I think I had more questions than answers in my post yesterday. Fortunately, shortly after I finished, I received an offer to speak with Woody Harford, Senior Vice President of Commercial for British Airways in North America. Woody was more than happy to answer as many of my questions as he could. Then soon after, I received an email with more information from Robin Hayes, Executive Vice President in the Americas. Pretty good service, huh?
Here’s the interview with Woody. I’ve also put notes from Robin and Mark Ahasic, an aviation operations expert, in italics to show what I learned after we spoke.
Cranky: Will this have the Club World seat, the new OpenSkies seat, or something different?
Woody: It will be a flat bed business class seat that will deliver all the benefits of our new Club World seat. I can’t guarantee it will be that particular product, but it will deliver all the benefits.
Cranky: Do you have an exact start date?
Woody: Not yet.
Cranky: I assume it’s dependent upon when you take delivery of the A318s.
Woody: You got it.
Cranky: Do you know anything about pricing yet? I assume it won’t be cheap.
Woody: We’re not looking . . . this is part of an overall premium product portfolio from BA to serve travelers. It will be priced appropriately but no specifics yet. The bottom line is that there’s nothing we sell that I think is “cheap,” but it will always be priced with value in mind. Over the coming year, there will be an opportunity for a range of products in premium pricing to compete and fill aircraft.
Cranky: Will you be able to make the westbound trip nonstop?
Woody: No, it will be a one-stop service to refuel. It’s not been determined where it will be yet. [I read your earlier post.] You have a very interesting point in terms of Ireland [and the ability to pre-clear immigration there].
I discussed this with Mark Ahasic, and he said that “pre-cleared flights from Ireland are still required to arrive at an international airport with FIS for Customs inspection of bags.” So, even if BA can clear people in Ireland, they’ll still need to go through customs. I suppose BA could set up a dedicated line that would speed them through if they wanted, but it wouldn’t be exactly like walking off a domestic flight.
Cranky: How long will you have to be on the ground to refuel?
Woody: We’re looking at a 40-minute refuel time. Throw a couple of US immigration and customs inspectors and you never know.
Cranky: With the refueling stop, will it still be compelling?
Woody: Yes. You’ll be on the airplane on your way home instead of stuck in a traffic jam on the M25. The block time will be in the same neighborhood as it will take for someone fly out of Heathrow.
Robin actually had some exact block times for me. “Total journey time from New York to London City is 7 hrs and 10 mins and it will be nine and a half hours the other way round. If you compare this with a 747 on our JFK-LHR service then the times are 6 hrs 55 mins and 7 hrs 40 mins respectively.” So the A318s slightly slower cruise speed means it’ll be a 15 minute longer flight on the way east. That’s no big deal. But westbound, we’re looking at 1:50 minutes longer. Is it worth it?
Well it depends upon where you’re starting in London. If you’re in the Canary Wharf/Docklands area, it’ll take less than 30 minutes to get to the airport and you only need to be there 15 minutes prior to departure. So you could leave your office an hour before your flight and still have time to spare.
If you fly out of Heathrow, you probably need to be there no less than an hour before departure, and that’s probably cutting it very close (this is in Business Class, however). Then it takes a little under an hour in no traffic from Canary Wharf to Heathrow, so let’s say it’s an hour and a half in normal traffic. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) You’re then at a wash in terms of time spent. If they can somehow work out pre-clearance in Ireland, then you’re net positive.
Robin also mentioned that they will treat London/City and Heathrow as coterminals. In other words, you could fly one way to London/City and the return from Heathrow if you’d like, and it will be treated like a roundtrip flight for pricing purposes. So if you really don’t want to stop for fuel on the way home, you can still take advantage of the service on the way to London.
Cranky: Where would you like to fly in New York?
Woody: As you well know, there’s an overall New York area slot review process. We can’t say . . . it’s one airport or the other [JFK or Newark]. We own and operate our own terminal at JFK. We have great latitude with what we can do at that facility. We also have a fantastic facility at Newark that we’ll be growing and improving. We’ll be happy to fly out of either airport – we’d prefer to fly it out of JFK.
Cranky: What about Teterboro?
Woody: We don’t have any facilities at Teterboro and I don’t know what facilities they have in terms of customs and immigration.
Cranky: Will you consider it?
Woody: Doubtful. The other benefit of flying with British Airways in this scenario is that if one of these planes has tech problems, we have 11 other services to London out of New York every day.
Again, Mark Ahasic set me straight on this one. The Port Authority has decreed that no aircraft over 100,000 lbs can operate there, and the A318 tips the scales near 150,000 lbs at max weight. Even if there wasn’t a weight restriction, the Port actually prohibits airlines from operating there. Oh well, it was a nice idea.
Cranky: How will you achieve 15 minute check in a JFK or EWR?
Woody: The way we’ll construct it will be to get people through in 15 minutes. At the end of the day, we have a host of new things coming into JFK and Newark in terms of online check-in and kiosk check-in. We will enable people to really move quickly through the processing part of the journey. The bottom line benefit of this whole thing is time management.
Robin mentioned that the 15 minute check-in time was for people carrying hand luggage only. I’d imagine that on a flight like this, there won’t be too many people checking a bag, but you can assume you’ll have to get there earlier if you do. Maybe 30 to 40 minutes, I’d guess?
And that was that. Oh yeah, one more question from a friend of mine.
What the heck does an A318 look like?
Think of an A319 or A320 that ran head-on into a wall and got smushed. In the process, it’s tail grew a little. Ah, forget it. Let me just show you a picture.
It’s really just a shorter A320 narrowbody aircraft.
I’m still really high on this service, even with a westbound stop, and I think it will do well. There aren’t that many seats to fill here, and there should be enough demand.