British Airways (BA) will introduce a business-class service on domestic UK flights for the first time, as it faces increased competition.

The UK national carrier said it would be extending its Club Europe service to internal services as it seeks “to align our domestic services with our European ones.”

It will be introduced on services between London and five regional destinations—Manchester, Belfast, Glasgow, Inverness and Edinburgh—on April 1. 

This is just days after UK-based regional carrier Flybe launches services from London Heathrow to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Flybe will use slots that became available as a result of commitments required by the European Commission following the acquisition of British Midland (bmi) by International Consolidated Airlines Group, BA’s parent company, in 2012.

The Commission demanded that some of bmi’s slots be made available to any other carrier seeking to challenge BA on the routes, in order to provide competition.

One operator, Virgin Atlantic’s Little Red, has already attempted to do so, but closed its doors in September 2015 after failing to attract sufficient customers. Virgin Atlantic had hoped that passengers from Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Manchester would use the service to connect with its long-haul flights from Heathrow. However, most passengers from the UK regions used them purely as point-to-point services.

Flybe is not required to pay to use its new slots, other than meet Heathrow’s landing and passenger charges. The slots will not be purchased by Flybe and will not be brought onto its balance sheet.

BA’s Club Europe service provides complimentary food and drink for passengers—something recently discontinued by BA in its economy-class cabin. However, the seats are standard throughout the Airbus A320-family aircraft used for the services, with no additional legroom over the standard 30 in. pitch. In Club Europe, BA blocks off the middle seat of three, to give business passengers more elbow room and privacy.

Alan Dron