MIAMI — From 1977- 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 & 0002, 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.