The skies between London and New York will always hold a special place in my heart. I fly them with great frequency to this day, and bridging the distance between the two great cities brought my wife and I together. Looking back on those days, I remember rushing to the computer if a $800 round trip economy ticket went on sale. At the time, it was a total bargain. The planes weren’t all that new, the food wasn’t ever going to be good, but it was still exciting.
In 2019 however, that’s all changing. As British Airways and Virgin Atlantic begin to battle it out, so too are United, Delta, American and Norwegian, with new aircraft, seats, amenities and catering worth eating. There’s never been a better time to fly between New York and London, in any cabin. Here’s a breakdown of the “why” – by cabin…
As I mentioned, I once rushed to the computer for any round trip economy deal circa $750-$850. At the time, it was about as “low as it go”. Today, the prices you could find right this very moment are a mere fraction of that, often around $300 or £269 round trip, if purchased in advance, thanks in part to Norwegian’s emergence on the route, forcing prices down by all airlines.
The seats haven’t changed much, abut they may be a bit better, thanks to new screens, USB ports to stay charged and so forth, but really – there’s never been a better time because it’s never been more accessible to make the 3,451 mile journey. There’s never been a more economical time to fly long haul and to make that happen, the only thing that’s been taken away is the checked bag. A carry on bag is more than enough, no matter what anyone tells you.
And as far as passing time goes, more airlines are offering wifi between New York and London, some like Delta, with free “message only” connections which allow you to chat with friends for the duration of the flight. Expect the wifi to continue getting faster, to the point where you can stream Netflix from any device.
Premium economy is a cabin which has experienced serious makeovers in recent years. For people who travel domestically in the US, it’s not nicer than most domestic “first class” seats, and if you fly up front in Europe, it’s definitely a whole lot more comfortable than what you find in “business class”. It’s also come down in price dramatically, from regular fares around $2000 round trip to many dipping under $800 in present day. With up to 2 checked bags included, the value can be fantastic.
In the grand scheme of things, premium may only be marginally more comfortable or spacious than what travellers once enjoyed on TWA or Pan Am in the swinging 60’s, but in today’s world, it’s a sweet spot, thanks to dipping prices and increased amenities as stiffer competition looms.
British Airways just refurbed their premium offering with new blankets, amenity kits and upgraded food. Virgin Atlantic consistently tops “best premium economy” rankings. American, Delta and United are now following suit, introducing current generation seats with high end soft touches, big screens and excellent legroom. For any frequent fliers, premium economy also puts you in prime position for any upgrades to business class, since it’s the smallest cabin, and also the one airlines are most happy to sell upgrades for.
There’s no cabin that’s experienced a more prodigious rise than business class. Those recliner seats are now fully flat beds, and the best new generation are bringing privacy doors in 1-2-1 configurations that rival some first class. But why stop there? Airlines have brought in bedding partnerships, such as United and Saks Fifth Avenue, Delta and Westin, British Airways and The White Company, American and Casper and so forth. In short: you should actually expect a good nights sleep on these flights.
And price? Yeah, it, like all other cabins is coming down too, particularly for flights originating London. As uncertainty looms over the UK’s position in Europe, London has become a central flight deal hub in 2019, which is something that’s never been the case. Business class returns have been offered from £1000 per person in sales as recently as last week, and with what you’re getting – it’s tempting in a way that’s incredibly hard to avoid, if you can swing it.
Hyperbole aside, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have once again squared off on this route, this time in the business class cabin. On September 10th, Virgin Atlantic is set to debut their all new A350 with totally redesigned upper class suites and loft bar. Yes, it has a social area and bar on board, but you’ll need to be in business to enjoy. In response, British Airways is bringing their highly touted new Club Suite onto select New York flights from October. In response to those airlines kicking things off, United has pledged all Polaris flights on New York – London, and Delta is in the process of retrofitting their own planes to latest generation suites as well.
With business class getting a first class makeover, there’s only one direction for first class, at least for the airlines which continue to operate the cabin. United has all but relinquished their first class cabin in favour of Polaris business class. Delta and Virgin are both business class only, which leaves British Airways and American alone with first class on the route.
In order to help justify the added expense, British Airways is promising a new first class suite in the coming years with the Boeing 777X, and has already launched soft touches, such as fine bone china and menus from celebrated British chefs like Tom Kerridge. With the addition of the new Club Suite, it’s harder to justify first for the time being, but in response, prices are doing what you’d hope.
It’s been possible in recent months to bag first class flights between New York and London, especially on London originating itineraries from £1500 per person, which is about half the price of a standard walk up business class fare. It may be years before we see a new exciting seat, but for the time being, if sitting in the nose of a Boeing 747 is on your bucket list, it’s far more palatable than usual.
Connecting two of the world’s largest financial capitols means that there are demand people with highly specific timing requirements at all times of day. This makes the skies between New York and London a frequency heavy destination, which basically means that there’s a flight every hour, or near that. Leaving New York, there’s a morning flight which gets you into London the same day, and leaving London there are flights that get you into New York before lunch, or just in time for bed, and pretty much every time in between.
When it comes to jet-lag, which I’d argue is near its worst between these two time zones oddly enough, newer aircraft such as the Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350, and the Boeing 787 Dreamliners used by United, Norwegian and British Airways are making big headway. Mood lighting helps to acclimatise passengers to the changing hours and better cabin pressure helps the body recover. We’ll see more new planes roll onto this highly valuable route – British Airways makes more than 1 billion a year on it alone – in the coming months.
On both sides of the passport control and immigration aisle, things are actually getting better too. US citizens can now use e-gates in the UK, which are a dramatic improvement, and in the US, kiosks are speeding up the process, however slightly. With Global Entry available to UK citizens, it’s also a wise time to invest in this time saving gem, especially since it includes TSA PreCheck for domestic flights.
There’s Never Been A Better Time
Whatever cabin you find yourself in, it’s never been more affordable, nor has it been easier to travel between the two countries, at least by air! There’s no sign of these great travel deals dissipating any time soon, and with increased competition battling it out, expect cabins to improve in the meantime.
If you’ve been thinking about it, here’s a guide to NYC, here’s one for London, and here’s the best time to visit New York for perfect weather. it does get a bit extreme, after all.
What are you most excited for on the New York to London route?