Long Haul on a Short Plane

An Analysis and Trip Report of British Airways JFK-LCY Service

By Chris Sloan / Published June 9, 2014 

From 1977 to 2003, British Airways’ (BA) Concorde was the ultimate and most exclusive service on the North Atlantic between New York and London, and indeed the world. Making the crossing from JFK to Heathrow in an average flight time of 3 1/2 hours, these exotic, luxurious, glamorous, and famous flights have never been replicated.

Today there are such luxuries as private cocoon like suite, advanced in-flight entertainment systems, and high-speed in-flight connectivity. Yet despite being from the pre-internet era, Concorde did something nobody has been able to duplicate: being a time machine. Appropriately Concorde flights were given the airline’s most prestigious flight numbers, such as BA001 and BA002.

Beyond the famous cadre of celebrities who made the supersonic jet so glamorous, Concorde was a C-Suite executive’s capitalist tool. Executives could leave London in the morning, have a business lunch, crucial meeting, or sign a contract, and return home to London for dinner.

On October 24, 2003 after some 50,000 flights and 2.5 million passengers, BA’s iconic Concorde conducted its last scheduled champagne-soaked crossing between London and New York. A victim of changing times, the jet was scuttled due to rising fuel prices, environmental concerns, heavy operating costs because of age and maintenance, and the triumph of the internet age. The need for Mach 2 speed could no longer be justified.

An era had come to a close, yielding to slower, more pedestrian forms of intercontinental jet travel. Many felt that technology had actually taken a step backwards. C Suite executives hopping between Wall Street and The City would have to “make due” in subsonic aircraft, albeit in lie-flat seats in First and Business with the high-end, world-renowned service that BA is known for.

A New Product for a New Age

On September 24, 2009, the old Concorde flight numbers, BA001 & BA002, were reborn with a new exclusive, niche service. But this time speed and glamor weren’t the driving forces. A new era of business productivity and seamless convenience were the order of the day when British Airways launched its dedicated all-business class service between New York JFK and the diminutive, regional London City Airport.

Right from the get go this service was designed to link the hearts of the world’s two financial capitals, with London City located, quite literally, in the heart of the UK city’s financial district. Somewhat courageously, this service, directly aimed at the financial industry, was launched in the midst of a raging recession.

On the face of it, this didn’t seem like a new idea. MaxJet and Eos both operated an all business class service between New York from an alternative airport: London Stansted, a fairly distant airport located to the north of Central London. Both operated large aircraft such as the 757 and 767, and their business models revolved around a discounted business class fare rather than as a premium priced offering. MaxJet and Eos both lacked any sort of meaningful network and critical mass to attract business contracts or flyer loyalty. These factors, coupled with bad timing and economic headwinds resulted in their demise after just a few years of service in the bust of late 2007 and 2008.

British Airways’ London City service on the other hand has been a profitable operation. It boasts a relatively high load factor thanks to squarely marketing to the high-yield financial services industry, some of whom commute each week between the two cities. Perhaps more importantly, BA is able to use the London City service as an exclusive marketing edge on both ends of the pond that no one else can offer.

The headline of the service is clearly convenience, catering to a very specific customer. Passengers departing either city are literally able to show up at the airport less than an hour before departure, something almost unheard of. At New York JFK, a full dinner at the airport is complimentary for early arrivers, allowing them to take full advantage of the short flying time to sleep while onboard.

The two flights from New York JFK, BA002 and BA004, depart at 7:00pm and 9:45pm respectively. With a quoted gate-to-gate block time of 7 hours, 15 minutes, the in-flight service is tailored for maximum sleep time so the passengers can hit the ground rested and running for a full day’s business the next day. Passengers conveniently clear customs and claim their bags so quickly that they can be at their desks or a hotel arrivals center an hour after landing in London.

The two flights from London City to JFK, BA 001 and BA003, depart at 9:45am and 4:00pm respectively. Due to a required technical stop at Shannon, Ireland for refueling, the flight is quoted at 9 hours, 10 minutes, nearly two hours longer than a normal widebody flight. BA puts the refueling stop to clever use, having passengers clear U.S. customs and immigration during the brief stop in Shannon. This is a huge boon to travelers wishing to avoid long waits upon arrival in the U.S.

