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What I found when I flew on British Airways from London City Airport this week

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What is international flying like now that airports and airlines are reopening?

Since the Government eased restrictions on international travel last week airlines have been relaunching an increasing number of routes. Like everyone else, I was curious to find out what had changed as part of the travel experience. Would it be virtually the same as before or are we entering a whole new world?

BA CityFlyer, London City Airport and the Ibiza Tourism Board had the same idea and invited me to experience how airports, airlines and hotels are adapting.  There will be another article in a few days looking at the hotel I stayed at, and a chat with Robert Sinclair, CEO of London City Airport.

Getting to and through London City Airport

If you’ve been on public transport in recent weeks you’ll know how eerily quiet it is. Even at rush hour tube carriages are virtually empty, which makes social distancing easy. Getting to London City is as easy as it ever is, which for me involves hopping on the Northern Line and changing at Bank to take the DLR all the way east.

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

London City Airport station is much like a ghost town at the moment. I was one of only a handful of people to get off – it’s clear that travel is still at the very beginning of rebooting.

City Airport has introduced a number of measures to ensure that travelling is as safe as it possibly can be. There is a one-way system to enter the terminal building, which also includes a discreet temperature monitoring station. I wouldn’t have noticed this if the woman in front hadn’t been asked to go through again as she was wearing a hat!

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

The terminal itself is very quiet. I was surprised how few people were actually travelling. Whilst a handful of flights had already departed that morning there were only two scheduled mid-morning departures.

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

Security was a breeze, with no queue at all. Perspex screens have been fitted:

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

…although admittedly I was somewhat out of practice with the security process, almost forgetting to empty my pockets and take off my belt!

Whilst London City does have some duty free shops, these were virtually all closed:

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

Only WH Smith, Boots and a Caffe Nero were open, although it looks like the duty free boutiques are preparing to re-open as the lights were on and staff were busy.

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

Whilst waiting, I had a chance to chat with Robert Sinclair, CEO of London City Airport.  I will cover this in a separate article in a day or so.

Boarding

Boarding commenced by row number. Again there were perspex screens when scanning boarding passes as well as a couple of security guards ensuring that everyone is wearing a mask. I was told that on a previous flight one passenger had refused to wear one and was not permitted to board, so at least it is being enforced on board.

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

Flying BA CityFlyer

BA CityFlyer is an interesting operation, running autonomously inside the main airline.  It is based in Didsbury near Manchester and also has a base in Edinburgh, currently scheduled for closure as part of the British Airways coronavirus-related cuts.

BA CityFlyer operates a fleet of Embraer aircraft, primarily Embraer 190s.  These have 2 x 2 seating throughout.

It also means that Club Europe is of less value from London City Airport, since there is no British Airways lounge and you do not benefit from an empty middle seat.  The only upsides are better meals (the food from London City is generally seen as better than the Heathrow meals), seats towards the front of the aircraft and additional Avios and Executive Club tier points.

Inside my Embraer 190

Inside the aircraft everything was fairly normal. Whilst inflight magazines have been removed, safety cards were still available and looked brand new.

Before take-off the crew explained some of the new procedures in place, including the availability of a personal protection pack. The personal protection pack comes with a plastic bag for any rubbish:

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

Oddly, this wasn’t available at the seat but was handed out after take-off, which is less helpful if you want to use the wipes to wipe down your seat and tray table. Some readers on Instagram have said that these packs are available on boarding from Heathrow, so this may be a specific BA CityFlyer policy.

The crew also announced a reduced food service, which consisted of a snack and some water in economy. The cabin crew came round filling out these paper bags at your seat:

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

To be honest, I’m slightly confused what the paper bag is for since they are not pre-packed and the crew make up your meal kit there and then! It doesn’t reduce the touchpoints on the meal service (crew wear gloves, anyway) and simply appears to increase waste.

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

It is worth remembering that BA CityFlyer has NEVER introduced ‘buy on board’ catering.  The current service is little different to what went before, unlike on British Airways flights from Heathrow where the return of free snacks is a novelty.

Whilst the meal service is pretty basic, it does allow you the excuse to remove your mask. What freedom! After wearing a mask for almost 2.5 hours being able to take it off felt like an indulgence! Whilst masks are obviously a necessary part of travel at the moment, I can’t wait for the moment when we’ll be able to travel without one. For now, my advice is to pack one you are comfortable wearing for long periods on your journey.

