Too early to criticize the BA move to charge for advanced seat selection in business class, as maybe it will be a watershed in the industry. For now I’ll just use the term gutsy, which is a nice way of saying: brave move going first on this one. But all the press reports I have seen (eg. here, here, here) have totally buried the lead. At least the story on Business Traveller contains a great comments thread where readers have picked up the significance of this move.

The story here is not:

Liberal Democrat Transport spokesman Norman Baker who has campaigned on air ticket transparency said last night: ‘This is fundamentally dishonest. I am disappointed that British Airways is adopting Ryanair-style tactics.’This is not about listening to customers at all. It’s about getting extra revenue.’Mr Baker said: ‘It looks like those willing to pay will be able to jump the queue. 

The real story is in fact the idea to move the ancillary revenue juggernaut toward the front of the plane. Economy class passengers have swallowed all of this with the occasional grizzle, but more often than not have paid up (just look at the numbers); making it harder for airlines like Southwest to maintain their opposition to so called nickel and diming, especially when faced with pesky stock analysts. But will business class travellers be quite so accommodating? The global financial crisis has hit the front of the plane very hard, and this is what makes the recent move from BA even more gutsy. Personally I’ve been a big fan of BA business class in the past (specifically the seat configuration), so I would dearly love to see the internal research that lead up to and supported this decision. To date it really has been positioned as a premium product and I’ve always received my preferred seating allocation at time of booking without paying additional fees. 

I hope for the sake of BA this move pays off – assuming it does, it really could make the career of the airline executive who pushed it, as no doubt the rest of the industry will follow if indeed it is proven to be revenue positive. If the move fails, well the knives will be out.  

And before I finish with BA, if you work with airline websites, this link is a must click. I suspect the real story here is much bigger than one airline, so if I get the time I hope to dig into this issue of apparent declining website traffic a little deeper on a subsequent post.