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As debate rages over the futures of Heathrow and Gatwick, London’s smallest airport is quietly undergoing big changes of its own. By Philip Heard
Eleven years after starting up at London City, British Airways has become the airport’s largest operator – and is growing again this winter.
From the end of October, British Airways CityFlyer will operate a network of 26 routes, including the new destination of Dublin and extra frequencies to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Zurich and Amsterdam.
With three additional aircraft arriving in the last six months, the airline now has 17 Embraer jets at the diminutive Docklands airport and is offering 30 per cent more seats than this time last year. Passenger numbers have more or less doubled since 2009. Meanwhile, the niche New York JFK service, City’s only long-haul route, is celebrating five years as a rare success in business class-only flying.
It’s a far cry from 2003, when the BA tailfin appeared at City for the first time and the network consisted of just two destinations.
Adam Carson, managing director of BA CityFlyer says: “We have grown considerably over the past decade as more and more customers enjoy the unique experience of flying to and from City.”
Transport links to London’s financial hub are rapid and check-in times refreshingly brisk. It takes just 15 minutes for passengers travelling with hand baggage to move from a kerbside taxi to the airside lounge. Executive Club members with hold baggage flying in from Edinburgh and Glasgow can arrange to leave their bags on the carousel to be picked up and delivered to a London address in a matter of hours – and at no cost – by baggage concierge service AirPortr.
Chris Nash, customer experience manager for London City Airport, says: “We’re trialling the service on these two routes but hope to roll it out to other destinations from London City in the future.”
Its size, location and convenience all help to give City a sense of exclusivity.
The Embraer fleet, a mix of 98-seat 190s and 76-seat 170s, is one of the youngest and greenest in the business. They offer distinctive 2x2 configurations and, as at Heathrow and Gatwick, a premium cabin for European services.
Managing director of finance free-sheet City AM Lawson Muncaster makes the weekly commute from Edinburgh to City, and is a big fan of the Embraer.
“I really like them, particularly the 2x2 seating,” he says. “It’s much roomier. I’m 17 stone, and being stuck in the middle seat of the old aircraft made you feel your weight.”
The twice-daily JFK service is flown by two 32-seat Airbus A318s, that are specially modified to cope with City’s short runway, using Concorde’s old flight numbers. Design guru Stephen Bayley is a fan of the service and the convenience: “I like walking to the plane across the tarmac,” he says. “I specially like walking to the plane when it is BA001 to JFK and you have been given a glass of Champagne at the gate.”
You can’t get slicker than that.