Beyond this, the rest of the flight was just as you would expect.  Cabin crew encouraged us not to queue for the toilets in the aisle, and disembarkation was processed in rows, which avoided the usual mad rush of people trying to get their luggage out of the overhead bins.

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

Conclusion

All things considered, flying isn’t ‘normal’ at the moment but it certainly isn’t as strange as I thought it might be. The biggest change is the requirement to wear masks – beyond that, aircraft continue to take-off and land in the same manner as ever before, albeit at far reduced rates (for now….)

In the next few weeks BA CityFlyer will add more destinations from London City Airport.  The current schedule for July, subject to change, is:

Dublin – 5 weekly, starts 20th July
Edinburgh
 – 5 weekly, starts 20th July
Florence – 3 weekly, launched
Glasgow – 5 weekly, starts 20th July
Ibiza – daily, launched
Isle of Man – 6 weekly (this is a Loganair operated flight)
Malaga – 3 weekly, launched
Manchester – 2 flights on 31st July
Palma Mallorca – 3 weekly, launched

Thanks to London City Airport and BA CityFlyer for inviting us.

Next up: tales from Ibiza ……

How is London City Airport during coronavirus?

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Head for Points made a financial contribution to the Woodland Trust as part of this trip. The Woodland Trust creates and manages forests in the UK in accordance with the Woodland Carbon Code.

Comments (101)

  • NFH says:

    I saw your aircraft take off from my home, as well as the KLM flight that is also listed on your photo of the departure board. Oddly, FlightRadar24 didn’t show your destination. I was curious to know, so I looked it up later and saw it landing in Ibiza after an unnecessary detour over Mallorca.

    For those who were medically exempt from wearing face masks, did they ask for proof such as a doctor’s letter? This is not required on TfL for example.

    Was there any evidence of sanitising the security trays between each usage? These were reported as being infested with viruses long before COVID-19 struck: https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/airport-security-trays-viruses-germs-public-toilets-study-helsinki-finland-a8523596.html

    • Rhys says:

      They use a long lasting anti-microbial/viral coating that lasts for a year on surfaces!

      • Charlieface says:

        Doesn’t help if the bacteria are living in the dirt stuck on…

  • Lottie says:

    We flew from Stansted to Italy a week ago (Ryanair) And it was very quiet, masks were enforced both airport and plane and we were encouraged to use the vents. Only boots and WH Smith open with one in one out policy, so queues but they went pretty quick and there wasn’t much else to do anyway! Flight was sold out, just a few empty seats between non family members, back in to .london there were only a handful of passengers. No menus on board they just told you what they had in stock. Boarding was priority first and disembarking everyone was standing in the aisles as normal. Doors weren’t shut until the very last minute and opened very fast to get fresh air circulating. To use the toilet you pressed the call button. Luckily we had early/late flights so we just slept with our masks on.

  • Roosit says:

    Rhys,
    Thank you for this article. I find there is real uncertainty at the moment what flying is like and whether we should or shouldn’t return to normality on this subject, so it’s great to hear first-hand experience.
    However, for me the main concern is on board the plane, rather than the airport (esp. at City). You mentioned only a handful of people in the terminal building but clearly at boarding there are more in your picture. How full was the flight? Do you know (and this may of course come out in your interview with the CEO) whether BA Cityflyer and other airlines are reducing the number of people on their flights even if there was more demand? Are rows and/or seats being kept empty?
    Thanks again!

    • Josh says:

      I’ll imagine BA will fly full flights if the demand is there. During these times they want to get as much money as they can.

    • Rob says:

      They will sell all the seats if they can.

      Based on current London numbers about 1 in 12,500 people have coronavirus. This means you have a 1% chance that someone on your aircraft is infected (in reality, even better as most people who have it know they have it and don’t travel). I wouldn’t worry.

      FWIW, the Government of Jersey is assuming 1 in 7,000 who fly in test positive (there are flights from outside London to Jersey which is why the odds are lower). A grand total of 1 person has been found so far since flights resumed. I am in Jersey next week so have an interest in this ….

      • Peter K says:

        I appreciate that London City flyers will mostly be Londoners but other London airports will have travellers from all over the UK going to them. The official infection rate in London is therefore a bit irrelevant when determining your risk.

        Plus of course there are those flying in/out from other countries. You do not know the route they have travelled to get there so the % risk that they will have the virus.

        Finally, there is the personal damage to be risked by catching coronavirus. That is a personal assessment but if high then the % chance of catching needs to be weighted higher versus the benefit of flying.

        It’s not as simple as you are suggesting.

