NOT JUST A CUPPA: As part of its mission to improve service, British Airways will be serving tea that tastes better at 35 000 feet.

Cape Town - The airline industry is one of the most competitive in the world and, in the struggle to attract customers, some airlines spend mind-boggling sums on improving standards of comfort in first class and business class, in particular, as well as on new-generation aircraft that use less fuel and cause less pollution.

But one improvement that will probably be appreciated by many of the passengers who travel in economy, as well as those in the premium classes, is an effort by British Airways (BA) to improve the taste of a traditional British cuppa while in the air.

It is a fact, proved by research, that taste can be reduced by as much as 30 percent at 35 000 feet, and a great deal of effort is put into choosing wines and developing dishes that taste as good in flight as on the ground. Several airlines, including both BA and SAA, have their wines chosen by a panel of experts with this in mind and commission celebrity chefs to produce menus that pass this test.

Now BA has commissioned Twinings, one of the oldest tea merchants in England, to produce a tea with a taste that can really be enjoyed in the air.

According to Kate Thornton, BA’s head of products and services, the airline serves 35 million cups of tea a year and aims at serving “a traditional British cuppa in the air”.

So far Twinings has come up with a new blend of Assam, Kenyan and a Ceylon tea grown at high altitude that is believed to have a satisfying taste and gives the same feeling of well-being to habitual tea drinkers.

Wider seats

However, when Ian Petrie, BA’s regional commercial manager for Africa, came to Cape Town International Airport last week to show travel journalists the improvements that had been carried out to make flying a more comfortable experience, he did not mention tea, but wider and more comfortable seats in economy and more leg room in premium economy class, improvements to the lie-flat beds in first and business class and to the entertainment system in all classes, including the fact that videos no longer have to be switched off for landing and take-off.


BA, which flies to Cape Town all year round, increases its service from one daily flight in winter to two during the summer season and is currently flying in with full passenger loads.

Like other airlines it was badly affected by soaring fuel prices and the recession, which caused it to carry out an extensive cost-cutting programme, closing some routes and laying off some staff.

But it did not cut services to South Africa, regarded as one of its strongest markets, and followed the cost-cutting programme by starting a £500 billion (almost R7bn) investment programme which, although much of it is being spent on new-generation aircraft, includes upgrading conditions for passengers. In Cape Town the lounge for premium class passengers had become too small and has been replaced.


Cape Town International Airport is working with the city council to rehouse people living in the informal settlements against the airport perimeter, so that this can be moved outward and to enable more land to be used for industrial development that will provide more jobs.

It is the first step towards making the airport the centre of an “aerotropolis” like those being developed in Durban and in some other countries where airports are made the centre of development that includes industry, commercial activity and some housing.

The airport already includes shopping facilities that attract people living nearby, as well as enabling local residents arriving back from trips overseas to buy necessities before going home.

At present the airport’s main runway is being resurfaced, but the work is being done in the six hours between the last flight arriving at night and the first taking off in the morning. - Weekend Argus