Impressions of British Airways’ New London/City Service From Afar

Right now, I should be in London eagerly anticipating tomorrow’s flight back from London/City on British Airways. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Instead, I’m laying on the couch fighting off an ear infection, drifting in and out of consciousness. That’s a huge bummer, but it doesn’t mean I can’t talk Airbus A318-112 CJ Elite, British Airways, over London 16.09.09about this new service from here. I still think it’s a great idea (despite Virgin Atlantic’s sniping), and from what I’ve heard from someone who has already been onboard, it’s worthwhile.

If you don’t remember the details of the service, read my original post on the announcement and my interview with Woody Harford, formerly of BA. Now, before people start filling the comments saying that London/City isn’t convenient for them, remember this isn’t for everyone. It’s actually not for very many people at all. If you work or have meetings in or near the Docklands (eg financial types) and you fly business class, then this is great. If not, it probably shouldn’t even be in your consideration set. That’s why each airplane only has 32 seats – it’s a relatively small target.

The buzz so far is that BA is delivering (except for that mechanical delay yesterday). You can see a lot of what people are saying on Twitter under the hashtag #bacity. (And you can see an interior shot here.) The airplane is equipped with OnAir mobile phone service, so the UK folks on the first westbound flight were tweeting away in the air. Unfortunately, US mobile subscribers can’t use their phones yet, but according to BA, T-Mobile subscribers will have access by next spring. One thing to note – voice calls aren’t allowed – web and SMS/MMS only.

Now the big question is whether enough people will be interested in this service to shift their business from Heathrow. There is enough financial business in Canary Wharf for that to happen, but will the suits make the switch? Let’s think about this.

On the eastbound, it’s easy. Both flights are nonstop from New York, so if you have business in the Docklands, you can get there much, much faster. Even if you’re in row 8 (the last row on the plane, funny), you’ll still be off the plane and in your office in less than 30 minutes. And now BA has partnered with the nearby Marriott to offer complimentary gym and shower access to make up for the lack of arrival lounge. So you can now freshen up first if you want as well.

I’m even told that you’ll fly through customs and immigration on arrival because they do some sort of pre-clearing based on the passenger manifest. When you arrive, they just need to make sure you actually are the person on the manifest.

On the westbound, the value proposition is a little dicier since it involves a stop in Shannon. In fact, Virgin Atlantic decided to throw down on Twitter on the first day of operation:

@British_Airways #bacity #VS45 is about to overtake you! We left London 90 mins later than you but we’ll be at The Peninsula bar ,NY first!

Only one problem with that. It wasn’t true.

@VirginAtlantic VS45 lands: 16:28 BA1 lands: 16:39. After immigration, BA will be at Peninsula well before you! Not so smug now? #bacity

Yes, the BA flight arrived early, and after they have a better handle on this, they might adjust block times. But let’s break it down for someone in Canary Wharf using conservative numbers based on block times.

Comparing London/City to London/Heathrow

It’s effectively a wash . . . if all goes right. But there are tremendous advantages to the BA service since there are fewer things that can go wrong.

You don’t have to worry about traffic problems getting to Heathrow or the inevitable Tube delays either. You can also arrive at London/City much later than at Heathrow so you don’t have to wait around. Lastly, when you arrive in New York, you don’t have to worry about the varying times required for customs and immigration on any given day. You just walk off the plane and you’re there, so the arrival time is more reliable. Don’t forget that you’re also on a plane with only 32 people, so it’s like having the same privacy you get on the upper deck of a 747 without the riff-raff below. Pretty sweet.

By the way, the only reason I’m singling out Virgin here is because they seem to want to pick a fight. The same comparison applies to BA’s service from Heathrow as well. If you’re in Canary Wharf and you’re going to fly in business class, this service seems like a no-brainer to me. BA may steal from their own Heathrow passenger pool, but they should also be able to steal from their competitors as well.

So now that the early reviews are positive, it remains to be seen if enough people will actually use the service. I would imagine that word of mouth should help in a situation like this. I only hope I get the chance to try it myself sometime.

[Original Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eisenbahner/ / CC BY 2.0]


22 Responses to Impressions of British Airways’ New London/City Service From Afar

  1. Zach says:

    What a shame that you weren’t able to sample this, but I really appreciate the overview. While I could never afford this service, it seems absolutely fantastic for Wall St. folks, and based only on the people I know in that industry, the time it saves would probably be well worth the extra $$$ for them.

    I’m sure that there are headaches, but this seems about as close to having a private jet as one could get and still be paying commercial rates. 15 minutes to the airport in LON? No real immigration hassle on either side of the pond? WOW! Is it as efficient as the Concorde? No, but it’s probably also not as expensive.

    …and, for the rest of us mere mortals, there’s still plenty of snail service out of Heathrow and Gatwick.

    Speaking of business jets, I’m kind of tickled by the idea of a tiny little A318 crossing the Atlantic (not sure I’d want to spend 7 hours in an A318…), but I guess it’s no different than the small business jets that do this regularly.