Unfortunately, due to U.S. government cutbacks following sequestration, the afternoon flight of BA003 is no longer supported by this plan. Regardless, the very short check-in time and close-in location at London City more than makes up the difference for the longer block time. The westbound, mostly daytime, flight to New York allows for a very different, outstanding in-flight service and makes the time past quickly. Indeed with three cabin attendants to only 32 passengers the intimate cabin and attention is more like an executive jet than a commercial flight. As an added but expensive productivity enhancement, the London City flights offer a form of in-flight connectivity for email and text. No other BA aircraft are so equipped.

One would think this exclusive niche service targeted to the financial industry would come at a sizeable premium over BA’s Club World product, but that isn’t typically the case. The carrier claims that there is no pricing premium between a LCY Club World and a standard Club World ticket, though of course there are many factors that enter in actual ticket pricing.

A quick search on BA.com revealed an April 14th outbound and April 22nd return fully flexible round-trip ticket priced at $13,982. The same site quoted a normal JFK-LHR round-trip Club World ticket with a similar schedule at $13,360, including taxes. Of course, many of the passengers are flying on discounted corporate rates, which we will delve into later with our market analysis.

A Service like None Other

British Airways’ London City operation is unique in many ways. Two Airbus A318s, outfitted with only 32 custom Club World seats, are used for the crossing. While increasingly unprofitable to operate for most airlines, they’re the only ones left serving North America; the A318’s are perfectly suited to the LCY mission.

First time London City passengers more accustomed to wide-body aircraft on long-haul flights reportedly sometimes board the stubby narrow body A318 and ask “Where’s the rest of the plane?” The two “Baby Busses” operate a schedule of two round-trips per day Monday-Friday and one on Sunday. Both aircraft are ferried to Gatwick on Saturdays for maintenance, which is a low traffic day for this market. Besides, London City Airport is closed midday Saturday to midday Sunday. Sunday afternoon, LCY-JFK flights resume with BA003.

From a pilot’s perspective, this is a very unique operation. Optimized for operations into LCY’s 4,948’ long, 100’ wide narrow runway, the two A318s, G-EUNA and G-EUNB, are the only A320 family aircraft in the world equipped with steep approach software. The software modifies the control laws of the A318 when the function is selected by the pilots, automatically deploying some of the wing spoiler panels to provide additional drag when the aircraft is on final approach. The modification also provides alternative audio alerts to the crew and modifies spoiler deployment automatically below 120 feet as the aircraft lands.

This European Air Safety Agency certified software allows the A318 to perform approaches at descent angles of up to 5.5°, as opposed to the standard 3° for a normal approach. This also aids in noise abatement for this very urban-located airport. As we’ll detail later in the flight review, the take-offs and landings are quite thrilling, analogous to landing on an aircraft carrier, though very smooth.

With LCY residing on the Thames and its runway quite literally built on a pier in the water, fog can occasionally be an issue causing diversions to Gatwick about 10% of the time in winter and 1% of the time in summer. The BA staff, always prepared for this possibility, is known to be very buttoned up in arranging ultra-fast track immigration and transportation as a contingency to get passengers to their destinations very quickly.

The pilots who fly this mission are the only ones in the world that regularly fly the entire A318/A319/A320/A321 family in scheduled service. Only 50 pilots out of approximately 1000 A320 series qualified aviators at BA are able to secure this very senior, in demand bid. In fact, the A318 has the highest seniority of any BA fleet type. While both captains and co-pilots can perform take-offs, only the captain typically performs the precision landing at London City, though co-pilots are trained to perform it and practice it in the simulator.

Most crews are able to work two to three crossings per month. The rest of the time they fly normal short and medium haul schedules. Because of the specialized approach into LCY, the flight crews not only train in the simulator but in actual training flights with no passengers aboard, often during the plane’s weekend down time.

Flights from JFK to LCY typically carry 17 tons of fuel. On the London to New York segment, LCY’s short runway doesn’t allow the aircraft to take on a full load of fuel so 6 tons is more than ample to reach Shannon. Besides, the A318 doesn’t have the range, when fully loaded, to fly westbound from London City to New York owing to headwinds and weight restrictions at LCY. On the Shannon SNN-JFK segment, somewhere around 17-20 tons of fuel is taken up depending on forecasts.

