British Airways’ Club World London City

Most of you have probably heard of British Airways’ new Club World London City service, which will be launching on September 29. Yes, that’s the service between New York JFK and London City on an Airbus 318 (mhm, that’s the really short plane) with only 32 business class seats. It’s a unique product, that’s for sure, but with the Heathrow Express getting you from Heathrow to central London in 15 minutes, does the more conveniently located airport warrant a new transatlantic product?

First let’s look at the product. The A318 is configured with eight rows of fully flat business class seats, in a 2-2 configuration, with a total of 32 seats. I’ve heard there will be a purser and two other flight attendants, so a total of three flight attendants. That sounds like a pretty good crew: passenger ratio to me, especially since this flight will probably have some empty seats, at least in this economy. Apparently they’ll be normal Gatwick based British Airways flight attendants, so they’re not hiring new teams for the service, but rather offering a training course to existing flight attendants.

On the London City side it’s interesting to note that you can check-in up to 15 minutes before departure without bags, or 20 minutes with bags. Now that’s nice! It seems like they don’t have a dedicated lounge at London City Airport, although they do have free wifi and will apparently have some sort of “dedicated” gate that should offer some amenities. At JFK the check-in cutoff is 45 minutes, and you get access to the Terraces lounge. This is where it gets interesting. Per the website:

To maximize your sleep on board, we invite you to dine in the comfort of the lounge before boarding your flight. A light snack and a nightcap will be available on board, followed by a choice of breakfast options on arrival into London.

So does that mean there’s not a full dinner service aboard, or am I reading this wrong? In general I’m actually not opposed to that given how short the flight is, but the departure time from JFK is 6:40PM (arriving in LCY at 7:15AM). Maybe it’s just me, but when I get aboard a flight at 6:40PM, which is right around dinner time, I would expect dinner to be served. Along the same lines, they’re arguing minimal time at the airport, but it seems like if you want to eat, you’d have to arrive at the airport early at JFK. I realize they’ll be adding a second frequency soon, but 6:40PM is just too early for a transatlantic flight, in my opinion. They should push it back by at least an hour. That allows a full day in New York and a full day in London. No one needs to be in their office by 7:30AM after getting off a transatlantic flight. And again, maybe I’m just reading that wrong.

The breakfast service is also interesting, with a “to go” option:

Your sleep will be undisturbed until breakfast. If you like to eat a hot breakfast our crew will gently wake you up as we approach London City. If you would rather maximize your sleep time, you can request a take away breakfast option that you can enjoy after we land.

The return flight is where they get truly innovative. The runway at London City is under 5,000 feet, so they can’t make it to the United States without stopping for fuel. What does that mean? Hello Shannon, Ireland! There’s a 45 minute refueling stop. It’s not all bad, though. You also clear US customs and immigration in Shannon, meaning the flight is literally like a domestic flight when you arrive in the US. That’s nifty, although is it worth the 9hr25min flight time, and the two takeoffs and landings, which mean electronic devices need to be shut off, seats need to be put in the upright position, etc.? I don’t know. That flight leaves LCY at 12:50PM and arrives at JFK at 5:15PM. Again, I’m not sure that flight is timed all that well, given that you basically “waste” your day both in London and New York. Either a morning or late afternoon flight makes more sense to me, but I understand they’re trying to “hedge” their bets here.

There’s one more major point to note. The flight only operates five days a week for the time being. From JFK to LCY they only operate Sundays through Thursdays, while they only operate Mondays through Fridays from LCY to JFK. So am I understanding this correctly? The plane sits in the US for two days? This raises another question I’d be curious about. Do they leave the plane at JFK for two days, or fly it to a smaller regional airport where it might be cheaper to park?

So is this idea any better than EOS, Silverjet, or Maxjet? Well, they have the backing of British Airways and also allow passengers to connect onwards, both of which are vital for survival. They also have only 32 seats, as opposed to the 48-100 seats on the other all business class transatlantic airlines. But where will these passengers for these flights come from? I would assume British Airways’ New York to London Heathrow flights for the most part, no? I admire the fact that British Airways is trying to innovate and I realize they planned this way before the recession, but that will probably be their biggest challenge to begin with.

Either way, I’m eagerly awaiting a firsthand report of the new service, and I think it’s definitely worth trying out for the regulars on the route, if for nothing other than the novelty factor.

Comments

  1. I have been to LCY, and it is very nice. There are no lounges, but as it is a very business oriented airport, the whole waiting area is business lounge like. Ample plug-ins for notebooks, WiFI, and business lounge class seating (leather chars and couches). BC on Swiss gave me a coupon for food an drink at a restaurant, which was equivalent or better than normal BC Lounge fare.

