The London offices of Civilian are in Hackney, East London, and the New York office is in midtown Manhattan. Mark C.O’Flaherty flew British Airways from London City to JFK and Neil Stewart flew from London Heathrow. Mark left the office one hour before Neil to make the LCY morning flight, and arrived at the New York office 90 minutes before Neil. The time difference might be negligible, but what about the rest of the experience…?
MCO (London City): It takes me 20 minutes to get from my desk to London City Airport – the only airport that serves London that doesn’t fill me with absolute misery and dread. I’ll do anything to fly from LCY rather than LHR, and I’ll do anything and do it on rollerskates, in drag, singing “Roll out the Barrel”, to avoid Gatwick or Stansted. As for Luton – I’d rather swim to my destination. Check in for the all-Club World British Airways London City to New York flight can be done 15 minutes before take off (or 20 with checked-luggage). I gave it an hour, “just in case”, and of course whizzed through check-in and security in about four minutes. So I went to twiddle my thumbs in the lounge.
NS (London Heathrow): Masochistically, I rather enjoy the 80-minute underground journey from my local(ish) Piccadilly Line stop to whichever of Heathrow’s various terminals I’m to fly from. Yes, it almost always takes longer than you’d planned for; yes, by the time you alight you may be halfway through the book that was meant to last you the whole flight. But it’s quite nice to count off the dozens of above-ground stations on the last stretch – including the triptych of Hounslows, where time seems to slow to a crawl – while the rain crashes against the windows and you think happily of overseas climates in the near future. Plus, this time, a fluke of timing and/or the enduring memory of running through T5 last time I was flying out of London left me with time to spare at Heathrow.
MCO (London City): British Airways London City to JFK flight has taken the old Concorde number of BA001 – which is thrilling to see on the boarding pass – but I didn’t turn up expecting a version of one of the BA Concorde Lounges. The reasons why London City Airport is such a good bet (with few marauding families and clueless tourists on their way to stag parties) is down to its size. And that doesn’t allow for the kind of lavish lounges you’ll get over at Terminal 5 in LHR. The BA Club lounge here is basically one of the usual LCY gates, tarted up with soft seats, magazines, nibbles and champagne. For what it lacks in terms of spas and sculpted water features, it makes up for in intimacy. Boarding an A380 these days feels like a tense military operation. Boarding the 32-seater A318 at London City is as close to flying on a private jet as you’ll get on a scheduled flight. And, while my flight was taking off at 09.45am, as soon as one passenger got stuck into the champagne, everyone else in the lounge did too. In BA Club World, there’s always an amnesty on what constitutes an appropriate time for Taittinger.
NS (London Heathrow): The Galleries lounge at Terminal 5 is big, bright, unfussy and comfortable. Semi-opaque screens printed with cod-Rennie Mackintosh flower motifs divide the large room into smaller areas; there is the usual panoply of hot and cold dishes available to feed guests who might be treating their time in the Galleries lounge as an opportunity for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a happy conflation of all three (guilty: I had a croissant and a ladleful of Malaysian curry).
MCO (London City): My flight (pictured, top) was around half full – I had much of the rear of the aircraft to myself. The seats are big, leather, and luxe. And there’s none of the wobbly arm rest that I find so annoying on regular BA Club World. Looking from the back of the cabin to the front, the space really does have a calm private jet feel. There aren’t hoards of budget travellers trampling through the cabin on their way to Economy, and there’s no mad scrum for overhead lockers.
NS (London Heathrow): Club World seats aboard the A380 feel more like cubicles, arranged in pairs but facing in opposite directions to one another, like upscaled love seats. A semi-opaque sliding screen in the divider allows for privacy, or you can wind it down to chat to your neighbour. TV screen, footrest, and tray table are all cleverly stowed, with press-button releases and none of that awkward hauling-out-the-armrest you sometimes have to deal with elsewhere.
