British Airways Retires A318, Cuts Iconic BA1 Flight

Filed Under: British Airways

As an aviation geek it sure is a sad time in the airline industry, and particularly at British Airways. We recently found out that British Airways is retiring its Boeing 747 fleet, and now we’re learning that the airline will be permanently ending its all business class service to New York.

British Airways’ Club World London City flight

British Airways’ Club World London City service was one of the coolest ways to cross the Atlantic in business class.

The airline had a specially configured Airbus A318 with just 32 business class seats:

  • The flight operated out of London City Airport, rather than out of London Heathrow
  • On the westbound sector the flight stopped in Shannon, as that was necessary to refuel (London City has a short runway), though passengers also cleared US immigration there, meaning you landed in the US as a domestic passenger
  • On the eastbound sector you flew nonstop

British Airways’ Club World London City A318

As you might expect, flying on a jet with at most 31 other passengers is pretty darn cool.

The flight operated with the prestigious flight numbers of BA001 and BA002, which in the past were flight numbers used by the Concorde.

Dining on British Airways’ Club World London City service

British Airways retiring A318

During its second quarter financial presentation today, IAG (the parent company of British Airways) announced that British Airways’ sole Airbus A318 would be exiting its fleet. This is also the only plane capable of operating the Club World London City service, so I think it’s also safe to assume that this service will be discontinued.

Unfortunately this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Back in March I wrote about how British Airways was temporarily suspending this flight. I predicted that this route would be cut permanently, and that’s exactly what has happened.

Frankly I think the route may have been on the cutting board even without the current pandemic, which is why I’m not surprised by this news.

British Airways A318

Why this route is no longer needed

Even prior to this there had been rumors for a long time that this flight would be cut for good. British Airways used to operate this flight up to twice daily, though in the past couple of years it has operated at most once daily, with British Airways having already gotten rid of its second A318.

In many ways the advantages of this flight aren’t quite there in the same way they were over a decade ago, when the flight launched:

  • Being able to clear immigration in Shannon was considered an advantage, but with Global Entry (and reciprocity, since even UK citizens can get it), arguably that negates any time savings
  • Nowadays British Airways has wifi on most of its aircraft flying between London and New York, so time onboard isn’t “lost” for many in the same way that it used to be
  • The London City to Shannon to New York flight is blocked at about 1hr45min longer than the nonstop London Heathrow to New York flight, so aside from exclusivity, this is pretty hard for anyone to justify in terms of time savings
  • British Airways is introducing a new business class seat, which is significantly better than the A318 business class seat (which wasn’t the case in the past)

When you combine those factors, this route really wasn’t as special as it used to be, in my opinion.

British Airways’ A318 business class

British Airways’ A350 business class

Bottom line

British Airways is retiring its sole Airbus A318, which also means that the Club World London City route will be discontinued for good. This was a special flight, as it was operated by a plane with just 32 business class seats.

The pandemic was the nail in the coffin for this route, though in reality it sure seems to me like this route was at risk long before that. The relative advantages offered by this flight aren’t there in the same way they used to be.

Are you surprised to see British Airways cut its Club World London City flight?

Comments
  1. I don’t know if it’s something BA (or its London-NY business class passengers) cares much about, but the soon-ish opening of Crossrail offering direct rail access between Heathrow and the City of London may also have been a consideration in dropping this service — LCY will no longer have as much of an advantage as it did in terms of getting from the airport to offices in the City.

  2. I was fortunate to take the original BA1 and BA2 on the Concorde back in 1995.

    I would point out though that it takes a VERY LONG TIME to go from London City to London Heathrow Terminal 5 by taxi. How long? Well according to Google Maps just now — about 1 hour and 37 minutes. So no appreciable time is lost if you are flying from London City anyway.

  3. @Mike O.

    There’s still an Aer Lingus flight from Shannon to NYC, and American and Delta fly the route seasonally. So the preclearance facility will still get used.

  4. An excellent point that Pre-Clearance has been rendered completely obsolete by Global Entry and now nothing more than a scam so that US Government employees can maintain an excuse to live abroad in cool places at massive public expense. “Legal” corruption.

  5. @Mike O – the preclearance facility in Shannon was there before this flight and will be there after this flight. Other flights use it. They didnt create it/ open it just for this BA flight.

  6. @Mak: You misread the story and there’s nothing corrupt about it. Lucky was referring to the flight’s need to stop in Shannon and how doing so used to save time at JFK but not so much now. By the way, what Lucky is saying there has not necessarily been true – even if you have Global Entry, etc. a big airports customs/immigration facilities can have huge lines.

    However, that’s not even the point about why preclearance facilities exist. They exist because they provide travelers and airlines more options. For airlines, they can utilize more airports and more (non-international) arrival gates. While this is especially important in the US/Canada market, it’s still helpful in a place like Dublin or Shannon where a narrowbody can fly to a smaller US airport. There are more behind the scenes reasons that passengers don’t see as well.