The Gatwick based cabin crews are generally very senior as well, with only 250 on roster. This flight is considered so premium and is in such high demand that BA employees are not given free travel privileges on it. An interesting footnote is that with only two A318s in the fleet, there is no slack in the system when an aircraft is out of service for maintenance, so the airline times the heavier checks during lower demand times of the year and will only operate one aircraft. Against the backdrop of the dominant British Airways / American Airlines North Atlantic joint venture, there is no shortage of alternative flights for customers.

The Business Case for a Flight That Truly Means Business

The JFK-LCY nonstop is a small player in an overall sense, and also in a premium sense, as the following tables illustrate:

Weekly Seats
Capacity Share

Weekly Premium Seats
Premium Capacity Share

At 0.6% of total capacity and 3.2% of premium capacity, the LCY-JFK flights are all but irrelevant contributors to the volume on this city-pair market. That being said, we believe that the flights are profitable in their own right, and they of course play an enormous strategic role in one of the world’s most important business travel markets.

According to our analysis, to operate JFK-LCY nonstop using the A318, it costs roughly $31,200 per flight inclusive of ownership costs, assuming a standard valuation for British Airways’ A318s. The LCY-SNN-JFK flights meanwhile cost roughly $35,000, including ownership costs, due to added costs of operating via Shannon.

For January-August 2013, British Airways had the following operational characteristics on JFK-LCY. The carrier offered, 9,792 seats, filling 7,533 of them for a 76.93% load factor.

*Readers please note that all of these figures are estimate and subject to a wide potential margin of error. Our fare estimates are conservative.

Thus to break even in the first nine months of 2013, BA needed an average roundtrip revenue of $2,960 per passenger (excluding government taxes – which are typically around 20% of the ticket). So in this case, an average roundtrip fare of $3,550 means the carrier breaks even.

Keep in mind that if you adjust for seasonality (missing Oct-Dec, the figures will be lower during that period), the loads likely come down to 72-73%, and applying the same fixes yields a required break even fare of roughly $3,800.

The average fare, we estimate, is roughly $6,500 roundtrip, so you’re talking about 38% operating margins (at least double that of British Airways’ overall long haul network). The only adjustment is that if you look at the summer, R/T fares are 5-6k, so an overall average R/T fare for the year of $7,500 is reasonable, especially given that loads are highest in the summer.

The route is profitable; we’d estimate to the tune of $10-15 million a year net contribution to the bottom line once you include structural costs. Moreover, it plays an enormous strategic role in making the British Airways – American partnership the preferred operator in the lucrative New York City – London market, especially for the financial industry. At least another $3-5 million in profitability is tied to the boosts received due to corporate contracts and frequent flyer loyalty tied to the availability of this service.

Outbound Trip Report: New York JFK to London City LCY

The more I learned about this unique service, the more determined I needed to try it for myself. In this case, I would be flying both outbound and inbound flights as the experience is so different, depending on which direction one is heading.

The day finally came on a cold February evening when, following an interminably long car ride, I pulled into British Airways Terminal 7 at New York JFK. With 90 minutes prior to departure, I was in a rush, not because I was late for the flight or anything. BA’s exclusive JFK to London City has its own dedicated check-in desks and fast track security that allows you to arrive at the airport at up to just 45 minutes before departure. No, I was on a mission to get the full experience that includes the much ballyhooed pre-flight dining specially designed for the London City passengers to allow for maximum sleeping time once onboard.

There was no queue at the dedicated London City check-in desk. After checking my bag, for testing purposes only I assure you, I was through security and in BA’s sprawling Galleries Lounge just 15 minutes after arriving at the curb. With dinner waiting and time ticking, I undertook a cursory romp through BA’s lounge. Though crowded, and not as exclusive as the fabled Concorde Lounge, Galleries is a beautifully appointed, significant upgrade from its US domestic carrier counterpart. A tempting array of snacks and complimentary top shelf spirits and wine graced a number of bars, speedy Wi-Fi, power plugs o’plenty, and even an Elemis travel spa, were on offer. Though tempted for the massage and facial, I decided to remain on the program and stroll over to the pre-flight dining room.

