American, BA, Iberia Need to Eliminate Differences or Do a Better Job of Highlighting Them

Last week, American and its joint venture partners British Airways and Iberia were here in Southern California to pitch the benefits of the joint venture to the region. The airlines are launching a lot of new service here in the next month, and they say the joint venture is a big reason why. I, however, was more interested in how the airlines were going to deal with their sometimes large product differences. The result? There doesn’t seem to be much concern about that.

As you probably know, BA and Iberia are now co-owned by the same umbrella company so they are slowly beginning to act more like one airline these days. All of these airlines have been in the oneworld alliance together for a long time, but it’s only in the last year that they’ve been granted antitrust immunity to effectively operate as one airline over the Atlantic. This is something that Delta/Air France (including Northwest/KLM) and United/Lufthansa have had for a long time so these guys are playing catch up. And they were in LA to spread the gospel about how great this is going to be.

Some of the point here is to promote new service. Iberia starts its nonstop from LA to Madrid soon, BA is adding San Diego to London again, and American is adding a bunch of regional jet flying around the Western US. Oh, and LA to Shanghai too. With the increasingly tightened cooperation, it had me wondering about the onboard experience. Did they think that it was an issue that the experiences could be so different on the airplane? The answer was no.

We need to look no further than the offerings in LA to see that there is a stark difference, even in coach. Iberia, for example, has no powerports and only overhead video screens on its flight to Madrid. American’s London flight has looping movies in each seat with scattered cigarette-lighter style powerports. BA has full audio/video on demand and no powerports. Meanwhile, BA has a premium economy section that the others do not have. And the business class experiences are very different as well. BA has a full flat bed while Iberia and American have different angled lie flat seats. And Iberia doesn’t have a First Class while the others do. And yet, you wouldn’t know a difference existed if you book online at the airline website. Here’s a shot from BA’s:

BA Codeshare Display

As you can see, you know the name of the airline that’s operating the flight but that’s about it. If you click on the class of service, it just gives a vague description of what you get on BA in those classes and not the other airlines. You can go to the more robust descriptions on the BA website and there are links to American and Iberia from there, but this assumes that people think in advance to ask if there’s a difference. One solution would be to work toward a combined product standard, but they don’t like that idea.

Jose Maria Alvarado, General Manager of the US and Canada for Iberia said, “I don’t think the passenger wants the same cookie cutter service.”

I think there’s a big difference between having similar product offerings and offering “cookie cutter” service. But let’s assume he’s right and that everyone loves each of these airlines for the differences they offer. Shouldn’t they at least be making a greater effort to describe product differences in the booking process?

Kevin Burns, Regional Director of Western USA and Canada for BA said that “to bias the decision process isn’t to our benefit.” Again, there’s a wide gap between informing the customer of the options and biasing the decision process. My hopes aren’t high that we’ll see this change anytime soon.

This isn’t a problem that only these airlines face. Every airline entering into a joint venture or any close business cooperation has to learn to either eliminate the differences or do a better job of explaining them. I wish more airlines would focus on this, especially as they get tighter and tighter with their partners.

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37 Comments on "American, BA, Iberia Need to Eliminate Differences or Do a Better Job of Highlighting Them"

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roryjmaxwell
Member

It’s a little mean to single out BA/IB – these inconsistencies occur in all of the major alliances and not all of the booking sites even make it as clear as the screenshot above. How many people have booked on trans-Atlantic segment sold as Lufthansa but operated as United and offering few of the amenities they were expecting?

Consumer Mike
Guest
Well Rory, I must disagree with you on your opinion regarding Cranky highlighting the differences in BA -IB. I believe that, as Cranky has pointed out, people are interested in any differences between airline services and prices. To some of us travelers who fly frequently to Europe this can be important. Lets start with fares; the round trip to Madrid from LAX is currently being advertised by IB at $769 round trip Vs. $2937 for BA. Granted the level of service is different, but not enough to demand over a $2,000 more. 2nd, I personally will do anything to by-pass… Read more »
Neil S
Guest
I know you’re talking about onboard product, but that’s hardly the only annoying inconsistency with oneworld. I had a trip booked in Club on BA with miles from JFK to HKG, through LHR. I think it was 200K or 240K miles. It was over Christmas, and the snow at LHR forced me to cancel the trip. So I rebooked, on BA’s site, but the new dates let me see other oneworld options, and I ended up booking First on CX for 150K miles. Nonstop from JFK. So 200K in Club with a stop or 150K in First without. Basically, as… Read more »
CP
Guest
It’s a good point, although (as you note near the end, Cranky) oneworld is hardly the only alliance to suffer from this problem. With UA, for instance, you’d have a flat bed in business (well, at least on some aircraft) whereas it’s be angled lie-flat on Lufthansa — not sure the Star Alliance airline websites make the differences clear, either. Note — this isn’t only an issue across multiple airlines. It’s an issue WITHIN airlines, too, given the variation in aircraft. Most every U.S. airline at the moment has variation in its fleet, domestic and international. On UA, 777s still… Read more »
LAFlyer
Guest

I flew LHR-LAX on an AA 777 a few months ago in the back, and they had full-on on-demand video, not the looping videos that they’d had several years ago when I took an AA 777 EZE-MIA. I don’t know if they’re in partially through upgrading the fleet, or if they have route-specific amenities.

ptahcha
Guest

It depends on which cabin you’re in. I believe it’s looped in Y, while on demand in C/F.

