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Flight Review: Onboard BA001, British Airways' All-Business-Class Baby Bus to JFK

November 8, 2012 at 12:18 PM | by | ()

Back in the day (though not all that long ago), there was no more exclusive way to travel from London to New York than on BA001, the British Airways flight number for Concorde. With the supersonic jet now retired, BA uses this famous flight label for the next best thing: one of its two daily all-business-class flights from London City Airport to New York JFK.

We recently flew this interesting service, which not only has the benefit of just 32 full-flat seats on a tiny Airbus A318, but also offers pre-clearance of US immigration during a brief refuel stop in Shannon, Ireland. We’ll give you the full breakdown of the BA “baby bus” experience below.

What We Liked:

· London City is a tiny, one-runway airport just east of Canary Wharf, and handles only European flights with the notable exception of the BA JFK service. Ease of access and small scale are two of the major benefits; it’s a hop on the DLR overground train from central London and check-in closes only 20 minutes before departure, minimizing the time you spend at the airport.

· We breezed through security without any wait and made our way to the small dedicated lounge at the gate. Obviously it’s not nearly as elaborate as the Galleries lounges you will find at Heathrow and there’s no Elemis Spa, but this didn’t bother us for the 40 minutes spent here.

· That private-jet feeling: this is probably as close to flying on a private jet as a lot of people will get. Our flight was about half full, but even with all 32 passengers we can’t imagine it feeling busy or crowded. All in all, it makes for a very relaxing boarding and departure process.

· The cabin looked great, in a mix of dark blues and chocolates, with white shells for the seats. We’ve spent a lot of time on BA and unfortunately cleanliness isn’t always a strong point, but our A318 was spotless.

· Service was excellent, including being addressed by name throughout the flight.

· The in-flight meal was lovely, and we felt it to be better than what we’ve encountered in “regular” Club World, BA's long-haul business class. An appetizer is served on the London to Shannon leg, with the rest of the meal on the way to New York.

· Tier Points! Achieving status with BA’s Executive Club frequent flier programme is driven by tier points; flying the baby bus is awarded with First Class tier points rather than Business Class, making it a nice little earner.

· Pre-clearing US immigration. Need we say more? The difference between clearing US immigration with 15 passengers at a deserted airport in Ireland and the normal arrival experience at JFK—especially as a non-US citizen—is huge. You’re escorted when you walk off the plane and, if you have checked bags, you take a seat for a few minutes before proceeding. Within twenty minutes you’re back at the gate. It was heaven. Once at JFK, you simply walk out of the airport like any domestic arrival and are on your way to where you want to go.

What We Didn’t Like:

· The seat in its upright position feels higher up than BA’s yin-yang style Club World pods. Being fairly tall (okay, 6'4"), we struggled with the headrest, which is very pronounced and couldn’t be pushed up high enough to be comfortable. It gave us a sore neck in no-time, but was much better once we could adjust the seat.

· Going west on a day flight, we only reclined the seat to doze for a little while. While fully flat and perfectly comfortable, we didn’t have quite the amount of room we’ve gotten used to in some of the choice seats with unlimited legroom on the upper deck of a BA 747.

· iPads are handed out for in-flight entertainment. The choice of movies is not very extensive and there’s an annoying glitch that puts the audio out of sync when you pause and start again.

· A minor detail, but we waited for quite a while at baggage reclaim with our fellow passengers, while our bags looped around on another belt than the one BA001 had listed on the screens.

Bottom Line

We’d definitely recommend trying Club World London City to anyone needing to get from central London to New York. It’s a very comfortable and civilised way to make the journey, albeit an expensive one: a non-sale rountrip easily runs for £2,500 (about $4,000) as a non-flexible fare. Add flexibility and you’re looking at much more. There’s also a concierge team available to help you plan your journey, and an arrival service at a hotel close to City airport when coming in from JFK overnight.

BA001 departs from London City at 09.50, arriving at New York JFK at 15.20. BA003 departs at 16.00, arriving at 21.30. Beware that while BA001 still offers pre-clearance, the second daily flight (BA003) now no longer has this due to changing business hours at US customs in Shannon. A refuel stop still happens (a take-off from City airport with full fuel tanks is not possible given the short runway), but you will arrive in JFK as an international flight.

Back when the service was introduced in 2009, we wondered about its life expectancy given the number of business-class only airlines that have gone under. Three years later, the baby bus continues to fly. We’ve actually heard rumors that the service has been underwritten by a few high-profile companies based at Canary Wharf that frequently shuttle employees to and from New York.

Looking at the load on our flight (and other similar stories) and BA003 losing its pre-clearance, we’re curious to see what the future holds for this all-business service.

[Photos: JasonD]

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