HFP’s history of BA1, the (now scrapped) London City to New York JFK flight

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

The biggest news from IAG’s first half results on Friday – beyond the expected €1.9 billion loss – was the discontinuation of BA1, the all-business class flight from London City Airport to New York JFK.

BA1, often affectionately known as the ‘babybus’ since it was operated by the only A318 in the British Airways fleet, offered a unique transatlantic experience – ‘Club World London City’.

The writing was already on the wall.  A year ago, Rob wrote this speculative article in which he said that

“if you want to fly it, I would try to do it sooner rather than later, because it may not be around for long.”

The limitations of operating at City Airport, the tired seats, the lack of ‘real’ inflight entertainment, the continued rollout of Global Entry and the (eventual) opening of Crossrail meant that a direct New York service from London City was losing its USP.

It looks like Covid-19 was the final nail in the coffin.  In March, the route was suspended as coronavirus took hold in Europe and North America. In its H1 results presentation on Friday, IAG quietly noted that British Airways would be ‘exiting the A318 fleet’. This spells the end of BA1, which is the only route operated by BA’s single A318, after just over a decade of service.

A brief history of BA’s all-business class BA1 flight

For many years, flight number BA1 was associated with the Concorde route from Heathrow to New York. This was not the flight number Concorde used when it entered service in 1977, however, and only began to be used in the mid eighties.  BA3 and BA4 were used for the second pair of daily Concorde flights.

In 2003 Concorde was retired and the BA1 flight number was retired with it.

In the mid noughties, a number of small new airlines launched dedicated business-only flights between the US and Europe. Eos and Maxjet operated flights from Stansted to New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.  At the time, both Lufthansa and SWISS also operated premium-only flights to the Big Apple from mainland Europe.

This caught the attention of Virgin Atlantic, which in 2007 boldly announced its intentions to launch what The Times called an ‘elite fleet’ from European airports to the US. According to a spokesman at the time, the flights would ‘certainly’ be operating within eighteen months of the announcement with a subfleet of 15 aircraft.

That never materialised, of course. The financial crisis meant that business travel was depressed, and Virgin Atlantic put its plans on ice. That didn’t stop British Airways, however, which announced plans to launch a rival all-business class flight from London City to New York JFK.

British Airways bought two new Airbus A318 aircraft to serve the route and fitted them out with 32 seats in a 2-2 seat arrangement. For whatever reason – perhaps aircraft width or seat weight – BA chose not to use its yin-yang Club World seat but introduced an entirely new seat that was all forward facing.

BA1 A318 interior view

Thanks to take-off restrictions at London City Airport (Canary Wharf is directly in front of the runway) the A318 was not able to take-off with a full tank of fuel: the weight would prevent it from being able to climb steeply enough. This meant that the aircraft had to make a 40 minute refuelling stop in Shannon.

At the time, Shannon was one of the few airports outside the US to offer a US customs and immigration service.  This allowed travellers to clear the US border in Ireland and land in New York JFK as domestic passengers. This saved considerable time given the queues that US customs and immigration are renowned for.

Google Street View of BA1 A318

The return flight was direct as there were no take-off restrictions.  Landing into London City required a particularly steep approach for which the aircraft was modified and pilots were specially trained.

The flights launched twice daily in the middle of a global recession in 2009 bearing flight numbers BA1, BA2, BA3 and BA4. For a long time, in addition to its unique Club seats, the flights also enjoyed dedicated catering which was significantly better than what you would have got from Heathrow. Passengers loved it, and I am sure you will find some readers sharing stories in the comments below!

Although London City has no lounges, British Airways turned the departure gate into a ‘mini lounge’ and offered an arrival service at the Radisson Edwardian hotel.

Gradually, BA’s Heathrow services caught up. Improvements in catering meant that BA1 no longer enjoyed this advantage, and the US began rolling out Global Entry which expedites customs and immigration for frequent travellers to the US.

