BA faces ‘budget airline’ backlash over deal to sell M&S food on its flights

ByTravelling For Business

September 20, 2016
British Airways

British Airways is facing a backlash from passengers after teaming up with Marks & Spencer to charge passengers for food on short-haul flights for the first time.

The Mail on Sunday has revealed that the country’s flag carrier has struck a deal with the supermarket giant loved by Middle England to provide travellers with an upmarket range of sandwiches and snacks.

Experts predicted last night that the move by the UK’s biggest airline would anger loyal customers who are used to complimentary food and drink on all of its flights.

BA has always distinguished itself from its budget rivals by including meals in ticket prices, and passengers may complain the quality airline is going downmarket.

But the deal would allow it to cut fares, making it look better value in comparison to Ryanair and easyJet, which have been taking a growing share of the market.

While some travellers say they prefer BA because they do not have to buy snacks, executives believe holidaymakers are increasingly prepared to pay for extras if ticket prices are lower.

Nik Loukas, who runs the Inflight Feed website, said: ‘I think it is going to be very difficult for passengers to swallow the fact that they are going to have to pay for food after it has been free for so long.

‘There will probably be a big backlash. British Airways has always had a tradition summed up in their slogan “To fly, to serve”. I think they will have a battle on their hands.’

The deal, which is expected to be announced within weeks after final details are hammered out, will bring two of Britain’s biggest brands together for the first time. It is understood that BA was keen to team up with a high-quality food supplier and had also approached Waitrose, but industry insiders said the tie-up with M&S was a ‘perfect match’.

While passengers on longer BA flights will still be treated to a free three-course meal, the airline could cash in by selling snacks at premium prices on short journeys.

Industry analysts believe low-cost airlines typically make just under £2 per passenger from in-flight sales, so an airline like easyJet – whose menu includes warmed focaccia sandwiches for £4.50 – would be expected to make about £120 million annually from selling food to its 70 million passengers.

A senior executive at an established low-cost airline said: ‘I think BA’s move is an acceptance that the old legacy airline model just does not work.

‘It is simply no longer popular with passengers because you are giving them something they do not necessarily want and which they take for granted and no longer appreciate anyway. We, on the other hand, offer a range of food and drinks that they actually want to buy.

‘I think BA’s offer on its short-haul flights has been pretty ropey for years – on some it seems to be an offer of a health bar or a biscuit.’

The new initiative is believed to have the backing of British Airways chief executive Alex Cruz, who previously ran the group’s partner Vueling, a Spanish-based budget carrier.

Neither Marks & Spencer nor BA would comment directly on the talks. But a BA spokesman said: ‘We are constantly reviewing every element of the experience our customers receive, including the in-flight catering, to ensure we’re delivering what they want.

‘Everything we do is with our customers in mind and we will make changes that reflect their feedback.’