This buffet style meal service offered a bit of something for all clientele, from vegetarian dishes such as eggplant roasted pepper and feta cheese tart, to kahari braised lamb with apricots, and seared arctic-char with French lentil tomato veloute’. For those with Asian tastes, a full line of curry, teriyaki, and noodle dishes were there for the indulgence.

Out of a sense of duty, I sampled small portions of just about everything including the deserts dubbed “Finale” which included date-nut bread pudding, chocolate mousse, and a Hudson valley farm cheese plate. A nice glass of Dom complimented this feast. A particular Monty Python sketch came to mind as I was forced to loosen my belt a bit. In one word, my review: “excellent”, but my fear: no room left in the belly to sample the so called “nightcap” service once onboard. Would my palette be able to overrule my already satiated appetite later?

After a leisurely jaunt to the gate, BA002 was ready to board. As I boarded the A318, a plane designed to carry up to 132 passengers but in this case configured to carry only 32, I felt I had entered a private jet. Unique for British Airways Club World Class, all eight rows of 2 X 2 seats face forward. The 73” pitch exceeds many other airlines’ hard product. The 20” wide, all lie flat seats are very comfortable, offering excellent support. BA pioneered these types of seats in first class way back in 1996 and business class in 2000. Each one has a nice storage area for the mobile phone and a cubby for shoes.

The leisurely boarding took less than ten minutes. With the dark blue mood lighting, the soothing boarding theme of BA’s signature “Flower duet” by Lakme, and only fifteen passengers onboard, was BA trying to already subtly lull us all into sleep? While we waited for the cabin to be buttoned up, we were served champagne and our “nightcap” orders were taken. While examining the generous menu, it became crystal clear “nightcap” at BA means a lot more than a light snack and drink. The flight is typically catered for less than full capacity, as half of the passengers chose to sleep rather than eat, especially on the later evening flight. Each passenger was asked if they wished to be awoken for breakfast to maximize precious hours of sleep in this quick six hour and twenty minute crossing.

Sitting on our seats were Elemis amenity kits, nothing unusual in these, but the branded moisturizer was a very nice treat. Noise cancelling headphones with a multi-prong jack were sitting in the seatback along with the well regarded “High Life” in-flight magazine.

With no overhead in-flight entertainment center, we had an old school “live” safety briefing, very unusual for a long-haul flight. After a slight delay due to weather, we pushed back at 7:20pm and were airborne in less than ten minutes, avoiding the usual evening parking lot that is JFK. I actually was curious if this time sensitive flight was granted some sort of special priority. With the cabin lights immediately dimmed shortly after take-off, at least half of the cabin drifted off to dream land.

Not wanting our gracious but unobtrusive cabin crew consisting of purser Anita, Mandy, and Sydney to be lonely, and needing to perform my duty for an in-depth flight report, I resolved to remain awake as long as possible. Fourteen minutes in the air, a lovely California Chardonnay is sitting on my tray table accompanied by mixed nuts. Just six minutes later, the starter arrives. The shrimp and crabmeat salad with olives, tomatoes, and peppers on a bed of arugula was light and delightful. By 8:00pm, just thirty minutes after take-off my main course consisting of beef cheek and lamb with carrots, cauliflower, and potato was beckoning me to taste it. I am not a food critic but can assure you it was flavorful, moist, and well presented. After two dinners and not being one with a particular sweet tooth, I declined the pear and milk chocolate delice’ with caramel sauce, cookies and hot chocolate, Morbier and Camembert fruit and cheese plate, and chocolates. One has to know his limits and I had exceeded mine.

BA has left no detail un-turned especially with regards to sleep. Each of the two galleys features double sets of curtains with a dark threshold to make absolutely certain no light leaks into the cabin. The lavatory lights are dimmed very low as well when the door is open to the cabin. Thus with my resistance to sleep wearing low, I endeavor to sample the evening’s in-flight entertainment.

