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 about 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.
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.