MCO (London City): There’s an appetiser and another glass or two of champagne offered on the first leg of the journey – a short hop over the Irish Sea. The big selling point for the morning BA001 flight is that it refuels at Shannon, and you pass through US immigration on Irish soil. Having spent literally hours with my jaded eyes rolling to the back of my head standing in the international arrivals line at JFK, I can’t stress enough what a selling point this is for me. Conversely, the later BA003 flight gets the refueling without the clearance – which makes me wonder who on Earth would book that rather than BA001.
Passengers with luggage wait in a small holding pen until it has all passed through security, and then there’s quick whizz through a metal detector (no mardy, 300lb, Chipotle-stuffed TSA employees to be seen) and the cheeriest version of US passport control I have ever encountered. I asked the chap behind the counter if the Shannon border control service for BA passengers will continue indefinitely. “Oh we really hope so! We LOVE IT here!”
Back on the flight, we continued on to New York in a haze of champagne and relatively fine dining, with BA iPads stuffed with AVOD (I opted for umpteen episodes of Girls, followed by Victor Victoria on my laptop). My only issue with the inflight service was that there was no shortbread available. And I’m rather partial to shortbread. Oh, the humanity! I had also had some anxiety about how smooth the flight might be. The smaller the plane, the bumpier the ride – and looking at the A318 on the runway at London City Airport filled me with Denzel Washington-at-the-helm horror. In the event, there were a few rumbles, but nothing significant. Oh – and lest I forget. This route is unique in offering inflight internet connectivity. Which I pointedly pretended didn’t exist. The idea of spending a whole flight tending to work emails would make me lose the will to live.
NS (London Heathrow): Reader, a confession: with singularly poor timing, I fell unwell just before flying out to New York, and so spent a good two thirds of the outward journey dozing or fully asleep. I can tell you nothing of the food, other than that I was sorely disappointed to miss out on the inflight meals. The fold-out bed is a proper length – no awkwardly scrunched body parts or feet hanging over the end of the bed – and comfortable; the quilted coverlet is cosy and, vitally, does not leave stray filament threads all over your clothes.
Details I gleaned in patches of alertness: the entertainment system is fearsomely comprehensive – you could spend about an hour just looking through the options – with a mix of new and classic TV and movies, among these a bunch of shows you’ve never heard of (David Mitchell and Robert Webb in Ambassadors, anyone?). But no 30 Rock! I opted for Family Guy reruns I’d seen a hundred times. Part of the pleasure of AVOD at 30,000 feet is to fire up TV shows that you know like the back of your hand, and then pay them scant attention while you flick through Vanity Fair and have another glass of champagne.
Slightly bafflingly, I was directed to use the toilets in World Traveller (Economy class). I went, clutching my J-class kitbag full of Elemis products, with trepidation. If rerouting me into Coach was an attempt to generate envy in those passengers watching glamorous Club World customers push through the curtains, I doubt sure my flu-ridden fizzog had the desired effect.
MCO (London City): There’s a distinctly backstage feel to arriving at one of the JFK’s domestic terminals. There’s none of the hustle and bustle you get when four giant steel birds all land within ten minutes of one another at an international gate and spew out passengers, all sprinting to passport control. I strolled off, buzzing from far too many flutes of fizz, picked up my cases at the carousel, and was in a cab heading to downtown Manhattan, all in under five minutes. I felt a little sad that the flight was over, and wondered how I could ever contemplate crossing the Atlantic any other way in future. I also contemplated just what is says about how unnecessarily unwelcoming American immigration is, that an airline can continue to offer a premium service that seems based largely on managing to circumnavigate it.
NS (London Heathrow): I lucked out, as they say: having spent my waking hours on the flight alternately envying those lucky London City customers who go through immigration in Shannon and can cruise straight through JFK and into their Uber limo, on landing I did the whole pretending-you’re-not-running-through-the-airport (aiming to beat the immigration queue) thing to no purpose: there were four people ahead of me and I was saying thank you to the customs officer with unusual sincerity after all of about four minutes’ wait. Bleary-minded from the time differences I might have been, but even half-awake I knew enough to make note of this stroke of luck – you probably only ever experience this once in a lifetime. C