Before the 2008 financial crisis, a number of new “boutique” all premium class airlines started operating flights from London airports, principally to New York.
In 2005, Eos, founded by former BA director David Spurlock, launched an all business class Boeing 757 service from Stansted to New York JFK, carrying just 48 passengers on each aircraft.
MAXJet launched all premium service from Stansted to New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Silverjet also launched an all premium Boeing 767 service from London Luton to Newark and Dubai.
Whilst MAXJet was plagued with reliability issues, Eos and Silverjet were very well received by passengers.
However, all three airlines were financially unsuccessful and had ceased operations by May 2008 due to rising fuel prices and being unable to secure new financing.
Still, they did not escape the attention of existing airlines. Virgin Atlantic announced it planned to launch all business class services to New York from a number of European cities, not that it ever came close to fruition.
Club World London City
In February 2008, BA announced its own plan to launch an all business class service from London City to New York JFK.
The route would be served twice daily with two brand new Airbus A318 aircraft in all business class configuration of 32 seats.
Due to take off restrictions at London City, the aircraft would stop at Shannon for refuelling en route to New York JFK. This was turned into an advantage as passengers would disembark the aircraft and clear US customs and immigration in Shannon. On arrival at New York JFK passengers the flight would be treated as a domestic arrival.
The aircraft would fly non-stop from New York JFK to London City and pilots received special training to land the aircraft at a steeper angle at London City.
There were doubts as to whether it work. It was launched in the midst of the global financial crisis. However, it was seen as low risk as the aircraft could easily be converted to short-haul use.
The service launched on 29 September 2009. Such was the prestige attached to it, it was allocated Concorde’s former flight numbers BA1-4.
It was instantly well received by passengers. It was seen as step above BA’s existing services from London Heathrow, partly due to then relative convenience of London City, better in-flight catering from Roast, a small cabin with seasoned travellers and no queues on arrival in New York.
However, events have conspired against it. Reportedly due to lobbying by a US airline, customs & immigration pre-clearance hours were cut in Shannon, thus reducing one of the main benefits of service for the 2nd daily flight which was subsequently cut. One Airbus A318 aircraft was sold to Titan Airways. The availability of Global Entry has also reduced the benefit of the stop-over in Shannon.
The service has also been pared back. BA no longer provides dedicated catering before departure at the gate at London City, nor does it offer arrivals facilities at a hotel on arrival in London City.
There was talk of BA ordering further aircraft and extending all business class service to other US East Coast cities such as Boston. However, this has long gone.
According to Civil Aviation Authority data, around 1,000 passengers fly in both direction on the service a month, which is less than the number of business class seats American Airlines and BA offer between Heathrow and New York in a single day.
It is hard to envisage BA’s single Airbus A318 aircraft being replaced when it is due to retire. However, the service still has a novelty and remains one of the “bucket list” trips if you’ve not tried it.
Postscript August 2020
This service has been permanently suspended following BA’s decision to retire its Airbus A318 fleet.