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.