When it comes to long-haul flying, typically the bigger the aircraft the better. Whether it’s the Boeing 747 or Airbus A380, these are the aircraft typically associated with extreme luxury – private suites, on-board showers, and maybe even a fully stocked bar. Sometimes, though, smaller might actually be better. British Airways operates a pair of tiny Airbus A318s between New York JFK and London City Airport (LCY) with a business class-only configuration featuring only 32 seats (by comparison, Air France carries 131 passengers on their A318s). It sure is a strange (but great) way to fly. To give you a sense of just how small the A318 is, here are some numbers to help size it up: The Airbus A380 sports a total length of 238 feet with a 261-foot wingspan. The A318 is just 103 feet long with a wingspan of just under 112 feet.
I was recently able to fly from JFK to LCY and experience what it’s like flying into London on the A318. Spoiler: It’s wonderful and actually quite a different experience. While the London to New York flight involves a stop in Shannon, Ireland for fuel, the reverse flight is non-stop.
BRITISH AIRWAYS A318 FLIGHT: The Lounge at JFK
The experience begins before the flight at the spacious JFK Terraces Lounge, which features self-service bars (including craft beer on tap!), showers, a spa, and a full buffet-style dinner service. Business class passengers are entitled to a free 15-minute massage at the spa, which was fantastic after a long day of work and a subway ride to the airport. After the massage, I hit the buffet for a delicious meal. For short transatlantic flights (maybe six hours), a true pre-flight meal is a major perk. Dining before the flight enables passengers to maximize their sleep time on board – this is something many airlines still have not figured out. A meal served on the ground is a heck of a lot cheaper than a catered meal on board, so this almost seems like a no-brainer for airlines to offer.
As opposed to the hectic boarding process of a 747, the 32-seat A318 takes just minutes to button up. It’s clear that this particular flight has a number of repeat customers on board, as there were a few “hey Jim” moments where a few passengers just happened to know each other. It even seemed that several passengers had their “preferred” seats on board.
BRITISH AIRWAYS A318 FLIGHT: The Flight
Once aloft, a very quick meal service began for those who didn’t have time (or desire) to eat at the lounge. I resisted the urge and intoxicating smells from the galley, and decided to watch a movie before trying to sleep.
Since this aircraft has no built-in in-flight entertainment, due to weight restrictions, iPads are distributed. No announcement was made that they were available, but thankfully I knew they were offered. Unfortunately, I had to wait quite a while to get mine since the flight attendants were occupied serving dinner.
Propping up the iPad on a tray table, even if it has a case designed to stand on its on, is annoying. The viewing angle is never adequate and they easily fall over. I was frustrated. When I took a quick trip to the lav, I noticed that some passengers had their iPad secured in a very sturdy looking arm. What the?! Somehow, after two entire flights and part of a third, nobody told me that there was a specially designed iPad holder in the center console of the seat. This makes me believe that either the flight crew doesn’t know those holders exist, or simply didn’t care to tell me. Either way, that’s no good.
Once I decided to try to take a nap, the reality of how spacious the A318 Club World seat is over the rest of the British Airways fleet sank in. I actually had flat surfaces to put my things on! There’s even a dedicated “spectacle” holder. I was not really able to sleep on the flight (what else is new), but the seat is plenty comfy for those who can.
Approach to London City is another aspect where the A318 flight sets itself apart from all other flights. Unlike Heathrow, there’s no 30-minute holding pattern before landing. Just a totally awesome 5.5 degree (steep!) approach on the largest aircraft certified to land at London City.
Arrival at London City is a breeze, once again trumping Heathrow. Customs took all of five minutes, and connections to the Docklands Light Railway into the heart of London are super simple. I would be taking a quick detour, however.
BRITISH AIRWAYS A318 FLIGHT: Arriving and Conclusion
Because London City isn’t big enough to house an arrivals lounge, British Airways shuttles passengers in a private car over to the Radisson Blu. Once I arrived, I was set up in one of the hotel’s spa rooms to take a shower, hit the breakfast buffet, and generally get my act together. I must say, it was all quite civilized and very refreshing after a red-eye flight.
It’s clear that the Club World London City service has a very specific target market in mind – those with corporate contracts and super commuters. However, you shouldn’t let that deter you from booking this service if possible. I know I enjoyed the flight and there is probably not a quicker, more efficient way to get across the “pond” than the British Airways A318 flight (well, other than the Concorde, but that is no longer an option).
NOTE: Flight was covered by British Airways. All opinions are the author’s.