British Airways stopped catering at the departure gate, instead offering passengers a voucher to spend at Pilot’s restaurant.  As Rob found out last year, however, if you were travelling with just hand baggage and skipped the desks you did not get a voucher.  The ‘arrivals lounge’ was also closed.

In 2016, the second daily flight was scrapped and one of the two A318 aircraft sold to Titan Airways.

Gone but not forgotten

Now, it seems, one of the last all-business class flights in Europe has officially come to an end.

The story doesn’t have to end here, however. Whilst the A318s used by British Airways were getting old and in need of refurbishment, a newer generation of aircraft is offering a better passenger experience and better flying performance.

The A220, now marketed and owned by Airbus but developed by Bombardier, leaves the door open. It is the largest aircraft to be certified for operations at London City and can carry 100-150 passengers in a typical layout. It has already operated test flights with an all-business configuration between London City and New York, and can fly the distance without a refuelling stop.

Odyssey Airlines, a new start-up airline, has already outlined its plans to operate a premium service between the two airports. In 2013 it ordered 10 A220-100s with delivery pencilled in for this year, although they do not yet appear on the Airbus construction list.

While it is unlikely that British Airways will place an order for the A220 soon, it is not impossible that we’ll see BA1 being used on a premium service between London and New York in the future. Unfortunately it looks like the Google Street View walk-through has been taken down – a screenshot is above – so you won’t be able to relive any BA1 memories.

What benefits does the Heathrow Rewards Premium membership tier get you?
NEW: Use your InterContinental Ambassador free night at Regent Hotels - ANY day!

Click here to join the 15,000 people on our email list and receive the latest Avios, miles and points news by 6am.

Nutmeg ad
Amazon ad
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.

Comments

  1. Chrisasaurus says:

    A real shame, it was a unique service though the inflight iPads never once worked for me.

    Worst landing in my life in high winds JFK bit the 5 min stroll to the air train on landing was wonderful!

  2. Charlie T. says:

    Flew this home overnight from New York after a birthday trip for my girlfriend (on which we happened to get engaged!). Perfect ending to a perfect trip.

  3. I would like to see BA snap up a Boom Overture for the BA1 Moniker in a few years, especially now it looks like it’ll have Rolls Royce engines. Get some prestige+++, even if it doesn’t make sense to an accountant.

  4. Mikeact says:

    I remember the mid naughties well…..

  5. Pompeyyorkblues says:

    Morning! A bit off topic, but I’m due to fly out of T5 Weds 710 to Cyprus and was wondering if anyone knew the situation with checking in and security, queue wise with social distancing etc? Normally we arrive 2 hours before but are thinking of making it 3. Enough time yes?

    • John W says:

      Out of interest , how are you overcoming the test issue ? . I have flights booked in September also and not sure where to get these done – at the moment , £250 each seems expensive ?? (Including certificate)

      • They’re accepting NHS ones now. So long as you upload the appointment time and result as a PDF when applying for your Cyprusflightpass 24 hours before. Get tested no more than 72 hours before. I’ve just done mine at 9, 70 hours before so if it’s unclear I’ll have time to get another. Results normally back within 12 hours but around 24 maximum.
        Some are saying it’s not morally right using NHS So it’s a personal decision although loads of people are eligible. Any more advice just ask.. Depending where you live private testing is not readily available either. I’m 250 miles from London where it is available..

        • We’re doing the same, for a trip just booked to Cyprus on 14 August. We live in an area in which the govt is enabling (and encouraging) everyone to have an NHS test so no moral objections to that one.

          Cypruspass guidance seems to suggest it needs to be a negative test (can be via text) *and* an email stating the appointment time and place.

          I read that as ruling out the at-home test. Will have to drive to a testing centre. Keen to hear your experiences before we sort ours in the W/c 10 August.

