British Airways 'Club World London City' review
Part 3 - Actual in flight experience and
The cabin interior is
clean and light, and the seats all face the front, unlike in
other BA business class cabins with darker decor and
alternating front/back facing seats.
Part 3 of a series on
BA's new Club World London City service - please
3. Flight Experience and Summary
The small size of the A318 is
apparently being offered as a justification for a more
bare-bones business class experience than is the case with BA's
regular 777 and 747 planes.
That is a hard to understand
excuse - the A318, while tiny, can carry up to 117
passengers, so one would think there'd be plenty of space
and resource to cater for only 32.
Whatever the reason, the fact
is that the business class experience on these planes is not as
good as on BA's regular flights.
This review is based on two
flights with British Airways in November 2009 - one each way
between JFK and LCY.
On Board Comfort and Amenities
The most distinctive thing
about this new flight is the tiny A318 that operates the
service. For my flight, the plane was still almost brand
new and there was still a faint 'new plane' smell to it, and
everything was clean and fresh.
It is very nice to be on a
flight with only 32 passengers total, eight rows of seats, and
three flight attendants. Getting on and off the plane is
also wonderfully quick and easy activity - there's no boarding
by row numbers (and with over 36" of overhead space per
passenger, no rush for overhead space either, with plenty to go
around for all).
On the other hand, although
there was one flight attendant per 11 passengers, service was
cripplingly slow for everything. And the amenities
continue to dwindle and dwindle to a point of almost
non-existence. The amenities kits handed out were almost
laughable in their lack of 'goodies' included; there was only
one hot towel offered, and an absolute minimum of cutlery and
crockery (for example, no side plate for one's bread roll - one
either balances it on the side of the entree plate or leaves it
bare on the side of the tray table).
There were three toilets - a
great ratio, but one of the toilets was hidden away behind a
curtain at the front, as if reserved primarily for the pilots
only. Strangely, both the other two toilets were also
partitioned off behind curtains - rather than having curtains on
the far side of the toilets, leaving the galley space for the
crew, the curtains were on the near side of the toilets, making
the toilets seem as if they belonged to the crew rather than
Food and drink
For the evening flights from
JFK to London, BA does not serve a proper full meal.
Instead it provides you with what they term a 'Nightcap'
service, with a snack type food item and a dessert.
my case, I had a choice between a glorified cold chicken
sandwich or a vegetarian brochette, and a generic unappealing
I chose the chicken sandwich
(pictured) which came together with some sort of dessert thing
that I didn't touch.
Regrettably, the pre-flight
dining at BA's JFK lounge also had a very disappointing and
limited range of hot food items, and I ended up eating almost
nothing, while being ravenously hungry, all the way across the
This is an unacceptable
situation for business class passengers, paying up to as much as
$10,000 for their ticket, and a sad shadow of 'the good old
days' when business class dining was an elaborate affair with
many different courses, served with plenty of cutlery, crockery,
Fortunately, the regular
flights from JFK to Heathrow have better evening meal service on
board, so if you are planning on eating a meal during the
flight, it is a reason to choose a Heathrow rather than LCY
On the flight from London to
New York, there was a lunch service on the sector from Shannon
to JFK, supplemented by a tiny morsel of ham on the short hop to
Shannon, and a snack later in the flight.
It seems all airlines are
continually and proudly 'reinventing' their food service,
retiring one set of superlatives and replacing them with a fresh
set. The food however remains virtually unchanged, and
never very good. BA's current claim is to be an 'airline
passionate about food', blah blah blah. After the very
disappointing passion on the flight from JFK, I was unsurprised
to discover the passion on the return flight was only slightly
better, with a piece of tasteless beef in a thin liquid. A
chicken, fish, and vegetarian selection was also offered.
Drink service was also more
restricted than on regular business class flights. There
was only one sort of beer (and, alas, it wasn't my favorite
London Pride). There was only one type of champagne, not
two as hinted at on the menu, and the two white wine selections
rapidly reduced down to only one. Again, a disappointment
for flights that might cost as much as $10,000 roundtrip (but
which can currently often be found for much less).
I couldn't help noticing
that on the flight to London, the drink service did not come
complete with a serving of nuts or any other snack. A de
minimus pack of cashews was offered on the flight to JFK.
The cabin has eight rows of
seats, each row having two seats on each side of the center
Unlike BA's regular business
class seats which alternate between facing forwards and
backwards, these seats are more traditional, all facing
The seats recline almost all
the way to completely flat. Although they have a nominal
75" pitch, unfortunately, when in their more reclined state,
they are not long enough for me to lie in, stretched out
straight, without having my feet banging up against the back of
the seat in front.