      • Jeff 99 says:

        “ even better as most people who have it know they have it ”

        Wrong.

        ONS studies have found around 70% of people who tested positive in their study didn’t have symptoms.

        • Heathrow Flyer says:

          It’s a moot point that asymptotic carriers can transmit the virus.

          • Roy says:

            However we know that presymptomatic individuals can transmit it. I.e. you can pass it on during the couple of days before you get the symptoms

          • Lady London says:

            They have been the worst transmitters if you read the reports. That, and kids who largely dont suffer from it or very little. are the superspreaders.

        • Charlieface says:

          The ONS have not taken into account false positives, which are a significant factor at the moment. These are obviously also most of the asymptomatic cases.

      • Simon Barlow says:

        You are right if restricting the view to just the aircraft. The bigger problems are check-in, the lounge, the toilets, the queue at the gate, the security lines, shops/restaurants/bars and for some the travel to and from the airports………

        • Lady London says:

          So other than that we’re all safe and it’s cushti then :-).

          Masks are about public confidence not protection. Governments have no choice. Economies need to get moving again otherwise the overall loss for the great masses will be far greater. So we have tbe farce of the mask while we all look away as luckily only some people are dying and that’s not us.

          • Nick_C says:

            If used properly, scientific opinion has moved to suggest they will help to prevent the spread of the virus.

            Although as most people don’t seem to understand how to use them (based on what I see on TV) they are probably not currently effective.

            Just as we had infomercials early one teaching us how to wash our hands properly, we now need to be shown how to use face masks.

          • Novice says:

            @Nick_C, True. I’ve been saying this for ages now. It is all in the details; the method. A bit like how ppl didn’t think they were doing anything wrong by washing hands for a couple seconds. “But I washed with soap, honestly, all over my hands”.

            It had to be drummed into ppl’s skulls that it is only clean if washed for over timed 20 secs. Same needs to be done for masks.

            A video should be made showing the complete procedure and shown as part of a campaign.

            This is the reason I’ve been told countless times since March that I should be a policy adviser. LMAO

          • Lady London says:

            Since lockdowns were eased and people started going around wearing masks, they’re not bothering with social distancing because they think they’re safe (them personally). Handwashing also reverting to quick rinse or max 2-5 seconds standing alongside people.

      • Roosit says:

        Thanks Rob. I appreciate comments below that it’s not the same from other airports but my main interest in flying this year is to see family which is one particular destination and available from LCY. The latter in turn had already been my favourite airport by far before the crisis and this has of course not changed, although I appreciate bigger airports are currently less busy as well. Your view is very helpful, thank you.

  • Charlieface says:

    I presume the ‘far reduced rates’ wasn’t referring to the prices…

  • marcw says:

    I’m “surprised” Rhys travelled ET.

    • Alex says:

      And not in the Emergency Exit row at least!

    • Rob says:

      BA freebie, take what you get!

      • marcw says:

        The point is someone suggested that they wouldn’t send their staff on work trips flying economy – as the risk catching COVID-19 was higher than flying Business.

    • ChrisC says:

      Lol complaints when trip reports are in premium cabins and complaints when they are in economy!

  • tony says:

    Thanks for posting this. Am flying to Palma with the family from City in a couple of weeks so nice to know what to expect.

    If it’s of interest, BA do seem to have had a reality check on the prices in the last few days, at least on my route, with some cheaper fare buckets opening up again.

  • Novice says:

    If there was no mask, this sounds actually better than before. No people encroaching on your personal space by standing in aisles, minimal contact, a few hygiene products (although it’s best to carry your own wipes etc)… But if a person could get used to wearing masks, this is perfect.

    • Jeff 99 says:

      It’s not difficult to get used to wearing a mask. Manning up and growing a pair is a good start.

      • Lady London says:

        they’re only supposed to be worn once and touched once we when putting them on.

        As soon as you take a mask off its not supposed to be woen again. Its suposed to be either thrown away (hygienically) or, if reusable, washed at 60 degrees for 30min or at 80 degrees for 20min.

        How many people are doing that? so germ-laden masks are being tragged around and handled by individuals who take them off to eat and then put the sane mask on instead of a fresh one.

        • Peter K says:

          Excellent point.

        • Jon says:

          I recall that was very much the advice back in the early days when mask-wearing was all about protecting the wearer. But isn’t the point now that they’re about protecting others, by reducing the amount and distance of the droplets we exhale (which could carry the virus). So while, yes, ideally one would wear the mask and not touch it until it was time to remove and dispose of it, in the context of protecting others, adjusting it or removing and re-wearing it is less of an issue (up to a point)?

