate?”
The airline says the decision is unrelated to the removal in January of complimentary catering from economy passengers on short-haul flights in Europe.
A spokesperson for BA said: "We're delighted to be launching our short-haul business class cabin, Club Europe, on our UK domestic flights. The introduction of the cabin enables us to offer to UK domestic customers the use of our spacious lounges, with complimentary catering, priority boarding and disembarkation, more generous baggage allowances, extra Avios and frequent flyer points plus excellent free onboard food and drink."
Environmentalists are alarmed at the development. John Stewart, Chair of the HACAN group, which opposes expansion at Heathrow, said: “More fresh air inside the plane will do nothing about the dirty air outside it.
“At a time when air pollution is a real problem, if airlines have seats to spare they should be looking to cut flight numbers rather than fly around with even more empty seats.”
The Independent has identified a way to emulate the British Airways proposition on a budget airline’s domestic flights. On Ryanair services from London to Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow, it is possible to book two seats together. The first using the passenger’s real name, the second requires the purchaser to enter “Mr Extra Comfort Seat”.
Test bookings between Edinburgh and London suggest prices for this DIY business class are around half the corresponding fare on BA. But without lounge access, baggage allowance or champagne.
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