I'm 6' tall (72") - far from
unusually tall, and if you too are more than about 5'10" in
height and want to stretch out, on your back, rather than curl
up on your side, you will have similar problems of having your
feet hard up against the seat in front. Clearly, more than
3" of the 75" pitch is not 'usable space' for stretching
out/sleeping purposes (plus also when stretching out sometimes
your feet point forwards, making your total length longer than
your measured standing up height).
There were two
multi-standard power plugs at each seat. One would
typically be used by the video player (see below), and the other
could be used to power your laptop or recharge a phone or other
A bouncier ride
One unexpected outcome from
the small A318 is its greater sensitivity to turbulence.
The flights both ways were
tossed around considerably more than normal on flights in the
much larger 777 and 747 planes, and speaking to the pilot upon
arrival, he attributed this to the lighter weight of the A318.
An A318 weighs about 62 - 65 tons, whereas a 777 can weigh 250 -
350 tons, and a 747-400 weighs 430 - 455 tons.
Score a big minus for the
very disappointing In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) offering on
these flights. Although the planes were brand new, the IFE
was something that ceased to be 'state of the art' a decade (or
possibly two) ago.
Instead of having a large
high definition screen, with hundreds of movies and other
entertainment options to choose from (or even thousands, such as
on, eg, Emirates), and an integrated 'moving map' display
showing realtime information about the status of your flight,
expected arrival time, etc, the cabin crew handed out
stand-alone digital video players - Archos 705 units, the same
as offered on the OpenSkies flights.
These units offered a
selection of only 30 movies (fewer even than on BA's regular IFE
systems on regular flights, which currently have 51 movies on
offer) plus a smattering of short television episodes and audio
tracks. And because they are free-standing units, there is
no flight status information provided at all.
It was also disappointing
that the units were handed out late and collected early on each
flight. Whereas many airlines now operate their built-in
IFE pretty much from take-off to touch-down, BA didn't even hand
out the units at all for the entire 90 minutes between London
and Shannon, and made us wait another entire hour after we'd
taken off from Shannon before handing the units out. They
were collected 30 minutes prior to landing.
With three cabin attendants
and only 32 passengers, it is hard to understand the delay in
providing these units to us.
Other cabin entertainment
options were also minimal - there were no newspapers or
magazines available to read. Be sure to bring a good book
or two with you.
had erroneously formed the opinion that the flights offered
Wi-Fi internet access for laptops, as is also implied by this BA
poster pictured which says 'Access email, the web and text from
This was sadly and
completely incorrect, and in fact I could access nothing at all
at any stage of the flight.
BA have some sort of system
that claims to offer inflight GPRS data service (pathetically
slow to the point of being almost useless) that works with GSM
cell phones, plus normal voice calling capabilities too.
In the US, this would apply
only to phones from either T-Mobile or AT&T - I checked both
types of phone but neither worked.
It seems that not many
carriers have agreed to support BA's service, and so for people
with American phones, you have no phone or data service at all
(we understand that T-Mobile may come online in Spring of 2010).
For people with phones from other countries, your mileage may
As to the cost of using the
service, all BA could say was 'check with your wireless
carrier'. What a totally useless piece of non-advice.
Okay, so I almost never buy
anything from the cheesy and often overpriced Duty Free catalogs
on flights, but it is at least a diversion and offers the
possibility of some last minute shopping.
Unfortunately, there's no
Duty Free shopping offered on board these flights. A minor
- almost trivial - omission, but surprising and disappointing,
This is an interesting new
service, but it fails to fulfill either its express or implied
promises for most people.
The express promise - a
faster way to/from London is almost always not correct for
flights from London to New York, and may or may not be correct
for flights from New York to London, depending on where in
London you're wishing to ultimately arrive at, and if you want
to detour through the Arrival Lounge facilities.
Only in a very limited set
of circumstances (depending on where in London you are
ultimately traveling to/from) will you experience any extra
convenience or time saving compared to using BA's regular LHR
The implied promise is a
better experience than in 'regular' business class.
Unfortunately, although the smaller plane and maximum of 32
passengers is nice, the flights are not as luxurious or well
served with food and drink and entertainment options as regular
flights to/from Heathrow.
The two flights offer very
different experiences. The eastbound flight is
straightforward and uncomplicated, and may be appealing to
people traveling to the eastern parts of London. The
westbound flight suffers from its forced refueling stop in
Shannon and is likely of little appeal to most travelers, no
matter where in London their journey commences.
Fortunately, at least at the
time of writing, it is possible to combine a journey from JFK to
LCY with the other half from LHR to JFK on the one roundtrip
business class fare, and so perhaps this may be the best
Part 3 of a series on
BA's new Club World London City service - please
3. 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
21 Jul 2020
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