What it’s like to travel on an all-business-class flight

What it’s like to travel on an all-business-class flight

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.

Photos: reliving the British Airways Concorde dream

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.

(Notice "SNN" at the top of the stamp, denoting entry to the United States offshore in Shannon.)

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.

Also read: British Airways' all-business-class flight review, London City-New York JFK

Chris Chamberlin travelled to New York as a guest of British Airways.

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

37 comments

  • LongWayAround

    LongWayAround

    2 May, 2018 10:42 pm

    Interesting - I've never heard of this unique service. My question is, if you need to clear customs in Shannon if your luggage is checked? do you need to collect it and re-check it?
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  • Damien  Greene

    Fatherdamo

    3 May, 2018 12:36 am

    No need to collect luggage. You get questioned as to their contents but as long as no red flags are raised then they are not examined by customs. I have used us immigration in Shannon numerous times having checked in luggage prior to the immigration and iv never seen anyone have to get their luggage out of the Holdto have it searched
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    3 May, 2018 12:42 am

    It's a bit unique in that you don't touch your suitcase: you first go through normal security screening on arrival in Shannon, and then when you get to passport control, the CBP agent pulls up a photo of your bag on their screen and you confirm that it's yours - they can then hit the green button on their screen to clear your bag and that's it: it arrives on a carousel at JFK and you walk straight out.
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  • aggie57

    aggie57

    4 May, 2018 01:10 pm

    They use the same ‘photo of your luggage’ at Montreal and other Canadian preclearance ports. As you go through US immigration they pull up a photo of a your bags.
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    4 May, 2018 06:23 pm

    Interesting: whenever I've done that (in Vancouver and Toronto), I've had to physically pick up my bags, walk them through US passport control and then drop them back off again (where I've taken a connecting flight).
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  • Traveller14

    Traveller14

    2 May, 2018 10:42 pm

    There isn't a photo of the lunch.
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    3 May, 2018 12:36 am

    Full details including meals will be covered in a separate flight review of the service, when published.
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  • Fqtv

    Zac

    2 May, 2018 10:44 pm

    Sounds like a great way to get to NY from the City or Canary Wharf. Are those two snack meals all that is served on board though? Would expect a more elaborate meal somewhere on a 1+7 hour biz class flight...
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    3 May, 2018 12:37 am

    Full details including meals will be covered in a separate flight review of the service, when published (so no, there's more to the meal service than that).
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  • anthony watts

    anthony watts

    2 May, 2018 11:15 pm

    In all flights into the US this was the best arrival ever. I too was not aware of it, but price and time worked then when I went to seat selection I seriously thought there had been an error! And LCY reminded me of airports in a much friendlier age.

    Btw on the return flight there is no stop at Shannon...
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  • Places_to_go

    Places_to_go

    3 May, 2018 12:55 am

    I took this flight on Tuesday of this week. There were only 13 passengers on board... needless to say, it was a unique experience, not least because there was an outrageous crew-to-passenger ratio. The arrival into JFK fully pre-cleared was a dream: I climbed into my taxi exactly 13 minutes after touch-down. I can highly recommend it.
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  • rune

    rune

    3 May, 2018 07:02 am

    The BA Concorde was sold as an all-First class flight if I recall (seating was more J style, but booked into an F bucket).

    I remember calling up to book “BA1 F” in early 2003 with QFF points!
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  • AJW

    AJW

    3 May, 2018 11:07 am

    Never flew Concorde, but having been in one, seating looked more like Y on a Dash 8. But fit for purpiose.
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  • John Phelan

    John Phelan

    3 May, 2018 11:34 am

    I did fly (once) on Concorde. It actually reminded by of the old DC 9 (or today's B717). You were paying for speed, not luxury. And it was so LOUD inside when in flight!
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    3 May, 2018 08:47 pm

    Yes, it was sold as Concorde Class, but I'd say the seats really were more like economy, given nobody needed to sleep on such short flights!
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  • Peter Fullerton

    waratahbay

    4 May, 2018 05:24 pm

    I flew Concorde in the late 1990s, part of a RTW paid F ticket. Had to pay a surcharge of AUD2000 for the unique pleasure.