    And, I do wish that the government would set up such an arrangement in Costa Rica which has tons of flights to US cities, some of which have horrid customs facilities (looking at you MIA).

  7. Don’t forget that Global Entry has very limited usability as there are very few nationalities that can apply, and even if you do apply there is no guarantee you will get accepted. Unless you’re a frequent visitor to the US there is little point.

  8. Typical Lucky’s armchair analysis – from the POV of a travel blogger and looking at travel and airplane-rationale and not looking at the true reality that:

    1) No one in the financial sector is traveling between NYC and London, which was the London City airport advantage vs Heathrow, shaving off travel time to the airport during rush hour that would justify the additional blocking time.
    2) The 14 day quarantine is hurting US-UK travel, as everyone arriving/returning to the UK would require to quarantine themselves.

    The rationale behind Global Entry (not everyone is eligible) and better business class seats (most business travelers would not drive 60-90 minutes extra to get a “better” seat for a relatively “short” flight) for cancellation of the London City flights are just a bunch of poppycock.

  9. Does anyone know if an A220 can fly non stop from LCY-NYC without needing to refuel? I’ve heard since it’s more fuel efficient it might be able to make the trip non-stop as it would have a lighter take off weight. If so, perhaps we could see Delta use one of its A220’s to offer LCY-JFK or LCY-EWR service?

  10. How many of the new seats could fit in a 1-1 config on a 318 or 220 (perhaps with steeper angling)? In the Covid era, there might be significant demand for more distancing among pax…

  11. @ ptahcha — Ummm, no? There had been talk of this route being cut long before the current pandemic. Obviously demand is currently non-existent for this market, but if BA saw long-term potential for the A318 service, wouldn’t the airline keep the plane around? After all, BA plans to store lots of other long haul aircraft for several years, before returning them to service.

    And you’re saying that most business travelers wouldn’t drive an extra 60-90 minutes. First of all, for most situations that’s an exaggeration in terms of the time difference. Second of all, the flight is typically almost two hours longer from London City to New York, than from London Heathrow. Even with an additional 60-90 minute drive, there would still be time savings.

  12. @ Wilhelm — The core market for this service has been those constantly commuting between the two cities. While obviously not everyone is eligible for Global Entry, I’d bet a higher percentage of people on this flight than other flights would be eligible.

    I flew LHR to JFK last year on British Airways in business class. I entered the facility behind probably 50 other business and first class passengers, and almost everyone had Global Entry. I was kind of shocked.

  13. @Mak – there’s more to pre-clearance than just time savings. It’s also become an effective way for CBP to protect our borders. In pre-clearance, CBP can screen passengers before even getting on a flight to the US. It also saves airlines the hassle of having to deal with flying a passenger denied US entry back to his/her point of origin.

  14. One more flight I will never be able to cross of the bucket list. Not a good time to be an AVgeek.

  15. I think the question is not about this particular aircraft or the seat (or wifi even for that matter) but about the route and about LCY in particular. I work in the financial sector and everyone flies this route to LCY so they go right to Canary Wharf in the morning. No one is looking for an enclosed suite – it’s a short flight they can sleep on and nor are they working overnight.

    It makes total sense to cut the flight today as no one is flying in the financial sector. The question is will flights to LCY resume at some point in the future? On the margin at a minimum, business travel is definitely going to go down post pandemic.

  16. Phil – close to zero. City is much liked by traveller, for good reason: location, connections, size and so forth.

  17. I’m sad to see this go. But when I last took it back in early February, (pre Covid really biting) there were just 7 passengers on board. While that made the whole experience more like taking a private jet, and personally I love arriving in the US as a domestic passenger, the economics of it were obviously awful.

    Crossrail is another key issue. It’s surprising how many people in London use the tube or railways rather than taxis — it’s not like New York. When the Corssrail through route opens (next year?), journey times from Canary Wharf to LHR will be 40 minutes, with a 15 minute frequency. Much, much quicker than taxi.

    And frequency is another issue for BA: LCY has just one departure a day to NY; LHR has a couple of dozen (in the JV). With a tight meeting schedule, the numerous LHR departure times means I can be much more productive with an LHR flight leaving at the time of my choosing, rather than being stuck with just the single LCY flight.

    I’m very sorry to see it go. But for some time now it has obviously been heading for the chop.

    @Phil
    Unlike LCY. I can see all sorts of reasons why a European (and UK) network served from LCY might make perfect sense. Judging by the crowds using it the last time I was there, I don’t think its future is in doubt.

  18. This was a bucket list for me (as well as many others). Just proof that you need to do these cool flights when you can, as you never know when they will be cut.

  19. @ Al

    Just from quick googling, the A220 can go 3350 NM (with full 2 class load) and LCY to JFK is ~3000 NM, and assuming an all BC layout, this is definitely possible in the future I think.

