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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?

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.


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Comments (101)

  • Chris Jones says:

    Flying from Vienna to Manchester on Friday (via Frankfurt as no UK flights can land in Austria)

    Will see how Austrian and LH handle the situation.

    • J says:

      You will still need to self isolate/show a negative test?

      • Anna says:

        Why, are Austria and Germany not on the “safe” list?

        • Chris Jones says:

          I live in Austria. I have to get a test to return to Austria. Both Austria and Germany on UK SAFE list no issue getting in only getting back need test.

          • Anna says:

            That’s what I meant, your original post said you are flying TO the UK, so’s J’s question about isolating doesn’t apply.

  • The Lord says:

    Good insight. How full was the flight?

  • Lumma says:

    On the way to Heathrow this morning to fly up to Newcastle. Will see how that compares.

  • Ralf says:

    What about the other important SARS2 pre-caution (Air circulation)? Were people encouraged to open the vents above their heads? Or are Embraer 190 not equipped this way?

    • Rhys says:

      Definitely wasn’t mentioned, but I can’t remember if there were vents!

    • Peter K says:

      Air circulation is only good if the air is replaced frequently.

  • Vicky says:

    I flew from Stansted yesterday and my experience was very different.

    There was no enforcement of masks, duty free was open, couple of food places were open and packed and no masks required. The waiting areas were full and all seats were taken. The only shop doing a one in one out was Boots which seemed utterly pointless. WH Smith had a separate entrance and exit but limit on number of people and it’s a tiny shop.

    No distancing while boarding and the flight was full and then delayed by 90 mins and then had to swap planes with loads of people hot and fed up the masks soon came off. Food and drink served during the flight so off came the masks again. There were menus but as we swapped planes someone forgot to bring them. The food was toasted sandwich, cold sandwiches or mac n cheese and not one crew member wore gloves.
    People up and down for the loo as normal.

    There definitely wasn’t any personal protection packs, not even an anti bac wipe to be seen.

    Disembarkation both times was everyone standing up in the aisle as it always is and nothing was done by rows at either end.
    At Palma airport it was very quiet and we passed straight through. Can’t say I noticed any temperature checking at either airport.

    • Simon says:

      That’s absolutely incredible! Internal respiratory infections are the main cause of recent spikes – meat processing factory, garment factory, hospital training session. I can’t see myself travelling on a plane until a vaccine comes along or the process is considerably safer and better controlled. Stay safe everyone!

    • Princess says:

      Hi Vicky, did you use the Escape lounge? I was told it was reopening yesterday.

    • Peter K says:

      Which airline?

      • jamie says:

        +1 yeah seems an obvious detail !!

        • James says:

          Yes, would be great to know which airline Vicky. Thanks. Can’t see me on a plane anytime soon hearing things like this… Amazing how many people seem to think the virus has gone and it’s back to business as usual.

          • Novice says:

            I second this sentiment.

            I’m not flying till I get vaccinated unless it’s a private jet or helicopter.

            Good motivation to get rich now. 😂

          • Lady London says:

            There wont be a vaccination. Any attempts at one will be initially dangerous. At best any injected vaccine for this only be partially effective, short term effective and maybe close to completely ineffective in some of the more vulnerable individuals whilst randomly actually killing a few recipients.

            For a long time reinforcing the immune system may help some and probably in the medium term taking something that makes our bodies inhospitable to it might work. We may be lucky long term and discover something simple gets rid of it.

            But no, Mumny is not going to come along with a vaccine that’ll fix it soon.

          • Novice says:

            @Lady London, be more optimistic. Yes, I’m not keen on the shortcuts that may be taking place but I’m a believer of science. My comment was meant to be humourous as I conveyed the rich will be better off.

            And I don’t appreciate the dig about my Mum needing to save me. Funnily enough, now that I have never mentioned anything personal (age), a lot of commenters are alluding to it.

            Maybe I shouldn’t comment at all. It is easy for judgemental ppl to comment behind anonymity.

          • Nick_C says:

            @Novice – it’s not always easy to follow which comments relate to which posts, but LL’s comments about mummy were not made in connection with your post!

            This is friendly place most of the time. If you think someone is having a go at you, you have probably misunderstood.

          • Novice says:

            It’s not the first time. I actually already stopped commenting because of the abuse I was getting for my comments. I usually just comment about hotel reviews now. But this was important topic about masks so I wanted to share my research into the subject.

            Was trying to do some good.

          • Lady London says:

            @Novice the reference to Mummy not coming along soon to fix it with a vaccine was generic. Since this started we’ve had constant references to oh, a vaccine will fix it, we’ll all be saved by a vaccine etc when it’s not that simple

            Feline coronavirus has been around for ages no success in vaccine. Some recent vaccines and medications for humans were rushed, much touted by governments as panaceas and killed people. I am highly suspicious of the relationships between big pharma and government (corruption etc) and doubt governments always operate to strict scientific truth. I have met a few scientists who were frustratingly ignorant.

            “Mummy” (government or pharma or anyone with authority you desperately want to make it better) is not going to fix it for you soon. We need to take responsibility for ourselves as you did @Novice and also try to protect others. There is no hope of a safe widespreadly-effective vaccine anytime soon. So everyone needs to man up.

            I suspect you are a writer in a scientific field @Novice. Did you believe those early comments about a vaccine potentially being available towards the end of the year ?

      • Vicky says:

        Jet2

    • Lady London says:

      Which airline? Ryanair!

      Those gates at STN arent big enough to take even half a flight with social distancing. Even on normal times tgr gatea often are rammed, packed with people plus a 200 metre queue outside of the gate that cant fit into the gate. Thats without social distancing and in one area there are 2 runs of 6 gates opposite each other like tnis. Other areas have even smaller gate areas and are even more packed.

      I just dont think Ryanair snd Manchester Airports Group (the owner of Stansted) have even thought about this based on info in @Vicky’s comment.

      • Peter K says:

        Vicky said it was Jet2.

        • Lady London says:

          yes, seen that later. Ryanair was a better guess as they must have what 90%,? of the flights usng Stansted.

          The poor amount of space at STN gates would affect any airline though. It’s a hugely overcrowded airport particularly in the central area airside.

  • Jacob says:

    Any recommendations as to which mask type is comfortable for wearing (for a longer time)?

    • Novice says:

      Airinum are best. I wear it.

    • Jay H says:

      I’m quite the fan of the reusable ones with filter from challenge the norm. The comfiest mask I’ve ever worn.

    • Harry T says:

      I like my Wolford one. Glasses don’t steam up, fairly comfy. Trimming my beard down made a big difference too 😂

  • Jeff 99 says:

    Shouldn’t really be a surprise as very few people are travelling as at any given time a reasonable chunk of passengers will be returning home from a holiday in London/UK. There isn’t any data to suggest that people are coming to London from abroad. (West End football has been down 75%/80% YOY over the last couple of weekends).

    • Jeff 99 says:

      *shouldn’t be a surprise that not many people are travelling

  • Olly says:

    Flying from Heathrow T5 two weeks ago was a much busier experience than it sounds like you had at LCY, though was still a limited number of shops open. We too were handed the bags on the way out and the way back so that’s not bespoke to LCY flights.

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