Due to weight and cost issues, there is no embedded IFE on the A318 fleet. Originally using older digital video players, BA switched to iPads in the fall of 2011. They are pre-stocked with an ample selection of up to 20 movies, 40 TV series, four games, and 32 music channels, though no moving map. As many passengers carry their own devices, sleep, or work the selection doesn’t need to quite reach the level of the carrier’s normal embedded IFE’s. Fans of “Downton Abbey” will be pleased to know that the series is represented here, appropriately enough.

I opened the side armrest thinking there was some sort of mounting bracket for the iPad but found these to be incompatible arms for the previous IFE. For those wishing to use their own devices US, UK, and EU power sockets are available at every seat – no adapter needed, though there are no USB plugs.

There was still one more feature unique to the London City service that I needed to try: On-Air, BA’s unusual answer to connectivity. Surprisingly, the two A318s are the only aircraft in BA’s worldwide fleet with in-flight connectivity. The rather pricey On-Air service is designed only for emails and SMS with mobile phones, no web surfing. You leave on your phone’s cellular data function and turn on roaming as opposed to Wi-Fi. Thankfully the system doesn’t support voice calls. Innovative when introduced in 2009, in an age before over-the-ocean satellite Ka-based in-flight internet, it is slow and in tonight’s case not working.

That would have to wait for the return flight home. It being a Friday night, there wasn’t anything pressing anyway. I reclined my Club World seat into a fully lie-flat 72” bed and shortly thereafter was lulled into dreamland by slight chop as we cruised at 39,000 feet and 550 mph over the North Atlantic. Even during turbulence or meal service the cabin is noticeably quiet.

An hour before arrival into London City, those who had opted to be awoken for breakfast were served fresh fruit, smoothies, and a bacon and egg sandwich. This hardy meal hit the spot and would be my final meal until dinner later that night. Caution: calorie and carb counters may find this flight challenging. For those wishing to sleep, a complimentary breakfast is available upon arrival at the arrivals hotel.

We began our gradual descent over the Irish Sea with 34 minutes left to go in the flight. The dimmed cabin lights seamlessly came up a few minutes later and the passengers began to stir from their slumber. The conscientious crew embodying BA’s longtime motto “To Fly. To Serve.” were still serving late breakfasts in the descent, not wishing to deny anyone of the most important meal of the day.

At 6:52AM with full flaps deployed we were on finals following the Thames River with that noticeably steep descent that these A318s were designed for. Two minutes later we were on the ground with a very firm touchdown at London City on runway 27 at 132 mph which felt like we were landing on an aircraft carrier. With full thrust reversers activated, we stopped about ¾ down the 4,948’ runway.

As there are no taxiways in this runway built out in the Thames, the plane does a 180 degree turn and backtracks partway down the runway to turn off on the tarmac. At 6:58AM the engines are shut down and the passengers alight from the plane down air-stairs to a waiting bus to the diminutive terminal.

An incredible fourteen minutes later, I have cleared immigration, collected my bags and cleared customs. Some passengers head to the nearby Raddison Blu New Edwardian Hotel where BA has contracted for an arrivals service of showers, gym and a breakfast. If this weren’t a Saturday morning, others would be in their officers in The City, Canary Warf, or the Docklands within 15 minutes. As for me, I walk 300 feet to the Terminal’s train station for the Docklands Light Railway. After transferring to the Tube, I am at the door of my hotel in the West End of London less than an hour after landing. This first leg delivered on both British Airways’ expected high standard of service and a precision and a seamless efficient product engineered for a very specific market that would be the envy of any airline.

Return Trip Report: London City LCY to New York JFK via Shannon, Ireland SNN

After a busy few days in the UK, including a visit to British Airways’ impressive Waterside corporate headquarters and its fascinating Speedbird Heritage Centre Museum, plus a ride on the last passenger DC-10 flight, the time has come to return home. I am especially curious about today’s flight, BA001, an all-daytime service from London City to New York via Shannon, Ireland for the aforementioned refueling and US immigration clearance stop. BA’s 2nd flight of the day, BA003 to New York JFK, departs at 4:00pm. As mentioned above, the short length of the runway at LCY, doesn’t allow an aircraft the size of an A318 to be provisioned with a full fuel load and therefore doesn’t have the range to make it westbound non-stop from London to New York. The maximum take-off weight MTOW at LCY is 48 tons out of a possible 60 tons on the A318, thus necessitating a technical stop at Shannon, Ireland with enough fuel to divert to Cork.