  2. DRG says:

    What’s the deal with the Shannon stop? Needed for range or specifically so that pax can be pre-cleared by CBP?

  3. JayB says:

    Cranky,

    Get well soon. Your posts remain wonderful, informative, entertaining reads.

    /from someone feeling OK…well, sort of. Everything is relative!

  4. Cranky – this isn’t just for people working in the Docklands. LCY is *much* handier for anyone who’s not in the west or south of London’s city centre – and that includes the whole of the financial district in the City of London as well as the docklands.

  5. UT Flyer says:

    @ DRG:

    It’s a range issue on the westbound. The customs pre-clearing is simply an ancillary benefit.

  6. Daren S says:

    Sorry that you missed out on this opportunity Cranky. Hope you get to try it out someday, so you can tell us mere mortals what it is like! I really hope BA succeeds with this, as I feel that they have really given so much thought to the entire process to give these premium customers the best possible experience. You don’t see many airlines putting in so much effort these days.

    One thing that would be interesting to know is how many of those bankers would have traditionally flown First out of LHR, but now will take the Club World offering out of LCY?

  7. Shane says:

    The most important question is, will BA be charging the $60+/- for advance seat assignment? Then again, with 32 seats, does it really matter?

    Seriously, with such few seats, will BA have a problem with over or underbooking since most of the people will probably be on refundable/changeable tickets?

  8. Dave says:

    Cranky – Having flown VS several times via JFK T4, there is no way you can get through Customs in 30 mins, it always takes at least 15 to get through passport control and another 20-40 minutes to collect baggage. I used to average about an hour from off the plane to the curb.

  9. Shindig says:

    If you have that bad of infection-any sort of infection-I hope you are lying on the couch rather than laying on the couch. Get my drift?

  10. Oliver says:

    This may be hypothetical for the banker crowd on those flights, but what happens if US Customs and Immigration wants to screen your luggage and yourself a bit more closely — is BA going to strand you in Shannon after 45 mins, or are they going to wait?

  11. Trent880 says:

    Does BA plan to offer any connectivity to its limited network beyond LCY?

    lol @ Shindig. As my elderly English teacher used to warble, “one lays eggs and others”…

  12. Pingback: About That BA NY-London City Route | AirplanePatches.com

  13. David SFeastbay says:

    Well at 8:14am PT I finished reading this blog and started to write a comment. At 8:15am PT the power goes off. At 4:00pm PT the power finally comes back on and now I don’t remember what I was saying this morning about this blog…..lol

    I wonder if this service will still be around this spring when T-Mobil users will be online? These flights may not go over well, people liked EOS but look were they are now. Granted BA has deeper pockets, to hang in longer but who knows. There are just some people who will not want that SNN stop on the return, and there are people who like to toss around “Heathrow’ in conversation. London City doesn’t sound to high brow for some. And the aircraft is not a jumbo jet which gives the First and Business class travelers a thrill as they board ahead of the cattle in the back and take their plush accomdations. If everyone on the plane is the same class, you can’t impression the peons in back.

    They may have a change if they give corporate accounts a bigger incentive in their company contracts for a better discount to use LCY.

  14. enplaned says:

    I think you’re being overly kind to the LHR option in the analysis. From experience, we generally allowed two hours to get from the City of London to LHR, and that was in a limo. It’s hell on wheels, and will remain so until Crossrail is constructed.

    http://www.crossrail.co.uk/

    By (hopefully) 2017, you’ll be able to go from the City of London (Liverpool St Station) to Heathrow in about 36 minutes by train (which is at least 10 minutes faster than Stansted Express from Liverpool to Stansted), and from Canary Wharf to Heathrow in 43 minutes.

    http://www.crossrail.co.uk/the-railway/why-crossrail/benefits-of-crossrail/good-for-transport

    At that point, I’d guess the utility of BA 001/2/3/4 will be much diminished. But until then, I think this is a great idea.

  15. CF says:

    DRG wrote:

    What’s the deal with the Shannon stop? Needed for range or specifically so that pax can be pre-cleared by CBP?

    To build further on what UT Flyer said, this is a range issue but it’s primarily because the runway at London/City is less than 5,000 feet. Too short to go out with a full load of fuel.

    Alan Fleming wrote:

    Cranky – this isn’t just for people working in the Docklands. LCY is *much* handier for anyone who’s not in the west or south of London’s city centre – and that includes the whole of the financial district in the City of London as well as the docklands.

    Thanks for clarifying. I actually changed my piece above before I published it to say “in or around” the Docklands thinking that I was being too harsh, but apparently even that is too narrow.

    Daren S wrote:

    One thing that would be interesting to know is how many of those bankers would have traditionally flown First out of LHR, but now will take the Club World offering out of LCY?

    Great question. A lot of what people like about BA First is that it’s incredibly private. Yes, the suite is better, but it’s the privacy that’s really stellar. I could never imagine springing for First Class, but I would think that the convenience of this flight would make it worth switching.

