Considering BA’s options when removing 777-200ER first class

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British Airways is planning to drop first class from a portion of its 777 fleet.

A BA presentation  (PDF, p.86) notes that the conversion from four classes to three classes on the Heathrow 777-200ER fleet will result in 25% more seats over all. Also, the Gatwick 777-200 fleet will see some Club World seats removed to better suit the largely leisure markets operated from London’s second airport.

In the context of the healthy discussion around my recent column on first class airlines, and as a way of exploring how the passenger experience opportunities weigh up against economic realities for British Airways, in the context of parent company IAG’s recent acquisition of Aer Lingus and a reported (yet denied) pursuit of Finnair to add to the stable, what would this future look like?Orlando Bloom for British Airways (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Actor Orlando Bloom lounges in first class

The current state: two fleets across two hubs

British Airways currently operates two fleets of Boeing 777-200 and -200ER aircraft, one with first class seats based at London Heathrow, and one without based at London Gatwick.

Sixteen aircraft (G-YMMA to -YMMF, -YMMR to -YMMU, -VIIO, -VIIP -VIIR, -VIIT and -VIIU) are in a three-class configuration with 48 Club World, 24 World Traveller Plus and 203 World Traveller seats.

Three-class seatmap - inline

These three-class aircraft are split between London Heathrow and London Gatwick, which each have separate route networks. When operating from Heathrow, the aircraft have recently flown routes to Buenos Aires, San Diego, Bangkok, Bangalore, Mumbai, Tel Aviv, Tokyo Haneda, Washington Dulles and Toronto, according to FlightRadar24 data. Some of those routes also see three-class Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner service, while others see four-class service with other aircraft, or no other service at all.

The three -200 jets (G-ZZZA to -ZZZC) are outfitted with first class and principally serve the US east coast and Middle East.

The 27 remaining aircraft are in a four-class configuration, with 14 First, 48 Club World, 32 World Traveller Plus, and 127 World Traveller seats.

Four class

For BA, the aircraft with first class are in a relatively high premium passenger focussed configuration, while the aircraft without are in a relatively low premium passenger configuration.

Club World - Lunch1

Club World would become the top offering, if BA removes first. Image: BA

With the assumption that the move doesn’t come at the same time as refitting a much-mooted new business class onto the 777-200/ER fleet, if BA were to remove the fourteen first class seats in zone A, it would have four primary choices in terms of configuration given the four types of seat it currently operates on its widebodies:

1) Outfit the entire fleet as the three class aircraft are outfitted today

2) Add a further 8, 16 or 24 Club World seats, for a likely total of 56, 64 or 72 seats

3) Add further World Traveller Plus seats

4) Add further World Traveller seats

5) Some combination of 2, 3 and 4

Rotation
In most markets, BA is interested in the higher yielding passenger, and hasn’t shied away from configuring its aircraft to appeal to that end of the market.

If I were a betting man, my money would be on either 16 or 24 Club World seats, not least because the airline will need to make allowances for its long-term marketing position given the cabin mix of its future business class seat.

Whenever the airline eventually decides on a next-generation Club World seat, it will almost certainly be less dense than the current models, given that it will very likely have direct aisle access — which means BA will either have to fly fewer business class passengers or fewer passengers in other classes.

British Airways is not alone in making this decision right now, given the context of low-cost carriers nipping at the heels of legacy airlines like BA, and the squeeze from global carriers like the Gulf 3. If other airlines want to chase a lot of the low-yielding economy traffic, BA may decide to re-up on its premium market.

BA Club World Z-position

Club World. Image: BA

3 Comments

  1. Aiden

    The actual plan is to convert JUST the fleet of Rolls Royce powered 777-200ERs (G-YMM*) into the 3 class layout (48J/24W/203Y).This will bring them in line with the 10 already configured in this way. As well as being able to increase the overall seats offered, it will standardise this fleet type – which usually operates on the longest of routes and offer better operational flexibitly.
    The remaining 4-class GE powered 777-200ER / 777-200s will continue to have First. Operating in a 14F/48J/40W/124Y or 17F/48J/24W/127Y layout.
    Finally, the five 3-class GE powered 777-200ERs that are based solely at LGW will have an overall increase in seats. By removing the smaller second Club World section and extending forward the World Traveller/World Traveller Plus cabins, the total capacity will increase from 283 to 306. These aircraft cater to a mainly leisure orientated clientele. Hope this helps!

    • David

      @Aiden. Where did you get this info. From the IAG Capital Markets Day, it was made clear that it was BA’s B777-200ER’s which includes its RR powered YMM* a/c as well as its GE90’s G-VII* B777-200ER’s. The only a/c in BA’s 777-200 fleet which are not ER are the 3 A-Market A/C reg; G-ZZZA/B/C.

  2. Alex

    It’s not a rumour – it’s confirmed. It was announced at the recent IAG investors’ conference, and is clearly stated on one of the 117 slides which were shown at that conference and which are readily available on the internet.