Outbound Trip Report: New York JFK to London City LCY
The more I learned about this unique service, the more determined I needed to try it for myself. In this case, I would be flying both outbound and inbound flights as the experience is so different, depending on which direction one is heading.
The day finally came on a cold February evening when, following an interminably long car ride, I pulled into British Airways Terminal 7 at New York JFK. With 90 minutes prior to departure, I was in a rush, not because I was late for the flight or anything. BA’s exclusive JFK to London City has its own dedicated check-in desks and fast track security that allows you to arrive at the airport at up to just 45 minutes before departure. No, I was on a mission to get the full experience that includes the much ballyhooed pre-flight dining specially designed for the London City passengers to allow for maximum sleeping time once onboard.
There was no queue at the dedicated London City check-in desk. After checking my bag, for testing purposes only I assure you, I was through security and in BA’s sprawling Galleries Lounge just 15 minutes after arriving at the curb. With dinner waiting and time ticking, I undertook a cursory romp through BA’s lounge. Though crowded, and not as exclusive as the fabled Concorde Lounge, Galleries is a beautifully appointed, significant upgrade from its US domestic carrier counterpart. A tempting array of snacks and complimentary top shelf spirits and wine graced a number of bars, speedy Wi-Fi, power plugs o’plenty, and even an Elemis travel spa, were on offer. Though tempted for the massage and facial, I decided to remain on the program and stroll over to the pre-flight dining room.
This buffet style meal service offered a bit of something for all clientele, from vegetarian dishes such as eggplant roasted pepper and feta cheese tart, to kahari braised lamb with apricots, and seared arctic-char with French lentil tomato veloute’. For those with Asian tastes, a full line of curry, teriyaki, and noodle dishes were there for the indulgence.
Out of a sense of duty, I sampled small portions of just about everything including the deserts dubbed “Finale” which included date-nut bread pudding, chocolate mousse, and a Hudson valley farm cheese plate. A nice glass of Dom complimented this feast. A particular Monty Python sketch came to mind as I was forced to loosen my belt a bit. In one word, my review: “excellent”, but my fear: no room left in the belly to sample the so called “nightcap” service once onboard. Would my palette be able to overrule my already satiated appetite later?
After a leisurely jaunt to the gate, BA002 was ready to board. As I boarded the A318, a plane designed to carry up to 132 passengers but in this case configured to carry only 32, I felt I had entered a private jet. Unique for British Airways Club World Class, all eight rows of 2 X 2 seats face forward. The 73” pitch exceeds many other airlines’ hard product. The 20” wide, all lie flat seats are very comfortable, offering excellent support. BA pioneered these types of seats in first class way back in 1996 and business class in 2000. Each one has a nice storage area for the mobile phone and a cubby for shoes.
The leisurely boarding took less than ten minutes. With the dark blue mood lighting, the soothing boarding theme of BA’s signature “Flower duet” by Lakme, and only fifteen passengers onboard, was BA trying to already subtly lull us all into sleep? While we waited for the cabin to be buttoned up, we were served champagne and our “nightcap” orders were taken. While examining the generous menu, it became crystal clear “nightcap” at BA means a lot more than a light snack and drink. The flight is typically catered for less than full capacity, as half of the passengers chose to sleep rather than eat, especially on the later evening flight. Each passenger was asked if they wished to be awoken for breakfast to maximize precious hours of sleep in this quick six hour and twenty minute crossing.
Sitting on our seats were Elemis amenity kits, nothing unusual in these, but the branded moisturizer was a very nice treat. Noise cancelling headphones with a multi-prong jack were sitting in the seatback along with the well regarded “High Life” in-flight magazine.
With no overhead in-flight entertainment center, we had an old school “live” safety briefing, very unusual for a long-haul flight. After a slight delay due to weather, we pushed back at 7:20pm and were airborne in less than ten minutes, avoiding the usual evening parking lot that is JFK. I actually was curious if this time sensitive flight was granted some sort of special priority. With the cabin lights immediately dimmed shortly after take-off, at least half of the cabin drifted off to dream land.