    Shane wrote:

    Seriously, with such few seats, will BA have a problem with over or underbooking since most of the people will probably be on refundable/changeable tickets?

    If they have a problem overbooking then clearly they’re in good shape. They are looking at this service with around a 70% load, so I would be surprised to see massive overbooking problems. Yes, maybe beginning or end of the week could be full, so it will be interesting to see how they handle it.

    Dave wrote:

    Cranky – Having flown VS several times via JFK T4, there is no way you can get through Customs in 30 mins, it always takes at least 15 to get through passport control and another 20-40 minutes to collect baggage. I used to average about an hour from off the plane to the curb.

    Well, if we’re talking baggage claim, then it will take more than 5 minutes to get out on BA as well. But it should be much quicker still. I was being conservative on my comparison, but maybe it was too conservative.

    Oliver wrote:

    This may be hypothetical for the banker crowd on those flights, but what happens if US Customs and Immigration wants to screen your luggage and yourself a bit more closely — is BA going to strand you in Shannon after 45 mins, or are they going to wait?

    They’ll have to wait, but I would imagine that with the visa waiver program that they’ll have a pretty good idea of who is onboard before it leaves London.

    Trent880 wrote:

    Does BA plan to offer any connectivity to its limited network beyond LCY?

    Good question. I imagine that you should be able to connect right on to another flight at LCY to go up to Glasgow or something like that. That would be a compelling way to get there.

    David SFeastbay wrote:

    I wonder if this service will still be around this spring when T-Mobil users will be online? These flights may not go over well, people liked EOS but look were they are now. Granted BA has deeper pockets, to hang in longer but who knows. There are just some people who will not want that SNN stop on the return, and there are people who like to toss around “Heathrow’ in conversation. London City doesn’t sound to high brow for some. And the aircraft is not a jumbo jet which gives the First and Business class travelers a thrill as they board ahead of the cattle in the back and take their plush accomdations. If everyone on the plane is the same class, you can’t impression the peons in back.
    They may have a change if they give corporate accounts a bigger incentive in their company contracts for a better discount to use LCY.

    This is most certainly not for everyone, but it doesn’t need to be with so few seats. I have to imagine it will be around by Spring – they’ve acquired a brand new aircraft type for this so if it doesn’t work, there’s a big loss. I don’t think BA will have to offer higher discounts on this service except for the first trial. Once their vast network of corporate accounts (something eos lacked) tries the service, it seems like they’ll want to keep coming back.

    enplaned wrote:

    I think you’re being overly kind to the LHR option in the analysis. From experience, we generally allowed two hours to get from the City of London to LHR, and that was in a limo. It’s hell on wheels, and will remain so until Crossrail is constructed.

    Yes, I agree. Crossrail will be incredible, though there still may be the attraction of the exclusiveness of the service.

  16. Hilary says:

    Hi Cranky,
    I’m in Canary Wharf at the moment and had a chance to talk to some guys who took the flight. They really liked it, especially the small cabin. It seems to be a positive thing around here.

    feel better!

  17. My gosh, the last time i went through customs, the office insisted that I was hiding stuff. I even had taken off my shoes and emptied my purse. After about 20 of the longest minutes of my life, I was finally let through with “warning.” I think I must have caught that guy on a bad day or something.

    Needless to say I was quite angry the rest of the way.

  18. Bobber says:

    Either the internal shots (link provided in the article) don’t do the cabin justice, or it’s a pretty claustrophobic place to be for 7 or so hours. And as for free-standing displays?? Mmm. The convenience factor better be the selling point because it doesn’t look that glamorous to me (and my only experience of C-class is in UA!).

    Have yet to see the A318’s come over work – most approaches on most days head over the top of my office!

  19. Trent880 says:

    David SFeastbay wrote:

    people liked EOS but look were they are now.

    The difference is, and always will be, is BA has the network to back a premium service up. A stand alone premium service never works because they can only compete on fare; they don’t have the premium schedule to back it up. BA, however, offers the schedule breadth (hundreds of destinations/partners) and depth (LONNYC 10 times/day) at LON. It does NOT do so at Paris or Amsterdam, where its premium service is predictably sucking.

  20. BA MetroTwin is a new social network that is about to go public. Put together by British Airways, MetroTwin aims to ‘twin’ New York and London and create a recommendation based social network around the 2 cities.

  21. the alarmist says:

    Why doesn’t BA go the full monty and fly into LaGuardia instead of JFK? Seems like that would be far more convenient for the business travelers it markets to… or at least it seems to make sense to me, anyway…

  22. CF says:

    the alarmist wrote:

    Why doesn’t BA go the full monty and fly into LaGuardia instead of JFK? Seems like that would be far more convenient for the business travelers it markets to… or at least it seems to make sense to me, anyway…

    There are two reasons.

    1) There is a perimeter rule in place that only allows flights from LaGuardia to go 2,000 miles.

    2) I bet the runway at LaGuardia is short enough that they might not be able to make the eastbound nonstop as they can out of JFK.

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