    Still have the Corcorde wallet and writing pad handed out on the flight. Seats terribly narrow, but who cared. Most people trooped up and back to the cockpit for a look-see. Happy flight crew and special feeling onboard. Different era.
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  • traveller90

    traveller90

    3 May, 2018 07:19 am

    This product looks like a dream. Relaxed airport departure, simple but effective service with a streamlined arrival in the US. For a J class fare, this service looks spot on.

    Given BA"s lacking in its general J class, this one is definitely a winner. Would be nice to see it expanded to other key routes.

    As someone said earlier, a travel experience from a friendlier era.

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  • ian_sh

    ian_sh

    3 May, 2018 10:41 am

    Took BA 1 a few years back. Definitely the most civilised boarding process I have seen. Crew are all of the most senior of BA and extremely friendly. A few small downsides: the iPads they offer are some of the older generations; the seats are a bit on the narrow side esp. in fully-flat mode but spacious enough if you can score one with no one sitting next to you.But again, arriving at JFK as a domestic flight with a quasi-business-jet feel is a no brainer.
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  • 346

    346

    3 May, 2018 10:43 am

    Great option if you live in London
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  • dm12

    dm12

    3 May, 2018 11:49 am

    If it’s so good I wonder why it appears to have light loads and there aren’t heaps of daily flights? What’s the downside?
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    3 May, 2018 08:52 pm

    The loads were examples only on the days I was travelling (which were deliberately chosen so as to not book flights which were full) - leaving London on a quiet Sunday morning, and returning from New York the next day (Monday night), when demand isn't as high as it's the beginning of the working week.

    I have to say though, the crew were excellent, and I had the same three crew members on the BA2 flight as BA1... they remembered my love of Champagne, so brought me an extra glass of my favourite from the day before to enjoy during the very very long taxi at JFK, which was most appreciated! That's the advantage of this flight - because there are so few passengers, on this particular flight there was one crew member to every 6 people, so the service is much more personalised.
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    oxy

  • Jay

    ausJCP

    4 May, 2018 11:40 am

    Really quite a fascinating operational concept for BA. And given the fuel issue, the decision to still push ahead anyway with LCY departure is interesting. I'd love to have been a fly on the wall during the corporate deliberations of pros and cons, especially given the route carries their flagship BA1 flight code.

    A question about the US customs outpost in SNN: were the CBP staff processing entry US citizens? Or local Irish staff?

    Also: are the lie-flat seats angled (like QF SkyBed Mk1), or are they 180° horizontal?

    Great article!
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  • Himeno

    Himeno

    4 May, 2018 03:21 pm

    The US preclearance ports are staffed by CBP agents on assignment from the US.

    Do they still operate BA3/4?
    They had 2 flights doing this run, but had to keep pulling one of the flights whenever heavy maintenance on the A318s was due.
    They also had some issues with the SNN preclearance only being open for one of the flights.
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    4 May, 2018 06:26 pm

    ausJCP: They're fully-flat beds, and as Himeno has replied, the CBP staff are from the United States.
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  • Nick  Sydney 348

    Nick Sydney 2

    4 May, 2018 01:12 pm

    Would love to try this one day. LCY is very civilised and minutes to our London office. If QF were to fly to CDG then it becomes viable to jump into London via LCY. Anything to avoid LHR and the aggravation that goes on there.
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  • Garth Freeman

    rnickey mouse

    4 May, 2018 02:53 pm

    Absolutely LOVE this service. It's almost like flying in the 1950's or 1960's. As it is all one class there's no priority anything, everyone is treated with priority. The small number of passengers means really personal service (if you want that). It's unique - even the friendly and chatty US CBP people at SNN are chatty and friendly. Many passengers pass the time in SNN by engaging with the CBP officers who are (unlike most of the Stateside officers) willing to oblige.
    Taking off or landing literally in Central London is an experience in itself. As Mr Dilmah says, "Do try it!".
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  • Henry  Private

    longwayaway

    4 May, 2018 04:03 pm

    The A318 isn't wide enough for sufficient herringbone seating. Fit young long legged passengers should be given the window seats as they are better able to climb over sleeping fellow passengers.
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  • briang

    briang

    4 May, 2018 05:27 pm

    Thanks for this info - Id love to give it a shot. However I assume one would need to make sure your visa is all correct before leaving London? My wife is a Chinese national
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    4 May, 2018 06:21 pm