David SF eastbay
Member
Do any of the alliances have a big notice to passengers that says something like “service may vary” or something like that when you book codeshare flights? Sounds like half the people are surprised if the carrier who operates the codeshare flight has better service then who they thought they booked space on, and the other half will be surprised if the carrier who operates the flight has aweful service compared to which carrier they booked and thought they were flying on. At least maybe people will learn a lesson if they like the service of one partner over the… Read more »
Evan
Guest
The heart of the matter is what CP says above: This isn’t just an issue with alliances or certain airlines, it’s an industry fact that there’s no consistency in service and product. That spans within airlines (as CP points out) just as much as within alliances. Even airlines that are good at this (e.g. Delta, or Emirates) suffer from inconsistency when one flight is late, or one F/A has a bad day, or one seat’s power outlets aren’t working. It’s just really really hard to have consistency across such large and dynamic organizations with so many external variables. To top… Read more »
iahphx
Member
With the recent mergers (like UA/CO and DL/NW) the differentiation WITHIN an airline can be huge. Like I bought a ticket on DL for a 757 flight to Europe. Not great to fly narrowbody to Europe, but I thought at least I’d get their decent entertainment system. Then I realize I’d be flying an old NW plane with no AVOD. Not much you can do, though, since few people have much of a choice between aircraft — unless you’re making a connection anyway or there are multiple nonstops on the same airline with different airplanes between your city pairs.
jaybru
Member
Living in the past as I do, and opinionated as I am, I’m convinced that too many airline managements think ALL passengers are morons who could care less about service or aircraft type and who make all buying decisons based on price, at least that which airlines might make known, subject to “other fares might be lower and additional fees might apply!” Code-shares, regardless how many asterisks denoting disclosure are made, should simply and finally be outlawed. Likewise, “operated by…” would be outlawed. “Alliances” would be allowed but in no way to suggest what is, or might be, isn’t. “Partnering”… Read more »
Fred
Guest
Well, by outlawing code share or “operated by…” flights, it would be impossible to get many places in the world since you would only be flying one carrier (unless you would want to buy several different tickets which would be more expensive, more trouble, and still be on different airlines). Also, within most major airlines there is a variation in aircraft and so outlawing code sharing wouldn’t necessarily fix anything. Also, I do think that many people (me included) are “morons” who buy tickets based on price. I am willing to pay $50 for a nicer long haul flight, but… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Fred, before code share you were still able to get places in the world, it was called interlining, basically one airline sold a flight on another airline.. Of course sometimes this led to long waits in the terminal because the airlines couldn’t coordinate schedules.

Fred
Guest

True, but that wouldn’t do anything for fixing the service or aircraft differences, so there really is no advantage to interlining when code sharing is possible

Todd
Guest

You missed the glaring difference between the carriers….shall I say elephant in the room?

Buy a first class ticket from Heathrow to San Jose, CA via LAS and you get to spend the last hour and 15 minutes of flight time stuffed into one of American Eagle’s lawn darts, separated from your carry-on bag with your knees tucked nicely under your chin. Why rent a limo to go somewhere only to walk in the pouring rain the last several blocks?

Todd
Guest

…via LAX (not LAS)…

Mike
Guest

IB is now fully flat in business

Consumer Mike
Guest

That is why they were forced to go with BA. IB has never had a successful long term business plan in the past.

daren_siddall
Member

Given that BA and Iberia are now under one company I’m sure there is more likelihood of these inconsistencies to be ironed out. American is going to be the tougher one to bring into line. I will certainly be very careful how I book on BA.com ensuring that I only book on BA flights. In seat power aside, the BA product is far superior across all classes.

Consumer Mike
Guest

No doubt that the BA service is very good. BUT, you pay through the nose for the perks. If money is no object – Go for it!

Airband
Guest

Having flown both airlines on long distance economy I can only say there is a world of difference between the comfort and service level offered between BA and Iberia. That would certainly bias my decision process, but I guess it’s also an experience you have to make yourself.

Jim
Guest

Eh, I don’t think this is a huge issue. It would be ridiculous to propose that the availability of movies and powerports and the seat angles should be listed on the fare results page. If someone wants a particular amenity, they can go on the operating carrier’s website and see if it’s available, alliance or no alliance.

David SF eastbay
Member
Where a big issue comes in is like DL/AF. DL has 2-cabin aircraft over the Atlantic and AF 3-cabin. DL sells it’s front cabin as J/C space, but it’s their ‘first’ class service. But if you book a flight as DL in J/C and the aircraft is operated by AF with it’s 3-cabin aircraft, guess where you are sitting, in business class on the AF aircraft. That can make a big difference if you were expecting to sit in the front cabin and now find yourself in the second/business cabin. Since not all products are the same with alliance partners… Read more »
Kyle
Guest

While it’s not vary big Delta’s website does say your class like “Business (J)” if it’s nonstop while if you take a flight on AF for example it will show “Business (J) + Others” and if you click on others it will tell you what class you are traveling on AF. Just need to click around on all of the tabs on that particular itinerary.

RD
Guest
I think most people are just after price and that explains to a large extent why you see the cramped seats and questionable service everywhere in coach. For those where the comfort/service make a difference and they can’t afford business or first, they are going to take the time to see what is being offered before they press the purchase button. There are numerous websites out there to find all of this type info. The issue I have is when you have taken the time to do all of this and then they change planes at the last minute. I… Read more »
Tyrone Revere
Guest

Right on, right on, right on!

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[…] to consider a true premium economy cabin. On the other hand, there is some strategy here. When British Airways, Iberia, and American formed their joint venture, they liked being able to offer bot… to let people choose. Today, that means that someone who is tall but cost-conscious can pay for […]

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