If an airline is going to fly from Heathrow to European destinations it will have high expenses and some strong competition. Many airlines rely partly on the revenue from connecting passengers to longhaul routes to make the short flights balance in their books. No airline is likely to survive without attracting higher-yielding business passengers and this means that they need to offer a full Business Class service. To be competitive, a new entrant must either offer more or be cheaper to survive. Offering lower standards for the same or higher fares will not work.
BMI have once again started to fly some shorthaul routes in Europe and they seem to be sadly unaware of the facts of life.
Of course, they have been down this road before. They used to have a substantial European shorthaul network with a Business Class that was not quite up to the standards of the bigger airlines but was a little cheaper. Unfortunately, that did not make money and, in an effort to reduce costs, they cut back on the Business Class service which made things worse. Now, they are back again.
BMI have gone to some effort to improve and standardise the service in Business Class on their midlhaul routes. This is not before time because the high fares and variable service was a source of great irritation. Their website is full of information about the improved Business Class but does not make it clear that these standards do not apply on shorter routes. Until we made them aware of the error, anyone clicking on “what the fare includes” for a Business ticket to Berlin would told passengers to expect 50 inches of legroom, in-flight videos and chauffeur transfers. The reality is rather different.
- BMI is the only airline we know of at Heathrow that does not pay the fee for its Business passengers to use the Fast Track security channel.
- You get a seat free next to you but just 32 inches seat pitch as opposed to 34 inches on BA.
- BMI offer sparkling wine with your meal – BA and others offer champagne.
- The meal tray is attractively designed but the food itself is basic and cheap.
- All other airlines have curtain dividers to keep Business Class section quiet. On flights we have made, the divider was not in use and cabin crew seemed to think it was being phased out. We asked BMI five times for clarification but never got an answer. Maybe they do not know themselves.
None of this would be a disaster if the fares matched the lower quality – but they do not!
We compared fares on random dates in April to Berlin, Vienna and Marrakech with BA and on nine of the twelve combinations we chose, BA had seats available for lower fares.
BMI then make the fare comparison worse by offering some genuinely cheap fares available but only to selected groups. They have just emailed some Diamond Club members with vouchers to save 35% off any BMI Business fare in the next few weeks. They have offered flights in a one-day sale through Groupon at very good fares. The occasional deals that come up in their own monthly one-day “BMI Friday” sales can also be attracvtive. It looks as if someone in the company knows they need to boost their Business sales and that they will only do this by offering lower fares to match the lower quality. Unfortunately, the fares available to the everyday passenger just looking to buy a ticket are completely out of line with what is being offered.
We at Inside Traveller very much want BMI to survive as a UK carrier within the Lufthansa Group and, to do so, it will need to develop its European services. The path it is taking currently seems to be making all the mistakes they made in the past, together with a few new ones.