          • Lady London says:

            mask wearing does *not* protect the wearer. It protects others max 5-15% for consimer masks. Every little helps of course.

            It”s essential to take the same precautions as if you and others near you were nit wearing a mask. And I’ll shrink away from you if you”re re-using a mask, waving it around, or leaving it lying around.

          • Jon says:

            Where are you getting 5-15% from, out of interest? Last I heard, the research seemed to be suggesting that wearing a mask reduces risk of Covid transmission by about 80%.

            Personally I’m not too worried about people adjusting or temporarily removing a mask – so long as they keep their distance while doing it and do it carefully / in a way that isn’t going to spray the contents everywhere. I’d rather everyone was wearing a mask and occasionally removing it temporarily than not wearing a mask at all 😉

          • Lady London says:

            @Jom I answered that for @Callum a while back. 80% is your fantssy that the governnent would like you to have, sorry. Even N95 and N100 masks, the professional mefical ones, only protect 95% and 100% respectively.

            I’m the same as you with people handljng their own masks if they’re over 2 meters awsy. In an aircraft seat on sn LCC ir in Y tge person next to me is 12 fo 18 inches away one third of a meter to less thsn half a meter) at best.

          • The Savage Squirrel says:

            Lady London, the N95/FFP2 and N99/FFP3 designations (there’s no such thing as an N100 and you need breathing apparatus with its own air supply rather than any sort of filtering mask to achieve 100% protection) are protection stats in terms of particle filtration FOR THE WEARER – although I’m intrigued by your dismissal of them as “only” 100% – how much protection are you hoping for??? 😀 Together with quoting these figures in the context of protecting the others it suggests either poor understanding or misuse of the science.(google scholar is free if you want to look at the proper stuff rather than generally very bad journalistic interpretations).

            The protection of others from yourself by a face covering is best looked at in terms of preventing droplet spread – as this is what you’re trying to achieve; wearing a cloth mask will not filter air and protect you very much at all – but that’s not relevant; public mask-wear is largely about altruism. There’s a paper from Illinois that shows that even using the thinnest rubbish T-shirt fabric as a mask will reduce droplet expulsion by 50%, while any double-thickness fabric (a so basically any sewed mask rather than a rag) gets up to 96% – pretty good!

            In this context home-made face coverings IF worn (a big if) and if worn correctly (stop poking your nose out people!) are highly effective in reducing droplet spread of Covid19. There’s a paper from New York that models 80% mask-wear convincingly with some fairly conservative assumptions and still suggests it could reduce the death rate by 2/3rds.

            That would be 30,000 lives saved in the UK if mask advice was more timely. Something sad to ponder :(.

          • Ming the Merciless says:

            @ savage squirrel. Thanks for a fantastic post.

          • Dave says:

            Savage Squirrel is spot on. The main aim of mask wearing is not to protect yourself but to protect others from the spread of droplets. Therefore it doesn’t really matter if you’re wiping your hands with bacteria before/after touching mask etc

          • Lady London says:

            Nice post @Savage Squirrel very encouraging.
            I must correct my non-UK doctor though – the last time I saw her I asked if the mask she was wearing was an N100 and she said yes

        • Rob says:

          My wife leaves hers sitting on the table in hallway …. not sure she’s ever replaced it.

          • Lady London says:

            Quite.

            I have a disposable one next to my seat in the car. It has occurred to to me that since I go out usually with a 7-14 day gap currently, the virus on it, uf it had it, should be dead. Still feels a bit yeeuch though.

        • Novice says:

          @Lady London, you are absolutely right. Also taking them off and putting them on has an actual procedure. You can imagine; I would know.

          • Novice says:

            @LL, My comment is about where you rightly pointed out the mask situation.

          • Novice says:

            I also agree with @Jon.

            @Lady London, your numbers are not accurate. I have done research as you can imagine and I’m following scientific data and the truth is although it is harder to measure, wearing masks helps the wearer to a great degree as well as others.

            My advice is if you are about to wear mask… wash hands or rub alcohol gel in hands, put covering on and if you may touch always wash hands/ rub gel before and after touching mask…. take mask off from ear handles, wash hands/gel, quickly do whatever you may then wash hands/rub gel and put mask back on if reusable by handles (if not try to use clean disposable) then finally rub gel/wash hands…. Also keep the reusable mask in a safe, clean place when off…

            if you follow this scientific procedure…more likely you/those around you are safe…my sources are not quoted as this is from reading all available scientific data. (I’m not a scientist; just an interested logical person)

            if you make it a routine like the touted singing happy birthday as washing hands; this is not hard.