This will prove to be a much different experience then the overnight JFK-LCY flight a few days ago. After a quick ride from my hotel near Victoria Park on the London Underground and Docklands Railway, I arrive at London City an hour before the scheduled 9:45am local time departure of BA001. Remarkably, passengers on the westbound flights to New York only have to check-in 15 minutes prior to departure, or 20 minutes if they are checking luggage. What other flight, including domestic, anywhere, allows such a late check-in?

Ten minutes after turning up at the dedicated counters for JFK-bound passengers and breezing through UK immigration and security, I am at the tarmac level Gate 24. This gate, specially configured for just these flights, masquerades as a mini-lounge. One can indulge in champagne, a cold fish platter, cappuccino, yogurt parfaits, smoothies, high-speed Wi-Fi and outstanding views of the ramp and runways. BA CityFlyer E-Jets and BA’s other Airbus A318, G-EUNA that I flew over on prove to be the stars of the show. G-EUNA pulls in and does an impossibly tight 180 degree turn on the cramped ramp unassisted. Flight crews operating into LCY are clearly very skilled not only for landings and take-offs, but in navigating the small and crowded ramp.

Boarding is called a mere ten minutes before scheduled departure. Instead of taking the bus, we are able to walk about 100 feet to the air-stairs and a quick climb up to BA Airbus A318 G-EUNB. With “Swiss precision” but on a UK airline, the boarding process takes five minutes with engines starting just two minutes after it is completed.

Traveling in a low demand season and mid-week, the cabin is a little less than half-full, with fifteen passengers and five crew. My Club World seat 5J (and 5K) offers a great view of the wing. We immediately begin our trek down the runway and once again the flight crew executes a 180 degree maneuver to line up for take-off. At 10:02AM, just ten minutes after the A318’s CFM56-5B9 engines are spooled up, and our take-off roll commences. With a very light fuel and passenger load, V2 take-off speed comes at 112 knots, we rotate, and the twin CFM’s effortlessly have us airborne, using less than half of the runway.

I can’t help but have big smile on my face triggered by this sprightly take-off as we wing our way to Shannon, Ireland for our 90-minute flight. With only 5 tons of fuel onboard and no revenue cargo carried beyond passenger luggage, we enjoy a massively high level of climb with no stepping up to 39,000 feet. Indeed it takes just 17 minutes to reach FL390. Our flight-path first takes us south before turning northwest over the UK Midlands and Irish Sea to the Western Island of Shannon.

Just eleven minutes after take-off while still in the climb, the seatbelt sign is extinguished and the in-flight service begins, the first of three we will experience today on our trip to New York. Upon reviewing the menu and imbibing in a Champagne Tattinger Brut Reserve NV, I preemptively loosen my belt again to deal with the coming culinary tsunami. Again, this is not for my enjoyment but my duty to you, my dear reader.

To tide us over, we are served canapés including smoked salmon and trout, prosciutto, and feta cheese complimented with an exotic fruit brochette. This savory, tangy delight is without question the best appetizer I have ever had on an airplane in terms of presentation and taste. I would have asked for seconds, but that would be déclassé and there were still two full meals ahead of us. Additionally, I had run out of belt notches.

The pampering but never cloying crew took our orders for the first meal of the SNN-JFK segment. I suffer from some notable food allergies, so when I asked about the ingredients, the very patient flight attendant produced a photo menu for people with food allergies listing every ingredient of every dish. I had never seen this before.

Quite different from the nighttime Friday flight, many passengers opt to work and decline the iPads. With the office opening up back home, I decided to try the On-Air in-flight connectivity system to check some emails and texts. The emails trickled in before stopping as my phone intermittently lost connection, before regaining it again. This temperamental and expensive service is better than nothing, but is clearly the major weak link in the otherwise nearly flawless service. Given the clientele and advances in connectivity since the service first launched in 2009, BA could afford to upgrade not only the A318 fleet but the rest of the non-connectivity enabled fleet.

At 10:50am we began our descent through rough air into Shannon. The “Baby Bus” A318 handles the chop with surprising aplomb and after exactly 90 minutes we grease the runway for our quick stopover.

