British Airways Euro Traveller Club Europe

British Airways was right to use the middle seats yesterday. Here’s why…

Travel is incredibly emotional. There’s the “Love Actually” side of it all, where new places, old friends and love at the other end plays a part, but there’s also the stress of being crammed through security scanners and then embarking into the skies in an aluminum tube.

When you ask customers to boil down the things that they really, really care about though, the numbers are quite simple. People care about getting somewhere when the schedule says they will, and about price. If those aren’t your two main concerns, you’re in an extreme minority of the general traveling public, and it’s important to check that against whatever your personal feelings are.

It’s because of this that British Airways was absolutely right to use “middle seats” for business class customers yesterday, in the face of the many European storms and IT issues affecting Heathrow.

Would you rather be stranded, or potentially share an arm rest with someone for two hours (or less)?

British Airways Euro Traveller Club EuropeFor starters, British Airways “Club Europe” business class doesn’t offer any more legroom or seat comfort than economy.

Club Europe offers lounge access, security fast track, meal and drinks on board, but the only physical differentiators are being in the front of the cabin, which still would’ve been the case yesterday, and the benefit of not having someone next to you, which would’ve been the only notable exception in yesterdays experience.

Drinks were still served, with extra top ups to make up the stress…

In exchange for that displeasure, up to 24 more people per flight made it home, or to meetings yesterday when they otherwise would’ve been stranded. In other words, British Airways prioritized getting people where they needed to be, and that – in my opinion – trumps all other concerns. People who book flights generally have places to be, and that’s the primary concern.

Should people receive some sort of compensation in the form of miles or a voucher for the diminished space and comfort? Sure, why not – seems only. Should BA have done this proactively? Yes, that would’ve been the classier move here. British Airways promises an open seat next to you, and not delivering may be worth a very little something.

But was British Airways wrong to make a minor adjustment to make hundreds, perhaps thousands more customers happy than they otherwise would’ve been able to? No, just no. They made a tough decision which opened them up to cheap shots, but ultimately did right by customers by getting as many where they needed to be during adverse conditions, and that’s something I can get behind.

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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18 Comments

  1. I think you’re right that this was probably a reasonable approach by BA to minimize disruption, and I think they did the right ting, I do think it should be treated as a downgrade for CE passengers.

    Although BA bundle extras like Fast Track Security and Lounge Access with the fares, I think it’s fair to say that the main product a person is buying, especially on such a short flight, is the seat and the extra space. After all, most people can live without a meal for two hours, or spend £2.50 on a drink.

    As you say, the only physical difference between CE and ET is the free seat in the middle, so the product the passengers are receiving is a clear downgrade, IMO. Especially if they have any sort of status that already gives them lounge access and Fast Track Security, meaning that their “Club Europe” fare is giving them nothing beyond a free drink.

  2. Just read this Gilbert and totally agree that prioritising the passengers is spot on. The issue of it being linked to the IT and storm issues was not mentioned by BA. To be fair we didn’t have anyone in the middle seat yesterday but we don’t think Club Europe is worth the money for short flights…there is no extra room unless you are in the front row..

    1. Not got a problem with this happening but their should be compensation given to passengers, as a ba silver all the extras apart from free food and drink onboard is given as a part of status, so yes you are actually only paying for the extra space of having the middle seat free.

  3. A good solution to a problem, IF they had proactively offered something as compensation to those people who booked and paid for the empty middle seat.

  4. Of course it should be treated as a downgrade whatever BA’s imposed ethics are!

    And right or wrong is a personal point of view. It’s up to those in contract with BA to determine the rights and wrongs in their personal opinions.

    However, that said, on many occasions BA have chosen to overlook their own wrongs in the past, and no doubt in the future.

  5. Another travel-devoted site I read this morning on this subject called BA’s decision not to compensate travelers for this “outrageous.”

    I always smile when people misuse that term over minor inconveniences. Yeah, it would be nice for BA to compensate for this temporary fix for a tough problem. Even “classy.” But outrage would be misplaced for this first world problem.

  6. They were wrong on the LHR-ATH flight yesterday, why? Be use the flight went out with 14 empty Y seats on it so they could have moved the curtain back and all would have been good. How do I know this? I was on the flight and nobody in J was happy. The crew weren’t happy and the food loading was bad as well. So on that flight is was BA taking the cheaper option end of.

    1. That’s just downright silly. There’s no reason not to fill those 14 empty Y seats and that requires some explaining re: avoiding downgrade compensation etc. I’m not impressed by this comment. Not your take, but their actions here. Thanks CT!

  7. What a bunch of pretentious people that think that a free seat takes priority over getting on the flight. Just imagine that you didn’t make your meeting/ holiday/get home to see family , isn’t that worse.

  8. A precedent has now been set regardless of your view of the rights and wrongs.
    So the next time BA suffers a ‘adverse condition’ as described in this post this is self-inflicted, such as IT system failure, crew no-shows, mechanical cancellations, industrial disputes, etc., could they now use this as a solution?

    The people accommodated would certainly be thankful, and British Airways would be pleased not having to pay affected passengers under the delayed compensation scheme. The only losers would be some of their premium customers. Perhaps BA (or the bean-counters in BA) thinks this is a risk worth taking.

    They didn’t pro-actively offer compensation as that too would be setting a precedent. BA can’t have it both ways, if this is to become an option for them to use in future. Getting people where they need to be is undoubtedly the priority, but they risk their premium brand (or what there is of it) if they dismiss those that are paying a premium.

  9. Pretty sure most Exec Club members only book club Europe for the extra Tier Points? Otherwise if you’re BA Gold or Silver, why not take an emergency exit row seat and pay £2-£7 for a drink/snack?

    On a longer short-haul flight, you can go hard on the Champagne to recoup some value spent on those luscious Tier Points!

    Agree that BA should compensate those passengers; a nice offer 5k, 10k, 15k or 20k Avios based on the duration of the flight or cash price paid for the original ticket.

  10. If you pay for something and dont get it then you should be compensated.

    No buts, no argument.

    Shoddy thinking if you are not.

  11. I gave up using Club Europe a long time ago, primarily on the grounds of what so many people have said previously…that you’re paying a hugely inflated price for Lounge access, “free food”…and not a lot more.
    I don’t drink alcohol, so can’t even ‘enjoy that aspect of the service !
    Other than the fact that BA, amongst others, reply heavily on the premium cabin income to stay afloat, or rather airborne, for the sake of 3 and a half hours maximum, European flights should be all economy….the only fare options being non refundable, semi and full flex.
    I mean who is really going to worry about a full flight, middle seat occupied of not, on a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ Paris Amsterdam or Frankfurt flight ?
    Or is it really down to cabin snobbery !!
    I for one think BA took the right decision by using the middle seats, certainly being much appreciated by those that could have been potentially been stranded, and the decision hopefully respected by those that for a very short while had to share their precious space with an extra person.

  12. Couple of points…I don’t think anyone is not understanding the principle behind the BA “solution” more the way it has been handled for informing and compensating thier club Europe pax many of whom I would suggest are regulars. If there were ever any unoccupied seats (the manifest prior to boarding should establish that) then seats to fill Y cabin should be sorted at the gate. Athens as a destination is not 2 or 2 and a half hours flying. It’s longer like some other club Europe flights. Seat blocking. In Principe you are correct but in practice especially over emergency exit seat positions not always practices. Even if with Hold card and a customer wishes to buy the “blocked middle” they can do so. Have experienced me as gold actually leaving a emergency extra room seat to move further back into a row of 3 empty seats.

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