    As well, it is close to Canary Wharf (which is *not* close to the train to LHR) makes it much more convenient for the finance types who are to use this service. By the time their cab makes it to Paddington Station, they would be at LCY.

    I will leave it for others to talk of the possible merits of arriving at JFK durning the PM rush with no need to clear C&I…

    -Brian

    PS, your trip to HKK has made me book something quite similar for next summer.

  2. You have to note that Heathrow Express gets you to Paddington in 15 minutes, but London is a big city. Getting to “The City” proper takes some time and Canary Wharf is still further. Until Crossrail is complete, that journey is always going to take the thick end of an hour, if not more.

    I was always told that a lot of the Eos customers were Canary Wharf based bankers and lawyers because, if you’re travelling by road, STN is actually quicker to reach from there than LHR is – it’s highway for almost the whole journey.

    As for the viability of the flight… there are constant whispers that some of the big banks and law firms with HQs at Canary Wharf are committed to buying a given number of seats. Besides, the Kraft/Cadbury battle seems to signal some sort of return to trans-Atlantic deal making and the market for flexible, walk-up business class tickets that the teams involved will demand.

  3. This is a no brainer on the JFK-LCY end.

    For the return it’s close probably. Scheduled flight time is 2 hours longer than LHR-JFK. But if you’re actually in the London Financial District this can make real sense.

    1) save time not just on the commute to Heathrow but on the trip padding you must do to get to Heathrow, given the uncertainties in relying on public transit or the uncertainties of traffic when dealing with a car service

    2) arrive at LCY with far less time in advance of flying compared to getting through LHR

    3) saving tons of time, and the timing variances with JFK immigration

    All told, perhaps a wash, so whichever feels easier. And it may come down to whether the flights times work, as you observe they do seem less than ideal.

    It’s a brilliant concept, at least it was pre-financial crisis. We’ll see how many business seats they can sell on the route, coutning on the NYLON finance types to be paying premium fares for short transatlantics.

  4. No dinner a worry? Obviously haven’t been on the BA Sleeper Services in Club, have you? Nor in VS’s snooze section? (These are rhetorical questions, Mr. Lucky – it’s just how ex-NY flights to LHR work).

  5. Recently decided to save my firm a few bucks and stayed out by LHR due to early AM departure after day of meetings in City. It took >2 hours to take Heathrow Express and tube from LHR to the station by my firm’s office. Taxi would have saved some of that time, but in my experience, HE really doesn’t help you if you’re going in and out of the City.

  6. As many mentioned for the 2 main financial areas in London LCY is a lot closer (upto and hour) than LHR.
    I’m not sure how it exactly how it affected the schedule but one of the reasons for the missing weekend flights is that LCY has a 24hr shutdown on the weekend. Because its in the city center they have to close down all flights for 24hrs over the weekend. Since LCY is mainly a business airport they close on Saturdays.

  7. Another point to add is that LCY is closed to traffic 1 day a week (I think it’s a 12pm Sat to 12pm Sun) to allow the local residents to not suffer noise pollution

    And besides the point – the A318 looks darn cute in BA Colours! (and one day, the A318 might grow up to be a bigger aircraft ;))

    Heading Londonwards, If you’re heading to the City or to Canary Wharf – LCY is *perfect* – as its the location.

    The reason LCY can do a 20/15 minute check-in… well for a start – there’s not THAT much airside and it is a very small airport – designed for shorthaul EU/UK Domestic city person who needs to get in and out.

    Combine the A318 service and the new ERJ-170 services starting out of LCY soon, BA is putting some serious work into this area – It’s an innovative service – good luck BA for running it!

    (And as most UK people know… HEX is only good if you’re targeting Paddington/West London areas. Savvy people take the tube if you’re heading to the tourist districts or City districts… as it pretty much takes the same time.. .and it’s a bit easier on the pocket. )

  8. The service doesn’t run every day because there’s a curfew/closure at LCY from Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon. So no Sat night/Sunday AM flights. And the early arrival time does reflect when some of these financial types start work — but there’s also the second flight of the day which will get in at around 9.30am, I think.

    I suspect, also, that the early arrival time may be better for people connecting to BA’s flights to European destinations from LCY, which would then get them into those locations in Europe at 10am or so.

  9. PS. Those other BA destinations for connections from LCY:

    Amsterdam 08:40 11:00 BA 8451
    Barcelona 09:25 12:45 BA 8471
    Billund 09:55 12:40 BA 8210
    Edinburgh 08:55 10:25 BA 8702

    (well, not all exactly 10am arrivals, but you get the idea…)

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