British Airways will follow Ryanair and EasyJet in boosting online ancillary sales after chief executive Willie Walsh described web distribution as “the best thing that has happened to the airline business”.

Half of BA’s UK bookings and 30% worldwide come via and “80% of customers service their bookings online”, said Walsh. “It gives significant additional value through ancillary revenue – we have learned that from the low-cost model.”

A significant proportion of leisure passengers at Gatwick are paying to upgrade cabins when they check in online, he said.

However, BA will not charge for check in, baggage or assigned seating “at this point”. “It is not a model that would work for BA – although it may at some stage,” Walsh said.

The BA boss warned last week that airlines face “the worst trading environment ever seen”. He told the World Low Cost Airlines conference in London that distribution costs would have to be driven down further.