Recession hairshirts are out and luxury is in at BA
BRITISH Airways has revamped its first-class cabins, with wider bed seats, leather desks and linen made from Egyptian cotton, as it seeks to close the gap on the standards of luxury set by rivals in the Middle East and Asia.
The £100m (€114m) makeover, which debuts today, is the first for BA's premium seats in almost 10 years as it seeks to persuade people to carry on paying fares that can top £6,500 (€7,400).
British Airways pioneered flat-bed berths in 1996. That design has since become commonplace, even for business seats. Competitors, such as Qatar Airways, have differentiated their first-class products with limousine pickups, restaurant-standard meals and feather duvets.
The Gulf carrier is one of six with a five-star rating from Skytrax Research, which surveys more than 620 airlines. BA is in the second tier, with four stars.
BA, whose long-haul premium traffic rose for a third straight month in January, ranks as the No 1 carrier across the north Atlantic, the busiest route for premium travel.
The company said its makeover was aimed at creating an "intimate private- jet experience".
The revamp features bed seats that are 60pc wider at the shoulder, a personal wardrobe, leather-bound writing tables, a 15-inch entertainment screen, noise-cancelling headsets and the first electronic blinds on a commercial airliner.
The beds will incorporate a sprung mattress that moulds to the body and 400-thread Egyptian cotton sheets, quilts and pillows.
Passengers will also get an Anya Hindmarch washbag and toiletries from 200-year-old London pharmacist D R Harris & Co.
Nick Cunningham, an analyst at Evolution Securities in London, said first-class passengers tended to be older than business travellers.
The sector also typically included senior executives, celebrities and high-net-worth individuals, he said. Cabin designs generally tended to be more muted and "less jazzy".
He added: "The old first class was becoming faded and it was beginning to look like British Airways didn't believe in it any longer. This is also a sign that BA thinks the recession is coming to an end."