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Airline Mismanagement

BA claim that operating this service to/from London City Airport is a major plus, compared to flights to/from Heathrow.

Noting BA's massive commitment to Heathrow and their new Terminal 5 there, that is an interesting claim (about LCY's superiority) for them to make.

Interesting or not - is it true?

 
 
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British Airways 'Club World London City' review

Part 2 - The different airports used and issues arising
 

One of BA's new A318 planes at London City Airport.

Note there are no jetways, however you walk only a very short distance between the plane and terminal.

Part 2 of a series on BA's new Club World London City service - please also visit

1.  Overview and Timings
2.  Airport Issues
3. 
Flight Experience and Summary

 

 

London City Airport is a much nicer airport in almost all respects when compared with Heathrow.  Perhaps the only downside is the lack of retail shopping or things to do while waiting for a flight, but with the very short checkin time required for the flight to New York, this isn't really an issue.

The other downside of LCY is due to its short runway and steep approach path (twice the angle of typical descents) the biggest plane that can fly in/out of the airport is the tiny A318, and even that plane can't take off with a full load of fuel, so flights back to New York require a stop in Shannon to refuel.
 

This review is based on two flights with British Airways in November 2009 - one each way between JFK and LCY.

London City Airport compared to Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport handles twenty times more passengers a year than London City Airport, and is vastly larger in all respects.  When it comes to airports, bigger is seldom better, and in this case, in the time it takes to simply walk the interminable seeming distance from some of Heathrow's outlying gates in to the central processing area, you may have completed all arrival formalities at LCY and be out the airport exit.

We were given VIP treatment upon arrival at LCY and rushed through Immigration.  It then took only a few more minutes for our bags to arrive.

Here are timings for our arrival processing :

0654 :  Touched down

0657 :  At the gate (and then a long seeming but in reality short delay to get air stairs to the plane)

0708 :  Had gone through Immigration, got cash from an ATM, collected my bags, gone through Customs, walked through the terminal building, and was exiting the airport building

In other words, less than ten minutes from the airplane door opening to walking out of the airport.  That is stunningly fast for an international arrival.

Going through the airport on the return to JFK was also very fast.  It took 14 minutes from entering the airport to entering the departure lounge.  This included time to check a bag, collect a boarding pass, go through security, walk through the terminal, go through a secondary security 'random inspection', and get to the furtherest away gate in the airport.

As confirmation this was not a fluke, BA require a mere 20 minute advance checkin at LCY.

Our flight arrived early into LCY, and the departing flight left LCY early too.  It is easier to leave early when you've only got 32 passengers to keep track of.

These processing times at LCY contrast extraordinarily with those experienced at LHR.  For sure, business class passengers get to go through priority arrival/Immigration lanes, and through priority departure/security lanes, but even in such cases, there can be 5 - 20 minute delays at these bottlenecks.  Bags can take a long time to arrive, no matter if they are priority tagged or not, and the physical distances required to walk from one part of the airport to another can be both tiring and time consuming.

For all these reasons, LCY is a much nicer, quicker and easier airport experience than LHR.

Getting in and out of Central London

The time it takes to get between either airport and central London depends on what mode of travel you take and where in central London you're traveling to.

As you can see in our article on London's Best and Worst Airports, while Heathrow is almost twice the distance to Piccadilly Circus that LCY is, the travel time by car/taxi is about the same.  This is because part of the distance to Heathrow is on highway, but all the journey to LCY is on surface streets.

If your destination is east of Piccadilly Circus, LCY becomes successively a better choice, and if your destination is west, then LHR gets better and better.

If you don't want to pay the 30-60 cost of a taxi, you might choose a less expensive option - in the case of LHR, this would either be taking the train to Paddington Station and then a taxi or tube or bus from there, or perhaps simply taking the tube all the way from the airport.  With LCY, it would be taking the DLR in to probably Bank Station and then tube or bus or taxi from there.  In such a case there is again a moderate parity in travel times to the central part of London.

Although some people focus simply on the respective distances of the two airports from central London, the actual travel time from either airport to central London is very similar.

Arrivals Lounge Contrasts

If you're planning on going straight from the plane to some type of business activity in London, you'll probably want to make use of the Arrivals Lounge where you can shower, shave, change clothes and generally freshen up.

BA has an excellent Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow where you can enjoy private showers, and even partake of a breakfast and other refreshments (assuming you didn't eat enough on the flight over).

But at London City, you've got a distressingly unpleasant and inconvenient arrangement.  You first have to wait up to 30 minutes for a shuttle bus that drives you to a Marriott Hotel 10 minutes away (fortunately located to the west - ie, in the direction of central London).

Once you get there, you make your way to their 'Health Club' and you can use the showers there.  Sounds good?

Alas, no.  It was awful.  There were only two shower stalls, and so you can imagine the frustration and delay if you have six or more people all arrive on the shuttle bus at the same time.  For that reason, if your time is short, you might choose to instead take a cab from the airport to the hotel (estimated fare about 10).  That would enable you to jump the queue that will form when the shuttle bus discharges its load of passengers all at once.

