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British Airways Bolsters Long-Haul With Free Upgrades, 747 Refit

British Airways will offer business-class passengers a free upgrade to first as it seeks to attract new customers to its most exclusive product.

Club-World flyers will be offered an upgrade on one leg of their journey on select routes between Sept. 4 and Dec. 12, London-based BA said today, bringing access to first-class check-in areas and lounges, fine wines and a concierge service.

British Airways has the highest proportion of first-class seats among European carriers, with 1,200 across 80 percent of its long-haul planes. The International Consolidated Airlines Group SA unit reinvented the luxury cabin by pioneering flat-bed berths in 1996 and spent 100 million pounds ($165 million) on wider seats, leather desks and Egyptian cotton linen from 2010. BA said today it will refurbish over a third of its Boeing Co. 747 fleet with new TV screens and power sockets.

The deal will give passengers a “chance to experience our luxurious first cabin and tailored service,” Kate Thornton, BA’s head of product and service, said in a statement.

Club World fares available through Sept. 23 include a 1,400-pound return ticket from London Heathrow to Delhi, and a 2,500-pound return to Tokyo. Upgrades must be requested at the time of booking, the airline said.

British Airways is attempting to lure more people to fly first class as some other carriers scale back their top-end offering. German competitor Deutsche Lufthansa AG is meanwhile selling a discounted ticket that maintains most of first’s perks while eliminating others, such a full flexibility.

Seat Covers

BA will install Panasonic touch-screen entertainment systems with over 130 movies on 18 of its 747s from August next year, as well as universal power and USB sockets at every premium economy seat. The airline operates 46 747s today and will have 38 by the time the renewal program starts next year.

Other improvements include new seat foams and covers, which will bring the jet’s interior in line with the style aboard the airline’s 787s and Airbus Group NV A380s, Doyle said.

“Improvements will be really noticeable to our frequent fliers,” the executive said.

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