British Airways 'Club World London City' review
Part 2 - The different airports used and
One of BA's new A318
planes at London City Airport.
Note there are no jetways, however you walk only a very short
distance between the plane and terminal.
Part 2 of a series on
BA's new Club World London City service - please
2. Airport Issues
Flight Experience and Summary
London City Airport is a much
nicer airport in almost all respects when compared with
Heathrow. Perhaps the only downside is the lack of retail
shopping or things to do while waiting for a flight, but with
the very short checkin time required for the flight to New York,
this isn't really an issue.
The other downside of LCY is
due to its short runway and steep approach path (twice the angle
of typical descents) the biggest plane that can fly in/out of
the airport is the tiny A318, and even that plane can't take off
with a full load of fuel, so flights back to New York require a
stop in Shannon to refuel.
This review is based on two
flights with British Airways in November 2009 - one each way
between JFK and LCY.
London City Airport compared to
Heathrow Airport handles
twenty times more passengers a year than London City Airport,
and is vastly larger in all respects. When it comes to
airports, bigger is seldom better, and in this case, in the time
it takes to simply walk the interminable seeming distance from
some of Heathrow's outlying gates in to the central processing
area, you may have completed all arrival formalities at LCY and
be out the airport exit.
We were given VIP treatment
upon arrival at LCY and rushed through Immigration. It
then took only a few more minutes for our bags to arrive.
Here are timings for our
arrival processing :
0654 : Touched down
0657 : At the gate
(and then a long seeming but in reality short delay to get air
stairs to the plane)
0708 : Had gone
through Immigration, got cash from an ATM, collected my bags,
gone through Customs, walked through the terminal building, and
was exiting the airport building
In other words, less than
ten minutes from the airplane door opening to walking out of the
airport. That is stunningly fast for an international
Going through the airport on
the return to JFK was also very fast. It took 14 minutes
from entering the airport to entering the departure lounge.
This included time to check a bag, collect a boarding pass, go
through security, walk through the terminal, go through a
secondary security 'random inspection', and get to the
furtherest away gate in the airport.
As confirmation this was not
a fluke, BA require a mere 20 minute advance checkin at LCY.
Our flight arrived early
into LCY, and the departing flight left LCY early too. It
is easier to leave early when you've only got 32 passengers to
keep track of.
These processing times at
LCY contrast extraordinarily with those experienced at LHR.
For sure, business class passengers get to go through priority
arrival/Immigration lanes, and through priority
departure/security lanes, but even in such cases, there can be 5
- 20 minute delays at these bottlenecks. Bags can take a
long time to arrive, no matter if they are priority tagged or
not, and the physical distances required to walk from one part
of the airport to another can be both tiring and time consuming.
For all these reasons, LCY
is a much nicer, quicker and easier airport experience than LHR.
Getting in and out of Central
The time it takes to get
between either airport and central London depends on what mode
of travel you take and where in central London you're traveling
As you can see in our
London's Best and Worst Airports, while Heathrow is almost
twice the distance to Piccadilly Circus that LCY is, the travel
time by car/taxi is about the same. This is because part
of the distance to Heathrow is on highway, but all the journey
to LCY is on surface streets.
If your destination is east
of Piccadilly Circus, LCY becomes successively a better choice,
and if your destination is west, then LHR gets better and
If you don't want to pay the
£30-60 cost of a taxi, you might choose a less expensive option
- in the case of LHR, this would either be taking the train to
Paddington Station and then a taxi or tube or bus from there, or
perhaps simply taking the tube all the way from the airport.
With LCY, it would be taking the DLR in to probably Bank Station
and then tube or bus or taxi from there. In such a case
there is again a moderate parity in travel times to the central
part of London.
Although some people focus
simply on the respective distances of the two airports from
central London, the actual travel time from either airport to
central London is very similar.
Arrivals Lounge Contrasts
If you're planning on going
straight from the plane to some type of business activity in
London, you'll probably want to make use of the Arrivals Lounge
where you can shower, shave, change clothes and generally
BA has an
excellent Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow where you can enjoy private showers,
and even partake of a breakfast and other refreshments (assuming
you didn't eat enough on the flight over).
But at London City, you've
got a distressingly unpleasant and inconvenient arrangement.
You first have to wait up to 30 minutes for a shuttle bus that
drives you to a Marriott Hotel 10 minutes away (fortunately
located to the west -
ie, in the direction of central London).
Once you get there, you make
your way to their 'Health Club' and you can use the showers
there. Sounds good?
Alas, no. It was
awful. There were only two shower stalls, and so you can
imagine the frustration and delay if you have six or more people
all arrive on the shuttle bus at the same time. For that
reason, if your time is short, you might choose to instead take
a cab from the airport to the hotel (estimated fare about £10).
That would enable you to jump the queue that will form when the
shuttle bus discharges its load of passengers all at once.
In terms of getting changed,
there's a public 'locker room' area where you get naked and
changed in front of all the other people impatiently waiting
their turn at a shower stall. And while you're in the
shower, there's no-one to mind your luggage. There's no
place in the shower stall to take any of your ultra-essential
mustn't be lost/stolen personal items, and no secure place to store them.
