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.
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!
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.
Security was a breeze, with no queue at all. Perspex screens have been fitted:
…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:
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.
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 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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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 ……
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.
How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (June 2023)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.
You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:
Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard
Get 25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £10,000 Read our full review
Barclaycard Avios Mastercard
5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £20,000 Read our full review
There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:
British Airways American Express Premium Plus
25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review
British Airways American Express
5,000 Avios for signing up and an Economy 2-4-1 voucher for spending £12,000 Read our full review
You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 13th June, the sign-up bonus on The Platinum Card is doubled to 60,000 Membership Rewards points – and you get £200 to spend at Amex Travel too! Apply here.
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
60,000 points AND a £200 Amex Travel voucher until 13th June! Read our full review
Run your own business?
We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.
Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa
Get a 10,000 points bonus plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review
You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.
EDIT: Applications for this card are temporarily suspended due to IT issues with the British Airways On Business SME loyalty scheme.
British Airways Accelerating Business American Express
30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review
There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.
American Express Business Platinum
40,000 points bonus and a £200 Amex Travel credit every year Read our full review
American Express Business Gold
20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review
Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.