  20. Seemed like a very nice flight leaving from a nice airport.

    I once went to a small meeting in London where another participant flew JFK-LHR and reverse. I had to bite my tongue to stop from saying “whaaaat?! you didn’t fly to and from LCY?” The two participants of the meeting were flying together and one didn’t have Global Entry. This caused a long delay as one of them had to wait while the other cleared customs at JFK. Another dumb thing was that they didn’t fly JFK-LHR in the daytime, which prevents jet lag and their schedules were not so tight that they had to fly a red eye.

    As far as this..An excellent point that Pre-Clearance has been rendered completely obsolete by Global Entry and now nothing more than a scam so that US Government employees can maintain an excuse to live abroad in cool places at massive public expense. “Legal” corruption…
    I chatted with a pre-clearance guy in Nassau, Bahamas for a few seconds. He didn’t like living in Nassau and wished he were working in the US. “Hey, you’re so lucky, you get to work in the Bahamas”. “What ‘GET’ to work here, poof (almost spitting)”

  21. @CRS 2.0 the issue in question is obviously not range, but runway requirement… as the A318 can make JFK-LCY nonstop but not the other way around, since LCY runway is too short for a heavy A318. So they were wondering if the A220 would need the SNN stop or not.

  22. In the words of the inimitable Florida Evans, “Damn, damn, damn!”

    I’d planned (pre-virus) to finally take this flight this year. Another reminder of a gentler era of travel now confined to the dustbin of history.

  23. @greg @businessguy

    When Crossrail finally opens (hopefully 2022????) it will take precisely 39 minutes to get from Canary Wharf to Heathrow – and at Tube prices rather than Heathrow Express prices (let alone cab prices), on a brand new air conditioned train.

    London City is an awful airport to fly from – it’s tiny and overcrowded and BA no longer had a special mini-lounge so there was no way to avoid the terminal crowd. As Ben has said (and others have reported previously) the flight has been very lightly loaded for quite a while, which is why BA got rid of their second A318 some time ago. (There used to be two flights a day).

    I managed to travel on BA1 a few years ago (when it was more “popular”) and it was less than half full even then.

  24. I’m glad I took it, I got extra Tier Points back then and flight was almost full. I think, there was 8 people doing Tier Point run on it 🙂

  25. The 220-100 can definitely make it nonstop LCY-JFK. A small startup proposal in London, Odyssey, has been touting it will start such a service “soon.” A more realistic scenario is that JetBlue dedicates one A220 to the service, and code-shares with AA and BA.

  26. @derek – you clearly don’t understand what the word “corruption” means. do a little homework: operation costs for US pre-clearance stations abroad are funded by the host country.

  27. Maybe in the future, BA001 will be a supersonic Boom plane that is being developed with RR engines. That would be cool & wonder how many miles would it cost for a one way ?!

  28. I travelled several times on BA 1 from concorde days. It was always a pleasure. Loved going into lcy as well but its not a nice airport, no lounge, no airbridges, etc. Not once was the jfk to lcy flight close to full.

  29. I am lucky to have flown BA2 both on Concorde in 2002, and last year into LCY. Both memorable experiences in different ways. Another sad milestone in a sad aviation world.

  30. @Ben As someone who has lived in London for a decade, I can tell you with pretty good authority that the drive to LHR can be an absolute nightmare. 60 minutes is a good day, going before rush hour. Traffic is horrific. But good luck 100% relying on the tube/Express combo as I’ve been left sprinting several times due to train delays.

    CrossRail will make things better, but yet again it’s delayed due to Covid. We’ll see when that actually starts running.

    As someone who doesn’t live on the west side of London, 15 minutes to the airport and no need to get there massively in advance, that LCY flight was great and will be sorely missed.

  31. I did this flight regularly. It was only because the regular Club experience on BA is so appalling I didn’t want to take a direct route. But to be frank, LCY-JFK is hardly much better. The seat was old, the food was average, the service was a bit of an oddity (90% of time was spent chatting to plane geeks who wanted to gossip about how special the flight was, the other 10% was actually spent serving passengers). The preclearance was actually a pain and so much slower than Global Entry, there was no lounge at LCY, and it was always so much more expensive. Easier just to take VS or DL with the excellent Clubhouse, mediocre service and seat but at least it was more premium and a ton faster, more cost effective, etc.

  32. Has the registration always been G-EUNA? Pretty funny if they did that because of EU to NA.

    Looks like the other 318 that was previously retired was G-EUNB… did they change the reg when they reconfigured them for this special service?

  33. The current BA1/2 is really useless now. Took that in January, inflight entertainment was a lame iPad 1, shitty food as usual, no WiFi, and just-better-than-yinyang biz class. If BA wants to reopen BA1/2, they should use A220 with reverse herringbone. However, have to say BA1 has the best biz service in BA system.

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