    It's no different to any other US-bound flight: if you don't have the required USA visa or ESTA for your journey, the computer won't issue your boarding pass and you won't be able to travel.
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  • mitchimus

    mitchimus

    4 May, 2018 11:44 pm

    I had a great flight on a Qatar all business Airbus a319. Very relaxed and great service on the flight from Doha to London. Very much like you're own private jet with only 40 seats.
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  • Herbert Saravanamuttoo

    Herb33

    5 May, 2018 10:12 am

    May be of interest to note that C Series has already demonstrated London City to JFK nonstop, and apparently can carry about the same number of pax as 319. I flew Concorde to JFK and found seating perfectly comfortable for short flight. With excellent catering and in flight service I was quite disappointed to get of!
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  • Dean

    deanr

    5 May, 2018 11:26 pm

    Out of curiosity, what's the "I D/S" on the passport stamp? Normally I get WT/WB (then they circle tourism or business), and then a date.
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    6 May, 2018 05:09 pm

    "I" means entry to the US as a member of the foreign press when the trip is to generate news coverage, and "D/S" means "duration of status", indicating that you can remain in the United States for as long as you like in that capacity without being kicked out, rather than having to leave by a fixed date.
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  • Craig Sandford

    Rezzadogs

    6 May, 2018 11:13 pm

    Have flown BA1 in this format, with a delayed takeoff - the inbound flight was diverted to Gatwick because of fog at London City. Passengers were given the option of deplanning at LGW, or waiting for the fog to clear for the short hop to LCY.

    Have also flown the La Compangie all "business" 757 flight from London Luton to Newark. The LTN flight has been stopped, and they only run from Paris Orly now. Seats were like J class in the early 90's (not flat) but quite roomy.

    My wife has also flown the Scandinavian all business flight from Stavanger in Norway to Houston - surprising for it to originate from such a small town, but connects the two oil hubs.
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  • ZT

    ZT

    10 Sep, 2018 10:00 am

    The BA A318 fleet has been reduced to a single aircraft !.
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  • Jason

    cooper81

    1 Jan, 2019 02:25 am

    @ ian_sh: 'Crew are all of the most senior of BA '.

    The LCY-JFK flights are actually crewed by LGW based crews. LGW based crews are all pretty junior with a few exceptions.

    LHR cabin crew and LGW long haul cabin crew used to be on the same 'old' contracts up until around 2009. At that time short haul flights out of LGW were crewed by 'Eurogatwick' crew - an inferior contract/money/T&C's. Even back then LGW was still more 'junior' on the whole. They had fewer long haul destinations, no bunked aircraft (all very important for crew lol).

    In 2009 BA decided to close the LGW long haul base and replace it with 'Single Fleet Gatwick' - new crew on inferior T&C's and money that operate all routes long and short out of LGW. The LGW longhaul crew were offered a variety of options: VR/a re-base to LHR/stay at LGW on the new terms. Out of a base of around 1000 around 20 of the old contract crew joined the new LGW Single Fleet base on the new T&C's.

    LCY has cabin crew and pilots based there but they only operate the Embraer services to domestic and european destinations.

    Concorde was operated by short haul LHR based cabin crew (it was our sole 'longhaul' route) and was piloted by 757 pilots who flew both aircraft. I had the pleasure to work on it for two years before the AF tragedy struck and she was grounded back when I was on shorthaul. It wasn't a pleasant aircraft to work on environment wise - it was small, very hot, always had an oily scent - but the atmosphere on board was always so exciting.
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  • ZT

    ZT

    1 Jan, 2019 03:52 am

    The Concorde class of travel was R class.
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21 May, 2019 11:25 pm

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