It is easy to forget how low British Airways has fallen in the airline pantheon after having studiously avoided the carrier for nearly two decades. I have only memories of fine flights on British in better years.  Last week, however, I was jolted back to the harsh reality of today’s despicable BA when I was charged for advance seat assignments even though I’m traveling on a hefty Premium Economy fare.

Time was, I loved to fly up front on British Airways. BA conjured superb service in the sharp end of the carrier’s many 747s, and the airline could rightfully crow about the virtues of one of the best premium cabins in the sky.

Not any longer.  First went the incomparable Concorde. (I have a long video I made of a BA Concorde JFK/LHR flight that I need to upload to YouTube; it depicts service that seems like a dream now). Then first class was diminished or replaced on many flights in favor of BA’s cramped, outdated business class seating, and the airline has been in a race for the bottom ever since.

BA’s avarice came back to me as I planned a trip in late January from Raleigh/Durham to Vienna for my wife and me to attend an orchestra concert in which our son, a college sophomore and gifted pianist, will be performing. I opted for the American Airlines nonstop—finally again up-gauged to a 777—to London Heathrow, and then connecting to oneworld partner British Airways LHR/VIE and back.   The AA cabin on that RDU/LHR aircraft will be configured with the airline’s new Premium Economy seats, and I decided to spend extra in order to try it.

Booking the flights almost five months early meant I had my pick of the best PE seats on the American Airlines segments, RDU/LHR and LHR/RDU.  Being an AAdvantage Million Miler Lifetime Gold didn’t hurt, either.

But when I attempted to grab seats on the British Airways codeshare flights (LHR/VIE and VIE/LHR), I was directed by AA.com to the BA website, and there got a shock.  British Airways didn’t give a whit about how much money I paid for the Premium Economy fare or how many loyalty miles I had accumulated.  Turns out that BA doesn’t allow anyone access to an advance seat assignment without paying, not even Premium Economy and Business Class customers unless traveling on a full fare (which no one ever pays, of course),.

That prompted me to look deeper into how BA gets away with it.  I found that once-great British Airway is the only carrier on earth to charge premium class customer for advance seats. And BA has been doing this for 9 years.

The British Airways online seating chart indicated a range of prices for advance seats from a low of $18 (back of the bus) to $27 (most other economy seats) to a high of $39 per seat (exit row with extra legroom). And that’s for only the 2.5 hour flight between LHR and Vienna.

Grudgingly, I blew $108 for 4 seat assignments (4 X $27) after paying the fat Premium Economy fare on AA/BA.  Seemed like a lot for a married couple who want only to guarantee sitting together and sometimes holding hands.

Further research yielded more bad press for British Airways.  Their intra-Euro flights operated on A320 aircraft like London-Vienna reportedly have no legroom and abysmal service.

This new information in hand, I decided we need a modicum of comfort. I returned to the BA website and paid another $12 per seat, per flight to move my wife and me to the exit row on both flights which have extra legroom. Ka-ching, another $48 for British Airways.

Altogether, then, the advance seats alone added $156 to my already-stiff Premium Economy fare, and the BA seats certainly won’t be anything like PE-comfortable.  For $156, hopefully tolerable, but nothing more.

With a moldy, antiquated business class product (“Club World”) only slightly better than Ukrainian Air and woefully behind almost every other carrier, including Aeroflot, British Airways shamelessly piles on more misery by making Business Class and Premium Economy passengers pay for advance seat assignments. BA’s contemptible attitude to customer service makes them a lousy and unequal oneworld partner to American Airlines. My decades-long boycott of the carrier is back in place.

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