Not wanting our gracious but unobtrusive cabin crew consisting of purser Anita, Mandy, and Sydney to be lonely, and needing to perform my duty for an in-depth flight report, I resolved to remain awake as long as possible. Fourteen minutes in the air, a lovely California Chardonnay is sitting on my tray table accompanied by mixed nuts. Just six minutes later, the starter arrives. The shrimp and crabmeat salad with olives, tomatoes, and peppers on a bed of arugula was light and delightful. By 8:00pm, just thirty minutes after take-off my main course consisting of beef cheek and lamb with carrots, cauliflower, and potato was beckoning me to taste it. I am not a food critic but can assure you it was flavorful, moist, and well presented. After two dinners and not being one with a particular sweet tooth, I declined the pear and milk chocolate delice’ with caramel sauce, cookies and hot chocolate, Morbier and Camembert fruit and cheese plate, and chocolates. One has to know his limits and I had exceeded mine.
BA has left no detail un-turned especially with regards to sleep. Each of the two galleys features double sets of curtains with a dark threshold to make absolutely certain no light leaks into the cabin. The lavatory lights are dimmed very low as well when the door is open to the cabin. Thus with my resistance to sleep wearing low, I endeavor to sample the evening’s in-flight entertainment.
Due to weight and cost issues, there is no embedded IFE on the A318 fleet. Originally using older digital video players, BA switched to iPads in the fall of 2011. They are pre-stocked with an ample selection of up to 20 movies, 40 TV series, four games, and 32 music channels, though no moving map. As many passengers carry their own devices, sleep, or work the selection doesn’t need to quite reach the level of the carrier’s normal embedded IFE’s. Fans of “Downton Abbey” will be pleased to know that the series is represented here, appropriately enough.
I opened the side armrest thinking there was some sort of mounting bracket for the iPad but found these to be incompatible arms for the previous IFE. For those wishing to use their own devices US, UK, and EU power sockets are available at every seat – no adapter needed, though there are no USB plugs.
There was still one more feature unique to the London City service that I needed to try: On-Air, BA’s unusual answer to connectivity. Surprisingly, the two A318s are the only aircraft in BA’s worldwide fleet with in-flight connectivity. The rather pricey On-Air service is designed only for emails and SMS with mobile phones, no web surfing. You leave on your phone’s cellular data function and turn on roaming as opposed to Wi-Fi. Thankfully the system doesn’t support voice calls. Innovative when introduced in 2009, in an age before over-the-ocean satellite Ka-based in-flight internet, it is slow and in tonight’s case not working.
That would have to wait for the return flight home. It being a Friday night, there wasn’t anything pressing anyway. I reclined my Club World seat into a fully lie-flat 72” bed and shortly thereafter was lulled into dreamland by slight chop as we cruised at 39,000 feet and 550 mph over the North Atlantic. Even during turbulence or meal service the cabin is noticeably quiet.
An hour before arrival into London City, those who had opted to be awoken for breakfast were served fresh fruit, smoothies, and a bacon and egg sandwich. This hardy meal hit the spot and would be my final meal until dinner later that night. Caution: calorie and carb counters may find this flight challenging. For those wishing to sleep, a complimentary breakfast is available upon arrival at the arrivals hotel.
We began our gradual descent over the Irish Sea with 34 minutes left to go in the flight. The dimmed cabin lights seamlessly came up a few minutes later and the passengers began to stir from their slumber. The conscientious crew embodying BA’s longtime motto “To Fly. To Serve.” were still serving late breakfasts in the descent, not wishing to deny anyone of the most important meal of the day.
At 6:52AM with full flaps deployed we were on finals following the Thames River with that noticeably steep descent that these A318s were designed for. Two minutes later we were on the ground with a very firm touchdown at London City on runway 27 at 132 mph which felt like we were landing on an aircraft carrier. With full thrust reversers activated, we stopped about ¾ down the 4,948’ runway.
As there are no taxiways in this runway built out in the Thames, the plane does a 180 degree turn and backtracks partway down the runway to turn off on the tarmac. At 6:58AM the engines are shut down and the passengers alight from the plane down air-stairs to a waiting bus to the diminutive terminal.
An incredible fourteen minutes later, I have cleared immigration, collected my bags and cleared customs. Some passengers head to the nearby Raddison Blu New Edwardian Hotel where BA has contracted for an arrivals service of showers, gym and a breakfast. If this weren’t a Saturday morning, others would be in their officers in The City, Canary Warf, or the Docklands within 15 minutes. As for me, I walk 300 feet to the Terminal’s train station for the Docklands Light Railway. After transferring to the Tube, I am at the door of my hotel in the West End of London less than an hour after landing. This first leg delivered on both British Airways’ expected high standard of service and a precision and a seamless efficient product engineered for a very specific market that would be the envy of any airline.