Business class is a great way to travel – but on a handful of flights every day, it’s the only way to fly: quite literally, because there are no first class suites onboard, or any seats further back in premium economy or economy.
Welcome to the all-business-class flight, a rarity in today’s skies – and among that handful, British Airways’ flagship BA1 service from London to New York.
Both the flight number and the aircraft are special.
In a nod to the 1980s era of high flying, this route adopts the same BA1 flight number as the Concorde, another all-business-class jet which darted between London and New York.
These days, BA1 is flown by an Airbus A318: a tiny single-aisle jet that's certainly no Concorde.
The smallest member of the Airbus A320 family, and sometimes called the 'Baby Bus', this jet is dedicated to BA's London-New York route and has just 32 business class seats across eight rows, making for an experience which BA likens to flying in a private jet.
If you're thinking that an all-business-class flight would feature the very latest in luxury seating, BA1 will surprise you.
The seats are arranged in pairs at either side of the aisle, so there's no direct access to the aisle for the window passengers – although on the quiet Sunday morning when I flew there were just 18 passengers aboard, so most guests had a pair of seats to themselves.
The seats lack many of the mod cons you'd take for granted, including personal video screens. The crew offer iPads pre-loaded with content but most passengers seem to watch video on their own tablets or laptops.
However, the seats do fold down into flat beds.
Something else that's unique about BA1: it runs from London City Airport instead of Heathrow. London City is close to the city’s financial and business district, including the financial hub of Canary Wharf, which underscores BA1's corporate travel cred.
Ironically, this business traveller-friendly airport doesn't have any lounges.
British Airways shouts all BA1 passengers a complimentary meal at the airport's Pilots Bar & Kitchen restaurant, although you can take care of your own breakfast and arrive at the airport to check-in for the flight to New York as late as 15 minutes before departure.
When it’s time to board, there’s no announcement in the terminal: just a few spoken words at the gate, and as everybody is in business class there’s no priority boarding lane: all the passengers simply wander to the aircraft in no great hurry.
There's one more wrinkle to come: because London City Airport’s runway is very short, the A318 can’t take off with the full load of fuel needed to fly all the way to New York.
BA's novel solution: a stopover en route in the Irish town of Shannon.
This might take the shine off notions that an all-business-class flight would zoom you directly from A to B, but British Airways makes it work by letting passengers clear United States passport control and customs on the ground at Shannon while the A318 is fuelled up for the seven-hour flight ahead.
That means you arrive in New York as a domestic passenger with your passport already stamped.
If you've have no checked baggage, you can walk straight out of the terminal at New York's JFK Airport and make your way into the city (and if you do have a bag, because there are so few passengers on this flight, every suitcase comes out within minutes and you’re also good to go).
Compared to a non-stop flight, the Shannon detour does add around 90 minutes to the trip, but as a US visa holder who can’t normally use the time-saving passport kiosks, having no queue at passport control compared to the normal 90-odd minute wait for manual processing renders this a non-issue, and makes the flight a very attractive way to enter the United States.
On the quick hop between London and Shannon, there’s time for Champagne and a quick round of sushi…
… and once we’re back in the sky, it’s lunch: then the rest of the 7.5-hour flight is yours to work or sleep, before a spot of British afternoon tea closer to arrival…
… and a touchdown in New York in time for dinner, before you return to the airport on your day of departure and do it all again on the non-stop overnight BA2 from JFK to London City.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to New York as a guest of British Airways.
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