The thought of flying a narrow body airline flight on a long-haul over the water flight leaves most experienced flyers wincing … or at the very least looking for alternate flights. The last narrow body long haul airliner that was sought out by airline passengers was Concorde.
Concorde was not only a spectacular super-sonic airliner, but more importantly it served a dedicated passenger base between New York’s JFK Airport and London. This passenger base were primarily ‘financial flyers,’ those who needed to do business in either New York or London and immediately turn around and fly back. While Concorde is gone, British Airways has started a new service using Concorde’s flight numbers, flying a narrow body airliner with an exclusive cabin that is primarily focused on financial flyers.
This new service, now nearly a year old, is British Airways’ London City Service.
London City Airport (LCY), situated in the heart of London’s financial district, is a small airport, with significant aircraft restrictions. The significant restrictions that surround flying into and out of LCY should logically prevent long haul flights from utilizing this airport. Despite the significant restrictions, British Airways has created a twice daily, six days a week service using tiny Airbus A318 … an aircraft that has is more closely associated with the 100-seat short haul market than the luxury long haul market.
As British Airways surveyed the market segment that would allow the JFK-LCY to be created, it worked with Airbus to design an aircraft that has an established range of 2,071 miles to meet the challenges of flying a 3,472 mile route. In addition to needing to fly more than 1,000 miles longer than the ‘advertised range’ the A318 would need to be certified for LCY’s dangerous “steep approach” landing since the airport is in London’s Canary Wharf.
To meet the challenges British Airways and Airbus would face in operating the JFK-LCY route, the aircraft’s cabin was fitted with only 32 seats, in 8 rows of seating, rather than its ‘standard’ configuration of 106 seats in a mixed First/Economy seat layout.
An example of how small this aircraft’s interior can be seen in comparison to the upper deck of a Boeing 747-400. In the 747-400, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has seven rows of seating with 24 business class seats on its upper deck and Air New Zealand has ten rows of seating, with 10 business class seats and 23 Premium Economy seats on its upper deck … so essentially, the British Airways A318 flight is like flying on the upper deck of a Boeing 747-400…without out the rest of the plane.
As the British Airways JFK-LCY flights are primarily day-trip flyers the aircraft has minimal checked baggage and virtually no cargo, which allows the flight to fly non-stop from New York to London.
While I have now only flown with British Airways’ JFK-LCY service, between New York and London City … the real charm in this flight is actually from London City to New York!
Due to weight restrictions for aircraft departing London City, the Airbus A318 cannot depart with full fuel tanks, so it makes a brief stop at Shannon Airport (SNN). While a fuel stop may seem inconvenient, it is actually ideal for business flyers. During the fuel stop at SNN, passengers disembark the aircraft and pass through US Immigrations, in Ireland. In approximately 40 minutes from arrival to departure from SNN, passengers will have cleared Immigrations and Customs so upon arrival at New York’s JFK Airport the enter they country as if they arrived on a domestic flight. Given the notoriously long lines at Immigrations at JFK’s Terminal 7, arriving as a domestic flight saves passengers significant time and hassle.
British Airways’ all business class service to a niche’ airport such as London City Airport may seem like a novelty to some on the surface, but in reality this route is a brilliant business route. With JFK Airport being the preferred airport for many Manhattan financial flyers and London City Airport being situated minutes from London’s financial center I foresee this route being not only quite popular but also successful.
Flying the JFK-LCY route does come at a premium. A New York JFK-London Heathrow 1-day return business class seat costs approximately US$8,690 … where as a JFK-LCY 1-day return seat will set you back approximately US$11,013.
Below are a few photos I have shot of the British Airways all business class Airbus A318 serving the JFK-LCY route.
…oh and for those familiar with seeing the British Airways Concorde parked at JFK Terminal 7′s Gate 1 … that is the same gate the A318 parks at.