Shannon is an airline geeks paradise with numerous types undergoing work or stored at various aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul MRO’s at the airport. Lufthansa Technik and Russian airline Transaero both operate MRO’s at Shannon. But with less than 45 minutes on the ground at Shannon, there won’t be much time for plane-spotting or anything else.

Everyone, including the flight crew, disembarks with their belongings during the refueling for the clever and convenient US immigrations and customs pre-clearance. Due to the lack of an international officer and the possibility of timing out if there was a diversion due the duration of the flight, there is a crew change of pilots here.

After just 45 minutes in Ireland, at precisely noon local time, we have re-boarded and are bound for New York for the 7 hour, 5 minute flight. Nearly fully loaded with 19 tons of Jet A fuel, our take-off roll is more than double the time at London City at 38 seconds and V1 doesn’t come until 143 knots. Even nearly fully loaded with fuel, we reached the jet stream optimized cruising altitude of 39,000 feet in just 19 minutes.

Following the obligatory warm towels, the decadent lunch service begins. With BA001 being a long, all-daylight flight, the meal service is an extended affair. We begin with mixed nuts and champagne. This time I opt for Champagne de Castelnau Brut Rose. I am offered a tasting sample before my glass is filled. This small touch contributes to the highly personalized, professionally executed service that is a perfect fit for this routing.

The menu cuisine and presentation are especially designed for London City as well. The prelude to my meal is a fresh seasonal salad topped with a tangy apple balsamic dressing and three bread choices, including pumpkin seed wheat. My carbs meter is now off the charts!

For the main course present a difficult, first world style problem, as I am forced to choose between a chicken koi soi with coconut cream sauce and steamed jasmine rice or an oven toasted New Zealand rack of lamb with sweet corn mousseline, and ratatouille. I select the latter. I must confess that though well cooked and succulent, the lamb was a bit tough. The asparagus was the most delicious I have ever tasted. I summoned the ingredients chart again to get the recipe. The sweet corn mousseline was truly spectacular but alas due to my lactose intolerance I couldn’t risk more than a few bites. A 2009 vintage Carmel Road Pinot Noir was perfectly simpatico with my entrée.

Absolutely stuffed, I declined the deserts and fruit course, holding out for what the High Tea service had in store. The night before I had an amazing dinner at London’s famed Quo Vodis. I am only half-joking when I say that the chefs at flight kitchen at London City could contribute to the Quo.

After the one-hour meal service, the cabin crew passed out chocolates and bottles of water and basically disappeared unless called for until tea. Most passengers were involved in their work or absorbed in a movie, while a few slept. They were probably happy to be not be disturbed. Even with a full load of 32, a regular passenger told me that flight is always very quiet and serene.

We crossed over into the Northern Maine with one hour remaining in the flight. The moment had arrived for the vaunted High Tea Service. A meal unto itself, BA’s version of Afternoon Tea is more a meal service fit for the Ritz, Mayfair, or maybe even Buckingham Palace. A plate of delicate sandwiches featuring roast beef with tartar sauce, wasabi chicken, tuna with sweet corn, and mature cheddar with caramel onion chutney were just exquisite.

These savories were followed up with traditional antipasti prepared with grilled king prawn, prosciutto di Parma, Vitello tonnato, and beetroot with goat’s cheese. What’s afternoon tea without sweets? I sampled one bite each of the homemade plain or lemon and date scones served warm with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, fearing I had gained five pounds just on this flight. There was absolutely no way I could even consider the afternoon tea pastries featuring Dundee cake and flamed lemon meringue tartlet. I have written many trip reports but this one was quickly becoming a restaurant review for a tasting menu.

We began our 42 minute descent into a frigid and windy New York JFK. Encountering mild chop as we were on finals from the west, BA001 kissed the ground at 125 knots, landing ahead of schedule at 2:11pm. Only ten minutes later we were disembarking. With no US immigrations and customs to clear, there was no undignified rush for the L1 exit door. As an anti-climactic coda to a nearly flawless service, with luggage in hand I was at the curb just ten minutes after leaving the plane – unheard of for a long-haul flight. It may be cliché, but it’s true. This was a perfect ending to a perfect flight.


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