There has been much speculation recently over whether BA would join the ranks of Silverjet and Eos in offering an all business class service to New York. In February, the airline announced its new twice daily service from London City Airport to JFK set to start in 2009. This will be the first service to operate from that airport to a destination outside Europe.
This will come as welcome news for business travellers working in Canary Wharf and the City of London, who wish to avoid the infamous “Heathrow hassle”. Currently, City business travellers to New York have either to travel across London and out to Heathrow, or trek up to Luton or Stansted, all of which can take up to an hour. City airport on the other hand is on the doorstep for City workers and, being a small and easy to navigate airport, means that the minimum check-in time is 15 minutes, as opposed to 45 minutes at the other airports.
Of course, as anyone who has endured the long queues (even in the fast track business lanes) at Heathrow will testify, the 45 minute minimum check-in time can often leave you hot under the collar and with little margin for error. The BA service from City airport will only carry 32 passengers, meaning that the time taken to board and disembark from the plane will be kept to a minimum.
The only downside with the new London City service is that the flights will have to stop for refuelling at Shannon airport in the west of Ireland. This is because the planes cannot take off fully laden with fuel due to the short runways at City airport. This will add 90 minutes to the flight time of their rivals, but BA is hoping that travellers will be able to clear US Customs at Shannon, cutting down on the time taken to clear the airport on arrival in New York.
With favourable winds, the return flight will be non-stop and only quarter of an hour longer than the flight to Heathrow. The planes will be new Airbus A318 jets with 32 seats, all converting into flat beds, and prices will be similar to the BA Heathrow to New York service, which varies from £1300 to £4600.
Lawrence Hunt, chief executive of Silverjet, believes that business travellers will baulk at the prospect of getting settled in their seats and then having to pack up and disembark an hour later at Shannon. Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA, however, is confident that this “niche service” flying passengers “between the heart of the two largest financial centres in the world” will be a success. Just who is right remains to be seen but perhaps the real beneficiaries will be the well-heeled leisure travellers, who are paying for their own fares, and who will benefit from increased competition between the carriers.