A trip on the Club World service by British Airways saw our reviewer transported from Britain’s financial epicentre to America’s – without having to endure long US immigration queues…
Concorde’s elegant, needle-like fuselage will never take to the skies again, but trans-Atlantic luxury travel is alive and well – just ask regular passengers on British Airways’ twice-daily A318 service between London City airport and JFK.
Long-haul flights haven’t traditionally left from London City, because its runway is too short to cope with the full tank of an aircraft over a certain size. The earlier daily flight of the Club World service – which British Airways has honoured with Concorde’s famous old BA001 label – gets around that issue by stopping at Ireland’s Shannon airport for a refuel. And as a US pre-clearance facility has been operational there since 2009, by the time your plane’s nose is over the Atlantic, you’ve already been cleared by US customs and immigration and arrive at JFK as a domestic flight, which means you can head straight into Manhattan.
Three different airlines – MAXjet, Eos Airlines and Silverjet – have tried the business-class only service between these two cities; the first folded in 2007, the second and third the following year. So how has British Airways kept this route going since 2009? And does the service live up to its luxury travel tag? Director undertook a first-hand experience.
British Airways check-in and lounges
We arrived at the airport to find no queue at either of the two British Airways check-ins, and we’re reliably informed this is normal for the service.
Even more impressively, the gate lounge, a 10-minute stroll from check-in, by gate 24, is surprisingly comfortable, considering passengers are unlikely to spend more than half an hour here (after all, check-in closes only 20 minutes before departure).
There was a well-stocked (and free) bar – and a decent selection of sandwiches, pastries, and cheese, as well as a broad selection of magazines and free WiFi that actually worked.
The journey from Docklands Light Railway station to aeroplane seat could not have been easier, then. But the greatest convenience of this service was still to come during the 35-minute stopover in Shannon, where we cleared US immigration at a largely empty airport, thus ensuring we’d arrive at JFK as domestic passengers as opposed to non-US citizens stepping off an intercontinental flight – a notoriously stressful experience. Score 10/10
Aesthetically minded passengers boarding the A318 will quickly notice the elegant shape and seductive lines of the eight rows of four white pods within which its grey fabric-and-leather seats reside. On your seat you’ll find a pillow, a duvet plus a personal iPad with noise-cancelling headphones. The seat functions as an armchair, dining table and office all rolled into one – plus, of course, bed. Fully extended, it’s a relatively generous 6ft long, and the memory foam headrest is an invaluable addition when it comes to arriving in the Big Apple feeling genuinely well-rested. There’s also a power supply (UK, EU and US) for laptops and generous literature stowage. Score 8/10
British Airways cabin crew
Attentive but never overbearing and breezily humourous throughout, the flight attendants demonstrated the sort of highly competent, congenial service more commonly associated with our country of destination. And, whatever one’s tipple – water, soft drink or something slightly less soft from BA’s impressive selection of wines – the ever-friendly staff kept everyone’s glasses topped up throughout the flight. Score 10/10
Facilities and entertainment
British Airways has partnered with luxury British spa and skincare brand Elemis, which not only provides skincare creams in your in-flight goody bag, but also in-flight facial treatments and massages for passengers. Those with no time for pampering are equally well looked-after, with mobile and WiFi connectivity working perfectly. For both the 70-minute leg to Shannon and the six-hour and 10-minute stint to New York, the in-flight entertainment included an iPad packed with movies, television documentaries and comedies, along with games, podcasts and destination guides. Score 8/10
British Airways food and drink
Being welcomed aboard with a glass of champers is one of the more frivolous, but also more fabulous, aspects of travelling business class. On this service, the offer is extended to include bellinis or kir royales. Regular British Airways business class passengers expecting the usual expansive range of old and new world wines won’t be disappointed.
When it comes to food in its business class division, British Airways chefs always prefer seasonal ingredients. Our choice this time, ordered as we approached Shannon, consisted of potted shrimp followed by a main of chicken biryani and rice plus green-leaf salad. Then there was a choice of dessert, including chocolate torte and cheese boards, and a bar of chocolate with the coffee. Score 9/10
BA001 departs from London City at 9.45am, arriving at New York JFK at 1.55pm. BA003 departs at 4pm, arriving at 9.15pm (customs and immigration clearance at JFK). Prices start at £2,500 as a non-flexible fare. www.ba.com
Highly impressive in terms of comfort, food and service – but it’s the convenience offered by that small Docklands airport and clearing immigration at the US authorities’ Irish outpost that makes this service a game-changer.
Total score 45/50
Flight: British Airways’ Club World’s BA001 – the domestic carrier’s exclusively business-class service from London City airport to JFK in New York