There are also no
refreshments or anything else on offer. Overall, it is an
appalling disappointment and not at all helpful.
One more note - if you then
take a taxi on from the hotel to wherever you wish to travel,
beware of the predatory doormen who will try and direct you into
a private mini-cab - perhaps because they'll get a back-hander
tip from the mini-cab driver. Insist on a regular licensed
black cab. The rate will probably be cheaper, too.
Transiting Through Shannon
A distinctive feature of the
flights between LCY and JFK is the need for the flight to make a
short stop in Ireland's Shannon Airport in order for it to load
The very short runway at LCY
means the A318 is unable to take off with sufficient fuel to fly
the route non-stop. This is not a problem when the plane
flies from JFK to LCY, but it is a problem on the LCY to JFK
So BA came up with an
interesting and innovative solution to this issue that attempts
to turn a negative (the hassle and extra time required for a
stop en route) into a positive. The flight spends about an
hour at Shannon Airport (SNN), and while the plane is being
refueled, the passengers are taken off the plane and pre-cleared
into the US, making use of the US Customs and Immigration
Service pre-clearance station at SNN.
This means that when the
flight arrives into JFK, it is treated as a domestic flight.
Passengers do not need to clear US Immigration, collect their
bags, and go through Customs upon arrival. They can simply
proceed direct to baggage claim, collect their bags, and then
exit the terminal with no further hassle or delay.
Being spared the extra
aggravation and hassle upon arrival into JFK is definitely a
plus, but the downside to that is almost two hours extra flying
time between London and New York. The extra travel time is
much more than the time saved upon arrival in New York.
The transit through Shannon
is also a bit of a hassle - made more so by the need to take all
your carry-on items off the plane with you, to traipse through
airport corridors, go through another security screening, wait
in a small lounge with no amenities, and then reboard the plane
and restow your carry-on items.
It is about 90 minutes
flying time between LCY and SNN, and during this time, you have
no In-Flight Entertainment, and are only offered one drink and a
morsel of food.
The strangest 'security' I've
When you arrive at Shannon,
you're shepherded off the plane, then lead through several empty
and 'secure' corridors, to arrive at - yes, you guessed it, a
security screening station. First, you are made to wait in
an area with only 18 seats (insufficient for 32 passengers)
until mysterious things are done to your checked bags somewhere
else. When that unexplained process is complete, you go through 'security' prior to then encountering the US
Immigration and Customs staff.
One starts off by doing all
the usual things one does when going through airport security.
You are required to take your laptops out of your bags, and to
remove your shoes, and you place everything onto the conveyor
that leads into the X-ray machine.
Although one wonders at the
need to rescreen people who have walked straight off one flight,
gone nowhere else, and had no contact with anyone else, and who
have been under observation by airport staff the entire time,
one meekly submits to the process.
As I was doing this, I did
what I usually do. I transferred all the metal objects on
my person into my various jacket pockets, and then went to take
my jacket off and put it, too, on the conveyor. One of the
staffers saw me doing this and hurried over. They told me
I didn't need to take my jacket off.
That was a surprise. I
started to take the metal things out of my pockets, then looked
around and suddenly realized - there was no metal detector for
passengers to walk through!
Yes, dear reader, that is
correct. We had to take our shoes off and allow them to be
X-rayed, but we could load our jackets up with as much as we
liked, and simply walk to the other end of the X-ray machine,
without having to go through a metal detector.
If you can understand any
part of this 'security screening' process - the need for it to
start with, or how it actually makes us any way more secure,
please do let me know.
In the 'good old days' there
was one semi-fixed and seldom changing fare for business class
travel. These days there are almost as many different
business class fares as there are coach class fares, and they
are subject to the same array of arcane restrictions and
requirements. They also change very rapidly and seem to be
as subject to short term specials as are coach class fares.
This makes it difficult to
accurately state fares, but do note that the lowest business
class fares sometimes require almost two months advance
Initially, we understand it
was BA's intention to charge a premium for traveling on the LCY
flights. However, we understand that at present, there is
no extra cost involved in choosing to fly on the LCY rather than
LHR services, and as for the future, that will probably depend
on the respective levels of popularity of the two different
In view of the fact that
BA's business class fares currently seem to allow for you to
combine a flight from JFK to LCY with a flight from LHR to JFK.
in view of the fact that the westbound service is much
slower and more hassle filled (due to the Shannon stopover) than
the eastbound service, if your London location is more on the
east side of the city, you might want to consider traveling one
way to LCY and the other way back from LHR as the best of both
Part 2 of a series on
BA's new Club World London City service - please
2. Airport Issues
Flight Experience and Summary
FTC Mandatory Disclosure :
I was given round trip air travel by BA to research/write this
article (but had to pay for my own travel between Seattle and
New York and all other related costs of the journey).
Thank you, BA, for your confidence in your product and your
braveness in allowing me to experience and write about it.
I have not been paid money to write this article.
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27 Nov 2009, last update
30 May 2021
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