          • Pompeyyorkblues says:

            I’ve done a lot of research. Drive through tests much more likely to give a result as you can chose for them to carry out the test. Plenty of availability on the day. Ours took 7 minutes from arrival to leaving.. most of the unclear ones are from people doing it themselves so we played safe.. results all being well back tonight.. you must pdf as 1 document the appointment time and result or you will be refused.. one flight yesterday had 150 refused so only 30 got on out of 180!! People simply appear to not be aware that you need a Cyprusflightpass.. we have not been told by BA so I completely understand why people do not realise.. if you do your research and things right it’s fairly simple and people are getting in doing it this way for sure..

          • The other reason I wouldn’t do an at home one is the quick turnaround required. The drive throughs are sent off every 2 hours. At home ones require a courier the following day Or later that day and if it’s unclear you won’t have time to do another

      • Also by September the UK may be Cat A so no need for a test. I guess you’ll have to see nearer the time..

    • PlaneSpeaking says:

      Hi Pompeyyorkblues,

      We arrived PFO Saturday on the first flight out from LHR! We were unsure about the testing too and decided the private tests in London were silly expensive and no guarantee of getting them back in time (the family of four next to us in seats 1df/2df paid £150 each for private tests – ouch).

      We contacted the Chessington (Surrey) drive-in test site on Wednesday, said we have no symptoms and are not essential workers and they said come on down! The test took 10 mins and we had our negative result within 12 hours by text and email – amazing. Even if you can’t do this, PFO will test on arrival at €60 each “if your home country can’t offer tests” but we didn’t want the faff, or the risk. Also, and although they board from the back to the front at LHR, we were 1A and 1C so first off at PFO which was a blessing. When we were collecting our luggage, we could see the immigration queue still snaking back so best just to prep everything in advance if you can.

      The Flightpass site was an absolute pain as it still thought the UK was on the naughty list until 00:01 on Aug 1, and then it opened up. It was so stressful trying to get through to the Flightpass helpline on Jul 31 – utterly utterly impossible and in the end, I called the High Commission in London and they said it’s a known issue and just wait until midnight which we did and everything worked but why not put a message on the site?! Ah, Cyprus!

      We had no problems on arrival BUT YOU MUST MUST MUST print everything even if you have Flightpass. So, not just the Flightpass itself but also the confirmation of the booking time and date for the test (so they can see it was within 72 hours), the little cards they give you at the test site to say you’ve had the test and, of course, the results email too.

      PFO immigration looked at everything very very seriously and kept the test result email but gave everything else back and we sailed through. This was an NHS test and accepted without question with no laboratory name, time or date – just an email with the date Jul 30 saying we were negative at the time our test was taken which is why I suggest it’s so important to take the booking-in confirmation email as well.

      Our flight was almost full and looking at the 3 LCA flights on Aug 1 on Expert Flyer, they looked full too – amazing.

      To the flight itself, this was the first flight for both the CSD and his colleague, just back from furlough. They were beyond superb which was even more commendable given that they might lose their jobs on Friday. I doubt it though as they were typical BA crew – cheerful, fun and so eager to make sure we had a fantastic flight, which we did.

      The catering however… this was pitiful with a veg or non-veg sandwich option. The non-veg was chicken and the veg? Neither we nor the crew had any idea (there was nothing written on the box) and all we could see was something bright purple, nice!

      Admittedly, there was a very very small but tasty starter of something salady and the Do&Co chocolate mousse but a 1x round sandwich (not 2 rounds) was a massive “we’re using this as an excuse to cut costs“ and will use “health, safety and Covid” as the excuse. It was genuinely pathetic – other airlines can and do deliver the premium experience so why not BA? They say it minimises contact but what’s the difference between chucking a load of cold sandwiches at us from the same trolley from which they’d retrieve and chuck a load of hot meals at us?

