British Airways has permanently suspended its all business class service from London City to New York JFK.
This was expected following the announcement by BA’s parent company International Airlines Group that it plans to withdraw its Airbus A318 fleet.
The route was suspended in March 2020 and was due to return from late October 2020. It has now been withdrawn from BA’s timetables entirely.
Passengers whose flights have been cancelled are entitled to a full refund. Alternatively, passengers can be rebooked on alternative American Airlines and BA services to New York from London Heathrow.
BA has suspended flights from London Gatwick to New York JFK and these are provisionally due to return from late October 2020.
In light of market conditions and IAG’s decision to take into account environmental considerations when planning new routes it is unlikely that BA will launch a similar service again.
New York JFK was the only long-haul route from London City airport. Start-ups such as Odyssey Airlines have expressed a desire to launch all business class routes from London City. These are unlikely to succeed without guaranteed support from corporate customers and business travellers who can be lured away from frequent flyer programmes of rival airlines.
What happens to BA’s fleet of two Airbus A318 aircraft isn’t clear. One is leased to Titan Airways. Both aircraft have been provided as security for a $750 million loan which means BA can’t sell or scrap them until the loan is repaid in May 2021.
About London City – New York JFK “Club World London City”
Before the 2008 financial crisis, a number of “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 London Stansted to New York JFK, carrying just 48 passengers on each flight.
MAXJet launched all premium services 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 well received by passengers particularly because, at the time, not operating from Heathrow was an advantage.
All three airlines were financially unsuccessful and ceased operations by May 2008 due to rising fuel prices and being unable to secure new finance.
Still, they did not escape the attention of existing airlines. BA launched its own all premium airline OpenSkies from Paris Orly and Amsterdam in 2008.
In February 2008, BA also 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. As BA’s existing Club World seat was not certified for use on the Airbus A318 BA fitted the aircraft with “off-the-shelf” fully flat beds.
Due to take off restrictions at London City, the aircraft would stop at Shannon to refuel 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. Pilots received special training to land the aircraft at a steeper angle at London City.
The crewing arrangements were complex. Due to the “scope” provisions in BA’s industrial agreements with pilots flights were operated with Heathrow based pilots. They would report to Heathrow on the day of departure, be transported to London City and would only operate the leg to Shannon before handling over to another crew. The flight was operated by Gatwick based cabin crew who would report for the flight the day before with accommodation provided at London City.
There were doubts as to whether it work. Although Virgin Atlantic had mooted its own all business class service, it scoffed to the Independent before launch “Taxpayer-owned banks won’t want to be seen paying over £4,000 for a slow, stopping BA flight to New York when they can pay less and get there quicker with Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow.” 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 in the midst of the global financial crisis. Such was the prestige attached to it, it was allocated Concorde’s former flight numbers BA1-4.
Then BA CEO Willie Walsh even took the trouble to personally e-mail every member of the Executive Club from on board the inaugural flight:
It was instantly well received by passengers. The route was seen as step above BA’s existing services from London Heathrow, partly due to the 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. There was also a sense that cabin crew took genuine pride in the service.
Following the suspension of Concorde in 2003, BA lacked a “brand halo” and this service went at least in part to offering something genuinely distinctive.
Events conspired against it. Reportedly due to lobbying by a US airline, customs & immigration pre-clearance hours were cut in Shannon, reducing one of the main benefits of service for the 2nd daily flight which was subsequently dropped. One Airbus A318 aircraft was leased to Titan Airways. The availability of Global Entry has also reduced the benefit of the stop-over in Shannon.
There was talk of BA ordering further aircraft and extending all business class services to other US cities such as Boston. This never translated into any meaningful steps towards launching additional routes which would have required guaranteed support from corporate customers.
According to Civil Aviation Authority data, before the pandemic around 1,000 passengers flew in both direction on the service a month. This was less than the number of business class seats American Airlines and BA used to offer between London and New York in a single day.
Whilst the service was very much a niche route it will be missed by the few passengers who became regulars in its heyday.