Saturday, July 12, 2014

British Airways A318 JFK – London City service

I've been fascinated by the JFK – London City flight ever since I first heard about it — a tiny plane with 32 seats (all Business Class) that flies right into the heart of London to City Airport (LCY). I'd never pay that much in cash ($6000), but with miles I was able to score a seat (details are here). 

Transatlantic on an A318!

Pros

  • insanely fast boarding and de-boarding both in JFK and LCY
  • London City has really quick security lines and customs
  • small cabin feels like you're on a private plane
  • arrival service is really nice (private room with shower at a hotel spa)
  • LCY has a bag storage service so you can easily do a "day in London" layover
  • LCY is close to the city center and is on the Tube/DLR so it's quick and cheap trip in
  • Flying into JFK you clear customs in Shannon, Ireland (a plus for non-Americans)

Cons

  • the small plane has a rougher ride in turbulence
  • no convenient connections to other places in Europe from LCY
  • arrival service is off-site and you have to be driven there
UPDATE: Google street view now has a complete walk-thru of this plane!

Pre-boarding

I'm not entirely sure of the history of this service, but I know that it inherited the flight numbers used for the Concorde: BA Flight 001 (and 002, 003, etc). Sadly you don't get to use the Concorde Room at JFK when flying this service, that's reserved for International First Class passengers and top-tier elites. You do, however, get to use the BA Galleries Lounge, which offers a sit-down dining option for people who want to sleep the whole way to Europe. 

Pre-departure champagne and dinner in the JFK Galleries dining room

Boarding

The picture says it all. No lines, no "gate lice", no "Boarding group six", you just walk on. The plane itself was comically dark once we got inside. Like darker than a nightclub. It was really a really dramatic effect when we were walking on, but once we tried to get situated, it became difficult to actually see what we were doing. Pre-departure champagne, water, and juice were offered.

The boarding area for a 32-person flight :)

sorry for the graininess, but it was realllly dark on the plane
with the Olloclip fisheye. Only 8 rows!


The bathroom was fairly standard

The flight

Everyone on board pretty much went straight to sleep as soon as we reached cruising altitude. The seats are fully lie-flat, and BA provides noise-canceling headphones so I was asleep rather quickly. A couple of hours in we hit some turbulence and it jolted me awake – I think at one point my entire body left my seat the bump was so hard! So yes, the tiny A318 has a much rougher ride than the big A380 we flew a couple years ago. The turbulence was over after about half an hour and I quickly fell back asleep until pre-landing service started. 

Prior to landing they served a traditional English breakfast with a really nice watermelon and cucumber juice. The landing is pretty steep but the view of central London as you approach the runway is stunning. There are no jetways, but we were off the plane and through customs in under 10 minutes.

There's a nice bag stowage service in the airport which we used. Given that the flight arrives around 10am and most of the morning intra-European departures leave between 7 and 9:30am, there are very few convenient connections. We chose to have a long layover in London and then catch an evening flight on to Spain. 

Landing in London


English countryside

About to land at London City

Our plane

Arrival Service

Due to how small London City is, there's no arrivals lounge. You're asked during check-in if you need arrival service and we said yes. Once we landed a driver quickly took us and 3 other passengers to a Radisson BLU hotel about 5 minutes' drive from the airport. We were each given our own treatment room with private shower, and they asked if anyone needed ironing done. Once we were done freshening up, the restaurant has complimentary food and beverages for arrival service passengers. Everyone at the hotel was super friendly and helpful. We opted to walk from the Hotel to the DLR station rather than use the driver.


Arrival service hotel

Private treatment room for arrival passengers

Returning to London City to head to Madrid

After our 8 hours in London, it was completely painless to take the DLR right back into the London City station. The airport is TINY so there's no airtrams or moving sidewalks or any real delay between the subway and the gate. The security line looked long but the entire airport (except us) was in business suits and they all knew the drill — seriously it was the fastest-moving security line I have EVER seen. 

Once we were inside, the entire waiting area feels like a Business Class lounge (except you have to pay for food and drink). We watched some World Cup action with a bunch of German businesspeople and then headed on to Madrid.

There's also some great plane-spotting from the parking lot breezeway!


Emirates Air Line is right nearby

View of London City airport from the Sky Line
Business people in the London City waiting area catching some World Cup action




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