British Airways Replaced Concorde With A First Class-Only Airbus That Had To Refuel In Ireland

This or a supersonic passenger jet, you decide! - Photo: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto (Getty Images)
This or a supersonic passenger jet, you decide! - Photo: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto (Getty Images)

For more than 25 years, it was possible to fly from New York to London in under three hours, all while being pampered with first class luxury on the British Airways Concorde. Then, in November 2003, all that stopped. To try to recapture some of the luxury that came with flying Concorde, BA put on a special first class only flight from London to New York, and it was wild.

The service ran from 2009 until 2020, running up to twice a day and using the same BA1 to BA4 flight numbers that Concorde used to fly, according to Instagram user @abbiecheesey. The service was operated on two Airbus A318 aircraft that BA purchased specially for the route, and each was fitted out entirely with first class seats.

The interior of the plane was in a two-plus-two layout, meaning that each craft could carry 32 passengers at a time. Another unique factor was where the flights took off from. This wasn’t a service that ran from British Airways’ hub at Heathrow, which is about 45 minutes outside London, it ran from London City Airport, which is inside the North Circular highway that circumnavigates the capital.


However, where Concorde could take first class travelers direct from London to New York in just three hours, the revived BA1 service couldn’t quite manage that thanks to its takeoff and landing airport of choice. As Head For Points explains:

Thanks to take-off restrictions at London City Airport (Canary Wharf is directly in front of the runway) the A318 was not able to take-off with a full tank of fuel: the weight would prevent it from being able to climb steeply enough. This meant that the aircraft had to make a 40 minute refueling stop in Shannon.

That refueling stop was a blessing in disguise, though, as it made the most of a special feature of Shannon airport. Because Shannon is one of the few airports outside America to offer U.S. immigration services; passengers onboard could clear customs there. This meant they could arrive in JFK as domestic passengers and miss those horrendous passport queues once they were on U.S. soil.

However, the stop off in Shannon was only on the way from London to New York, so passengers would still have to clear UK customs when they were traveling home.

All in, a trip from London to New York on the specially-commissioned Airbus would take roughly 50 minutes to reach Shannon and then an additional seven hours to reach JFK. On the return trip, it was about seven hours and 15 minutes without the stopover.

Despite its heightened service and immigration advantages, the service didn’t prove to be for everyone. In 2016, BA sold one of the Airbus A318 aircraft that was operating the service and cut it down to just one flight a day. Then in 2020 it announced that the service would end for good.

Do you think that was a bad move on BA’s part and should it still be offering luxury flights from London to New York? Let us know in the comments below.

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