To fly but NOT to serve. Is British Airways’ new M&S paid-for food service always this shambolic?

I want to like the UK institution that is British Airways but I fear its service is hitting turbulence, begging the question whether it’s worth paying its often higher prices over rivals such as Easyjet. 

This is summed up by the seemingly chaotic implementation of its new, chargeable M&S food service on most short-haul flights, which in January replaced the previously free food.

My experience of the service last month made Fawlty Towers seem proficient and comments from cabin crew and frequent flyers I’ve spoken to indicate I’m not alone.

On a return trip to Greece on BA with my wife in June, on both legs the trolley took about two hours to arrive, despite the fact we were sat close to the front – in rows 12 and 15 on the two legs – where service began. I pity those at the back.

At least I could buy something resembling a meal on the outward leg. On the return BA only had sweets left. If you add up the four-hour flight, 90-min delay on the tarmac, taxiing, chaotic two-hour check-in plus baggage reclaim, it meant over eight hours without any substantive food. I’m not asking for sympathy but I expect better.

It’s worth adding we booked the flights almost a year ahead, well before BA announced it would end free food, so you could argue we paid for food we then had to pay for again.

It gets worse. My wife ordered a gluten-free meal when booking the flight but even on the outward leg – when I could at least buy a sandwich – there was nothing substantive (sandwich, salad etc) available that wouldn’t have triggered her food allergy.

Obviously, given BA had run out of almost everything on the return, sweets were the only option.

A Pig’s ear of a service: Percy Pigs, the only gluten-free food available on our four-hour BA flight.

So if like me you’re temped to ditch BA, check out our Cheap Flights, 18 Easyjet Tricks and 20 Ryanair Tips guides.

On the food allergy point, BA told me “there are options for customers with dietary requirements, but they can also bring their own food onboard.” Hmm. It sounds like it’s saying “we’ll try but we may screw up so take a back-up”.

Mind you, when it used to offer free food onboard, my wife’s gluten-free sandwiches tended to be harder than rock so you could argue the airline did her a favour.

BA’s poor service – I’m not alone

Of course, I am just one of millions of passengers BA flies around the world, but I have found evidence of similar experiences of its M&S service.

A BA cabin crew member I spoke to described its new buy-on-board experience as a “joke”. I was told by this individual there are not enough crew to serve people quickly enough and it regularly runs out of food on return trips to the UK as it often does not restock while overseas. The latter point was confirmed by BA’s press office.

A frequent flyer I sat next to on that return flight from Greece told me he regularly sees BA take hours to serve people on short-haul flights and also often run out of food.

What’s more, I didn’t have to work too hard to find people moaning on forums about the new service – though I take BA’s point that people rarely say nice things about big companies on forums.

‘It’s not British Airways, it’s Hungary [hungry] Airways’

On the Flyertalk forum, Tristar 1979, who presumably works for BA, wrote: “Just welcomed a group of customers who called it ‘Hungary Airways’ because there was no food left to buy.”

On the same forum corporate-wage-slave said: “They routinely sell out of short-dated items (sandwiches) on the outbound and do not have any for the return.”

And Toonfan said: “Trolley service, when it finally started, was pitifully slow and they ran out of sandwiches about seven rows… [into economy].”

Ending free food – whether executed well or not – is yet another sign of BA’s premium image slipping. Unless you sit in premium classes or have a high frequent-flyer status, you normally need to pay to reserve seats and for checked baggage on many flights.

On short hauls, given there are no screens to watch films on, there’s not much difference to budget airlines now.

‘We’re sorry and we will try to improve’

Despite the service shortfall, at least BA’s official comment shows that it’s prepared to listen to feedback and try to put it right.

A spokesperson told me: “The service is still in its infancy and daily feedback from our cabin crew is helping us to continuously improve it. On busy flights we now load more catering and bring in additional cabin crew.

“As we’ve never offered this service before, we want to hear about customers’ experiences. Our Buy on Board service has proved popular with customers who say they enjoy the quality and choice offered by M&S.”

Easyjet does it better 

In comparison to my BA short-haul horror, a couple of weeks after that holiday I had to hop on an Easyjet flight to visit family abroad. The trolley took 15 mins to get to my row 15 seat which is typical of my experience flying on the airline.

I fly a lot because I have family abroad and it normally comes to a straight choice between BA and Easyjet with the latter almost always cheaper, which makes my choice now, er, easy. If you feel the same, check out our 18 Easyjet tricks.

To copy BA’s motto it loves to shout about, while they both fly, in my opinion, at least Easyjet serves.