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There aren’t many truly unique commercial flights left nowadays, but the all-business-class service that British Airways operates between London City Airport and New York JFK is certainly one of them and it’s a service I’ve been looking forward to trying for almost a decade.
The service is operated by an Airbus A318 that has been specially equipped with Business Class seats throughout the aircraft and which has to route through Ireland’s Shannon airport so that it can refuel and make it all the way to New York. This is about as close to flying in a private jet as most people will ever get.
Check-in at London City Airport is pretty basic but acceptable…
…and because there isn’t a lounge at London City Airport, BA1 flyers are invited to enjoy a complimentary breakfast at the Pilots Bar & Kitchen (which is just past security).
Boarding & The Cabin
There’s not much that’s standard about BA1 and that’s evident from the outset when you see the size of the aircraft that’s about to fly you across the Atlantic and when you board your transatlantic flight via the airport apron and steps up to the aircraft.
The cabin is set out in a 2-2 layout with seats that you won’t find anywhere else in the British Airways fleet.
The seats are hardly modern but they’re surprisingly comfortable…
…and offer a good amount of legroom for passengers to stretch out.
Despite the small size of the plane, there’s a good feeling of space onboard, partly helped by the fact that most rows have access to three of the aircraft’s windows…
…and partly because this flight is rarely full so there’s a good chance that the seat next you will be unoccupied (as the one next to me was on this flight).
Storage space around the seats is at a premium on this aircraft with the magazine holders, the area under the footstools…
…and a small area under the seat’s armrest being the only locations where personal items can be stored.
There’s nowhere to safely keep a laptop or tablet close to hand.
The seats have reading lights built into their dividers…
…and there are more lights above the seat alongside air-nozzles which passengers can control.
The center armrest doubles as a storage point for the tray table which is deployed from the side…
…and which opens up into a small cocktail table…
…or a full table for work or dining.
Each pair of seats shares 4 universal power outlets. Two are built into the central divider and face away from the seats a little below knee height…
…and the others are found on the inside of the central armrest (near the small storage area).
The seat controls can be found on the outside armrest on each seat and are pretty basic…
…but they still manage to get the seat into a variety of comfortable positions…
…as well as the lie-flat position which you’ll see shortly.
Upon boarding, passengers are greeted by a large white pillow and a grey White Company bundle waiting for them at their seats.
The White Company bundle contains a seat cover…
…and a blanket which, all put together, help to make up a comfortable bed.
The pre-requisite Business Class Amenity kit is also supplied (also White Company branded)…although on this flight it only made an appearance at passengers’ seats after we had transited through Shannon.
For passengers who just can’t get enough of the White Company toiletries, there are more in the onboard washrooms.
Food & Drink
Here’s the menu that was offered on this particular flight 9Click to enlarge thumbnails):
Moments after we leveled out following our departure from London I was offered my choice of drink as well as a choice of “exotic fruit brioche” or “vegetarian sushi rolls”…and I went with the latter.
The presentation was nice and the rolls were pretty good (well, they were as good as vegetarian rolls can be!)
Drinks and nuts were served shortly after we departed Shannon…
…and lunch was served a little over an hour after that.
Here’s what I had:
- Fresh, warm mixed bread roll
- A starter of “fresh seasonal salad” with roasted sweet potato, coriander, chili pesto and a balsamic vinaigrette.
- A main course of “grilled marinated king prawns” in a slow-roasted tomato sauce and basmati rice.
- A dessert of “flamed meringue, raspberry panna cotta”
And all of that was followed up by a mug of tea.
All in all, this was a pretty good lunch.
The salad was fresh, the bread was soft and nicely warmed, the tomato sauce worked well with the prawns, the panna cotta was delicious, and the tea was excellent (fact: no airline serves better tea than BA).
There was one final meal service 90 minutes before we landed at New York JFK – Afternoon Tea.
These were the sandwiches:
- Mature cheddar on pumpernickel
- Pastrami with red cabbage coleslaw
- Shrimp Marie Rose with cress
And, to finish the dining experience off, a scone served warm with clotted cream and strawberry preserve….and a chocolate Battenberg mini-cake.
Readers paying close attention will have noticed that there hasn’t been any mention (or sight) of an IFE screen so far in this review…and that’s because there isn’t one on this aircraft.
Instead, the crew have tablets that they hand out to passengers…
…and which are pre-loaded with various entertainment options.
If you’ve boarded hoping for a wide selection of things to watch and listen to, you’re going to be disappointed.
Yes, there’s probably enough here to keep most passengers occupied on the journey to New York, but it will also probably be a case of making do with what’s on offer rather than enjoying shows and movies that you really like.
Personally, I don’t find this an issue because I stopped trusting airlines with my entertainment needs shortly after iTunes came into my life (well over a decade ago) but, if you’re traveling without movies or shows of your own, you’re probably not going to be impressed with this entertainment offering.
There really isn’t much to say here except to mention that the flight attendants I interacted with were charming, polite and very friendly. They were like a lot of the BA crews I’ve slowly become accustomed to over the past few years in that they appeared to have a genuine desire to make sure that the passengers were well looked after and that the trip was as comfortable and pleasant as possible.
Transiting In Shannon
British Airways makes the most of its refueling stop in Shannon by having passengers go through US immigration and customs preclearance.
The result of this is that that BA1 lands in New York as, essentially, a domestic flight – there’s no need to clear customs and immigration at JFK.
The route to preclearance is well signposted…
…and, now that there are Global Entry kiosks at Shannon,…
…it possible to speed through to the gate area very quickly indeed (if you don’t have checked baggage to worry about).
With my Global Entry membership and no checked bags, it took me a little over 15 minutes from disembarking in Shannon to clear preclearance and get back to the gate ready to re-board the A318 for the transatlantic flight to New York.
The entertainment is an obvious negative element to this service so come prepared with your own movies, shows, and music.
The lack of close-to-hand storage space (especially for tablets and laptops) can be frustrating…unless you have an empty seat next to you which can become a repository for everything you need.
The cabin is great. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel is some great Business Class cabins but none of them has ever felt as special as this.
Sure, the Qsuites offer a vastly superior seat (as do a lot of other Business Class cabins) and you can’t beat the cabin environment of an A350 but that’s not what matters here.
What matters here is that BA1 offers something very unique, and you can’t help but notice that regardless of how many great Business Class cabins you’ve flown in.
The seats may not be all-aisle-access and may belong to a different decade but they’re comfortable enough that you can actually enjoy the fact that you’re flying in a single cabin all-Business Class aircraft….and ow often do most people get to do that?
Other positives include the crew (who were great), the food (which was mostly very nice) and the swift transit through Shannon which meant a lot less waiting around in New York (for those without Global Entry).
In case it wasn’t already obvious, I loved my trip on BA1. As I said at the beginning, this is about as close to flying in a private jet as most of us will ever get and the trip is much more about the experience than it is about the seat, the food or the entertainment.
Yes, all of those things are important…but not as important as the fact that when I first boarded the A318 I couldn’t help but smile. This is different. It’s unique.
BA1 is an experience I urge you to try if you possibly can. It’s not the Qsuites, ANA’s “The Room” or Singapore Airlines First Class but sometimes flights can be about more than Dom Perignon and a private suite. Quite simply, BA1 is a whole heap of fun 🙂