British Airways is essentially begging you to fly EasyJet, Norwegian, Ryanair, Wow Air and other budget carriers around the world. If you fly coach, they’ve made it abundantly clear in the last two months, that they have no interest in you. The changes to seat assignment on hand bag only Europe fares are the final backhand in a series of slaps to the face. I mean, why else would they make an already cramped coach seat even more miserable? Why else would they take away your earning potential, your ability to upgrade for reasonable value and now, your ability to have a seat? British Airways hates economy passengers. 

a large airplane on a runway

For those that don’t know, on hand luggage only fares booked after March 26th, you will no longer be able to choose a complimentary seat at any point in time. Instead of choosing, you will be given a seat when check in opens and if you want to change it, you will have to pay. As virtually everyone else will have been assigned a seat by the time your window opens, the chances of you having a decent seat are well…nil. Who wouldn’t love to charge more for giving less. The only way around this predicament is to pay extra at purchase or check in, thus invalidating your savings.

British Airways is begging you to fly economy on other airlines. While budget carriers compete to lower fares and create additional amenities such as free WiFi and business friendly services, British AIrways slashes away at their already inferior coach product. I would much rather compete for a seat at boarding or have the option to reserve a superior location, rather than just “a” location, for a small fee early on, which all budget carriers allow for. On British Airways, with the new rules, elites (not on hand bag fares) will select the best seats, regular economy passengers will select the next best seats, and those on hand luggage only fares who refuse to cough up, will inevitably sit in Row: Toilet, Seat: A. Fascinatingly, Gold tier fliers, if flying on a Hand Baggage fares, will now lose their baggage allowance and seating benefits. Classy.

a sign on a seat

Budget carriers are to legacy airlines, as Uber is to ground transportation. They are disruptive, often for the better of common good. It appears that rather than attempt to create a competitive economy product, British Airways has chosen to simply not compete and focus on premium products. Make things so impossibly miserable that no one will bother seems to be the method of operation. As I have mentioned previously, nearly 90% of an airline’s positive revenue is from routes crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The breadwinner on those routes are premium cabin passengers where they achieve a multiple in profit on each seat compared to those of coach.

Who in their right mind would pay double to be treated like cattle on a legacy carrier when they could be treated like stylish cattle, for half the price, on a budget airline? The market can go two ways and I am not simply referring to short haul trends. Legacy carriers can slash amenities below those of budget airlines in an attempt to compete; or they can offer slightly better amenities, baggage allowances and perks to help passengers justify the current cost. British Airways has made their choice very clear. My sister in law will be flying Norwegian to New York in the next couple of weeks and paid only £300 for a round trip ticket and it comes with free WiFi and a seat!

a plane taking off from runway

With each program gutting their loyalty, why not become a free agent? In my opinion, the way forward is to collect credit card points to fuel your free flights and upgrades by transferring them to the airline of your choosing when the time comes. Don’t bet on the legacy carriers making it any easier to earn or redeem miles any time soon. Thanks for the suggestion British Airways, I may just take one of these budget carriers up on their offer on my next economy flight. 

Many Thanks to readers Sean Docherty and Chris Burns for first making us aware of these ridiculous changes… 

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Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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