      Of course, this didn’t really matter as the crew were so great but do fill yourselves up in the lounge, which was astonishingly good by the way with the new QR code ordering system and which I think they should retain once all of this horrid situation has been and gone. It was breakfast time for us and lots of choices (pulled pork gone though) but full English, kippers, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs or build your own English – really good (no fried eggs though as I think this would slow things down). However, one has no idea whether the champagne choices (Brut or Rose) are Feuillatte, Monopol or Aldi and outrageously, there is NO Johnny Walker Blue! Despite this, it was actually a really pleasant experience but the much lauded card system of “occupied” or “clean me” for the seats was not apparent anywhere and strangely, very very few sanitising stations with zero in the first security wing. Why? Do bring your own…

      Boarding was slightly hilarious by row number from the rear meaning they still board from the front via the air bridge – but rear rows first (and priority boarding is no more) so we were last on but realised some in Club had cheated and got on with economy. We were expecting to have a major argument about overhead storage but the crew had been good and there was only safety equipment over row 1 and the other passengers had behaved too but given that these were LHR aircraft (ours was 1-year old), there’s a wardrobe so we were ready to deposit in there if necessary but not needed.

      Lastly, we were surprised to see the antimacassars in-situ (did they replace these for the return PFO-LHR – I doubt it) but the bird did look clean but do take your own wipes. The tiny tiny wipe they give you on boarding is laughably small and every kid touched the conveniently placed arms of 1C and 1D as they snaked down the aisle to their seats.

      I hope this helps – we normally come here in Apr, Jun, Oct and Dec (those plans went out the window!) believing Aug to be as bad as DXB but actually, it’s not really that much different to Jul and really rather lovely so I hope you have a super break.

      Do let us know how you get on and have a great flight.

      Best,
      PlaneSpeaking

  6. James A says:

    I had a fantastic ride on BA1 back in 2015. One of my best aviation experiences for sure, I loved every minute.

    • Last time I took the flight was when the gate was still a mini-lounge with champagne. There was a larger number of leisure flyers than normal. Most of the plane’s champagne had been consumed by Shannon. The purser allegedly got out the company credit card at Shannon. Another benefit of the stop…

  7. Peter Taysum says:

    My first “Tier point run” took me from DUB to LCY for BA3 en route to HNL. We didn’t clear customs in Shannon, but the BA crew managed to blag me through a fast check – I think it was mostly business people whilst I was quaffing bubbly and obviously enjoying myself!

    I loved it!

    On the way back, it was when you got seated in First if no business availability I was in “proper First” on AA from LAX to JFK. My “first time”. The crew gave me a bottle of Champagne (discretely) to enjoy in Manhattan for my “overnight”…

    Would never have done this without HfP and it got me to BA Gold, and was the start of me really benefitting from HfP knowledge.

    Didn’t get to fly Concord, have done QM2 rather than QE2 – working on board as Principal Medical Officer. So BA3 was “my closest to Concord”.

    Sad to see her go…

  8. Best part was going through check-in 40 minutes before departure and not being last in the queue, plus all forward facing seats and outstanding service to keep my wife happy (she hates the yin-yang arrangement, and on CW flights together we always seem to get shockingly poor service).

  9. I flew on BA3’s maiden flight in 2009. It was a fantastic service with 9 passengers and 3 cabin crew. It was the closest experience on BA to flying on a private jet. In-flight 2G mobile data (no wifi) was a real novelty in 2009, even though most UK networks charged for this data roaming at around £8,000 per gigabyte.

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      I never saw anything above above that loading – I wonder how often they came close to 32?

      There was very often award inventory too, have to assume it wasn’t often full

  10. Nick_C says:

    Flew it last year (for the second time) and I didn’t find the seating tired. It was a very special experience. Always lightly loaded westbound. 20 pax on my first trip. 16 on my second. There was nothing else like it. The on board service was great. Think it was a treat for the cabin crew as well.

    Must have been an expensive flight to operate. Cabin crew brought in from Gatwick. Pilots from Heathrow. A change of pilots at Shannon. And frequent diversions to Gatwick cause of bad weather at City.

    I had hoped that BA might have moved the flight to Heathrow when City closed. I would have thought it would be economical to carry the small number of premium passengers who have needed to fly during covid.

  11. Jordan D says:

    Didn’t the recent BA mortgage documents hold that BA still owned *both* 318s, and that EUNB was simply on a long term charter by Titan?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Please click here to read our data protection policy before submitting your comment.