New York for high-fliers

By Richard Burton, November 5, 2009
Lying at 30,000ft: the bed seats

Lying at 30,000ft: the bed seats

When the stewardess says we have to take off with half a tank of fuel because the runway’s too short and the plane needs to shed a few pounds to make it into the air, you do wonder.

You find yourself looking at the waistlines of other passengers and wondering if maybe they should take the Jumbo from Gatwick.

But you don’t. You joke about it by email as you cruise out across the Atlantic. For this is BA’s new Club World service from London City to JFK in New York, a luxury channel-hop for businessmen short on time but big on staying in touch. A private jet for public use in a way; a wi-fi in the sky.

To be fair, the twin-engine A318 with its 32 bed-seats, is not the biggest plane to cross the Atlantic, but it’s the biggest to leave the 4,984ft runway at City.

Thus, the fuel precaution. And thus the reason it stops an hour or so later at Ireland’s Shannon airport to fill the tanks before heading off to New York.

And that’s a hidden virtue. Passengers use the 45-minute delay to step off and clear their way through US Customs and Immigration.

The PR people told me this would mean a journey of — wait for it — seven minutes from touchdown at JFK from tarmac to taxi rank. Seven minutes? Do me a favour.

Once in the air, the latest inflight communication system, OnAir, gives you free use of mobile phones and internet access via laptop — the UK’s first on a transatlantic flight — although they do encourage texts rather than calls when the lights dim and the seats stretch flat.

Chief executive Willie Walsh boasts that this is “BA at its best” — an exclusive, all-in service that links the world’s two biggest business centres: Wall Street and Docklands. It certainly has an exclusive feel: an a la carte menu, free bar service throughout the seven-hour flight and a massive selection of films, music and TV programmes delivered by mini screens clipped into fold-away arms.

It took me under an hour to get to the airport on the DLR from Bank station in the City. I did manage to check in 15 minutes before take-off and went straight from the desk to a small lounge at ground level, yards from the plane. There were even complimentary drinks for those who wanted them.

The seats are wide and have enough leg room to move from window to aisle without disruption and are lined up two by two with small dividers for privacy when reclining.

The smallish plane did mean pockets of turbulence here and there but not enough to bother any of the passengers on either the outward or re turn journey (coming back you fly direct from JFK, incidentally. The runways are bigger there).

Flights are not cheap, starting at £1,999.60 one way, including taxes, fees and charges. And for that you’d expect something special.

Seven minutes from tarmac to taxi? If you were stepping out with hand luggage, probably. I had a bag to collect so it took just a little longer.

Twelve minutes? I want a refund.

Last updated: 12:40pm, November 5 2009