        • Bob Holmes says:

          It’s a policy to maintain fear in the population. That’s all.

          • Jon says:

            No. It’s not. Please read the science. And wear a mask in public.

          • Jon says:

            This is doing the rounds on social media – puts it very well, I think:

            “When I wear a mask in public and in the shops , I want you to know that…
            🔵 I’m educated enough to know that I could be asymptomatic and still give you the virus.
            🔵 No, I don’t “live in fear” of the virus; I just want to be part of the solution, not the problem.
            🔵 I don’t feel like the “government controls me”. I feel like I’m an adult contributing to security in our society and I want to teach others the same.
            🔵 If we could all live with the consideration of others in mind, the whole world would be a much better place.
            🔵 Wearing a mask doesn’t make me weak, scared, stupid or even “controlled”. It makes me caring.
            🔵 When you think about your appearance, discomfort, or other people’s opinion of you, imagine a loved one – a child, father, mother, grandparent, aunt, uncle or even a stranger – placed on a ventilator, alone without you or any family member who is allowed at their bedside.
            🔵 Ask yourself if you could have helped them a little while wearing a mask.”

          • Lady London says:

            +1 @Jon. Regardless of the true scientific performance of various things we are told to do I will always do anything I can that might avoid exposure for someone vulnerable, even through people who themselves are less likely to suffer but may pass it on

      • Nick_C says:

        “It’s not difficult to get used to wearing a mask.”

        Do you wear spectacles? I went to the shops last week with my specs instead of my contacts. I kept having to lift my specs to see because they were constantly steaming up. After 15 minutes in Aldi, when I got back to the car my specs were literally covered in condensation. No way could I keep the mask on to drive to the next shop.

        Not a problem with contacts though.

        • Novice says:

          Yes this is a huge problem for eyewear wearing people. My personal advice is try to have a bandana style mask where the mask is fitted properly on top and leaves breathing place n bottom or wear a loose mask and a face shield I guess unless you are like me using the medical grade ones which are easier to breathe in.

          • Lady London says:

            Had a look round @Novice and the profiteering on those masks is immense.

            Plus I’m getting sick and tired of being asked £5 and £6 in suoermarkets for packs of nasty disposable masks that used to cost 10p each or 15p on a bad day.

            Since those masks and the requirement to wear them is mostly for show only, I’m planning to use some of my oldest silk scarves for masks. when i get time i might even cut some of them and sew them. it would be relatively easyto create 25 or so masks whuch woukd be at least as effective and a bit more comfortable and thus number I could use if Im out for a whole week then wash ‘rinse and repeat’.

          • Novice says:

            @Lady London, yes I agree about sellers trying to con people. But I believe everyone, if literate and of age, can read research.

            And silk or any material scarves/masks are as effective as disposable so I personally would rather wear my own scarf than disposable masks.

            But I wear Airinum which has skin that is washable and filters which are changed after their timed use. I was lucky I got mine when they weren’t selling depending on your place in a virtual queue. I was an early adopter as you may have gathered from my comments about OCD.

            I predicted the lockdown dates etc. and was in ultra-vigilance mode from as early as end of February. It is a running joke in my family.

            I think atm we are doing well due to the summer months. I’d be more cautious from Nov to Feb.

          • The Savage Squirrel says:

            Any mask with a moldable nose bridge (usually a thin metal strip) will completely solve the glasses-steaming problem. Mold it so that the nose pinch is tight and if there are two straps the upper one should be significantly tighter than the lower. That way it will naturally vent out sideways and down rather than up.

        • Harry T says:

          A mask with an adjustable nose bridge should allow you to keep your specs humidity free. You might also have to wear it higher on your nose than you might think and sort of test your glasses on top. I had the same problem when I used a useless Adidas mask with no adjustable nose bridge. The Wolford one I purchased for £17 has been comfortable and not caused issues with glasses (adjustable nose).

  • @mkcol says:

    During the safety demo, were pax advised to remove their face coverings before applying the oxygen mask in case of depressurisation?

    • Lady London says:

      You mean, as the plane fuselage cracks and people get sucked out at 38,000 feet, we must all remember to wear our masks?

    • Rhys says:

      They were

    • Lady London says:

      being serious, I can just about remember the safety briefing included ‘If masks drop, extinguish your cigarette before putting on your mask’