In terms of getting changed, there's a public 'locker room' area where you get naked and changed in front of all the other people impatiently waiting their turn at a shower stall.  And while you're in the shower, there's no-one to mind your luggage.  There's no place in the shower stall to take any of your ultra-essential mustn't be lost/stolen personal items, and no secure place to store them.

There are also no refreshments or anything else on offer.  Overall, it is an appalling disappointment and not at all helpful.

One more note - if you then take a taxi on from the hotel to wherever you wish to travel, beware of the predatory doormen who will try and direct you into a private mini-cab - perhaps because they'll get a back-hander tip from the mini-cab driver.  Insist on a regular licensed black cab.  The rate will probably be cheaper, too.

Transiting Through Shannon

A distinctive feature of the flights between LCY and JFK is the need for the flight to make a short stop in Ireland's Shannon Airport in order for it to load extra fuel.

The very short runway at LCY means the A318 is unable to take off with sufficient fuel to fly the route non-stop.  This is not a problem when the plane flies from JFK to LCY, but it is a problem on the LCY to JFK service.

So BA came up with an interesting and innovative solution to this issue that attempts to turn a negative (the hassle and extra time required for a stop en route) into a positive.  The flight spends about an hour at Shannon Airport (SNN), and while the plane is being refueled, the passengers are taken off the plane and pre-cleared into the US, making use of the US Customs and Immigration Service pre-clearance station at SNN.

This means that when the flight arrives into JFK, it is treated as a domestic flight.  Passengers do not need to clear US Immigration, collect their bags, and go through Customs upon arrival.  They can simply proceed direct to baggage claim, collect their bags, and then exit the terminal with no further hassle or delay.

Being spared the extra aggravation and hassle upon arrival into JFK is definitely a plus, but the downside to that is almost two hours extra flying time between London and New York.  The extra travel time is much more than the time saved upon arrival in New York.

The transit through Shannon is also a bit of a hassle - made more so by the need to take all your carry-on items off the plane with you, to traipse through airport corridors, go through another security screening, wait in a small lounge with no amenities, and then reboard the plane and restow your carry-on items.

It is about 90 minutes flying time between LCY and SNN, and during this time, you have no In-Flight Entertainment, and are only offered one drink and a morsel of food.

The strangest 'security' I've ever encountered

When you arrive at Shannon, you're shepherded off the plane, then lead through several empty and 'secure' corridors, to arrive at - yes, you guessed it, a security screening station.  First, you are made to wait in an area with only 18 seats (insufficient for 32 passengers) until mysterious things are done to your checked bags somewhere else.  When that unexplained process is complete, you go through 'security' prior to then encountering the US Immigration and Customs staff.

One starts off by doing all the usual things one does when going through airport security.  You are required to take your laptops out of your bags, and to remove your shoes, and you place everything onto the conveyor that leads into the X-ray machine.

Although one wonders at the need to rescreen people who have walked straight off one flight, gone nowhere else, and had no contact with anyone else, and who have been under observation by airport staff the entire time, one meekly submits to the process.

As I was doing this, I did what I usually do.  I transferred all the metal objects on my person into my various jacket pockets, and then went to take my jacket off and put it, too, on the conveyor.  One of the staffers saw me doing this and hurried over.  They told me I didn't need to take my jacket off.

That was a surprise.  I started to take the metal things out of my pockets, then looked around and suddenly realized - there was no metal detector for passengers to walk through!

Yes, dear reader, that is correct.  We had to take our shoes off and allow them to be X-rayed, but we could load our jackets up with as much as we liked, and simply walk to the other end of the X-ray machine, without having to go through a metal detector.

If you can understand any part of this 'security screening' process - the need for it to start with, or how it actually makes us any way more secure, please do let me know.

Pricing

In the 'good old days' there was one semi-fixed and seldom changing fare for business class travel.  These days there are almost as many different business class fares as there are coach class fares, and they are subject to the same array of arcane restrictions and requirements.  They also change very rapidly and seem to be as subject to short term specials as are coach class fares.

This makes it difficult to accurately state fares, but do note that the lowest business class fares sometimes require almost two months advance purchase.

Initially, we understand it was BA's intention to charge a premium for traveling on the LCY flights.  However, we understand that at present, there is no extra cost involved in choosing to fly on the LCY rather than LHR services, and as for the future, that will probably depend on the respective levels of popularity of the two different routes.

In view of the fact that BA's business class fares currently seem to allow for you to combine a flight from JFK to LCY with a flight from LHR to JFK.  So, in view of the fact that the westbound service is much slower and more hassle filled (due to the Shannon stopover) than the eastbound service, if your London location is more on the east side of the city, you might want to consider traveling one way to LCY and the other way back from LHR as the best of both worlds.

Part 2 of a series on BA's new Club World London City service - please also visit

1.  Overview and Timings
2.  Airport Issues
3. 
Flight Experience and Summary

FTC Mandatory Disclosure :  I was given round trip air travel by BA to research/write this article (but had to pay for my own travel between Seattle and New York and all other related costs of the journey).  Thank you, BA, for your confidence in your product and your braveness in allowing me to experience and write about it.  I have not been paid money to write this article.  See more about our editorial policies here.

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Originally published 27 Nov 2009, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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