Farewell to the British Airways A318 London City JFK – SamChui.com

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Covid 19 claims another scalp, BA’s boutique service from London City airport to New York JFK, a tiny A318 with just 32 flat bed business class seats (making it the smallest jet by seat count to ever operate bookable transatlantic flights).

Video of BA A318 Transatlantic

London’s financial districts, The City and Canary Wharf, are at the opposite end of town from Heathrow, requiring a 90 minute journey by road or rail, but are right on the doorstep of postage-stamp sized London City Airport, famous for steep approaches and a 1,500 metre (5,000 foot) runway, too short for even narrowbody jets, and hence only had service to local destinations using regional jets and props.

London City Airport

The smallest Airbus, the A318, a shrink of the A320 family, failed to find a significant market, with only 80 built. But its diminutive size made it possible to fit into London City airport, and in 2009 British Airways announced a new service from London’s financial district to New York using a pair of specially configured A318s. The British Airways business class product (the first in the world to have fully flat beds) is branded Club World, and this was to be known as Club World London City.

British Airways A318 All Business Class Interior
British Airways A318 All Business Class Interior
British Airways A318 All Business Class Interior

The runway at London City is too short to lift 7+ hours of fuel so it stopped at Shannon on the west coast of Ireland where there is a US customs and immigration post, so passengers could clear formalities while the jet was refuelled. This meant that on arrival at JFK, passengers arrived as domestic passengers, having ‘entered’ the United States in Ireland, and could proceed directly to baggage claim, or if travelling with only hand luggage, to the taxi rank, as opposed to wasting the rest of the day standing in line for two hours. The flight numbers were BA 1 and 3 outbound, 2 and 4 back, the old Concorde flight numbers; and a worthy successor.

I was on the inaugural eastbound BA 2 (which could operate nonstop, no issue with runway length at JFK) on September 29, 2009, and took it a few times since. At the end of one such trip, we landed at 09:03 and I was home in Brick Lane at 09:37. You’d need diplomatic immunity and a jetpack to go from touchdown to your own apartment in 24 minutes after a transatlantic flight at any other airport. Although it was more expensive than normal business class from Heathrow, it was mixed in with discount business tickets when British Airways had a premium cabin seat sale. And regardless of the fare paid, it came with extra frequent flier points. My most memorable trip was in the middle of Easter holidays, with just four other passengers onboard. Not only that, but I deduced from the welcome aboard announcement, which started with just “Gentlemen…” that this was a men-only flight!

The crew of the inaugural BA 2 signed my certificate

The operation was crewed out of Gatwick where the crew would assemble, then be bussed to London City and operate to Shannon, where the cockpit crew would leave the flight and go to a hotel for a night stop, operate the Shannon to New York leg on day two, nightstop, then operate back overnight on day three, getting home on the morning of day four. Cabin crew, however, operated all the way through on the outbound (Gatwick, City, Shannon, New York) as their contracts allow longer duty times.

This was a really special and innovative product. A new crosstown rail line, appropriately named Crossrail, would have finished this flight off, as it will propel executives from The City / Canary Wharf to Heathrow in 20 minutes instead of 90, but like the 747 retirements, it’s a shame not to be able to say goodbye. That said, it did have a fairly unusual finale. On the last day it operated, there was only one passenger booked. Instead of flying from London City to Shannon and on to New York, it flew from London City to Heathrow (would love to know the flight time – with a gap in traffic and the right runway assignment, could have been under ten minutes). The sole passenger was bussed across the Heathrow tarmac and put aboard a New York bound 747, then the A318 went into storage at the British Airways maintenance base. Unique to the very end! And it will be interesting to see what’s next for those very special flight numbers.

Video of BA A318 Transatlantic