As always, this trip report can also be read with a few more photos on my blog
Following several weeks of planning, on a typically rainy early spring day in London, I finally settled on some form of itinerary for my long stopover in Uzbekistan as part of my June 2019 trip to Korea. Whilst I had hoped to fly with Air Astana from Heathrow to Tashkent via Nursultan, departing on a Friday evening, I soon found out that as per the summer 2020 schedule, this was the only day of the week lacking an Air Astana service. Hoping not to sacrifice a day of my holiday, I soon found Air Astana operated a Friday service from Paris CDG to Nursultan, with the complete trip to Uzbekistan proving to be slightly cheaper than from Heathrow (trip reports for these flights are to follow soon-ish). Given the proximity and entrenched links between the two European capitals, I was confident that getting from London to Paris CDG in time for my 1920 departure would be neither difficult nor costly and thus I soon went ahead and booked my flights to Uzbekistan.
What I had forgotten was that my departure date fell on the Friday of one of the UK’s three annual half term school holidays and thus prices for tickets that day seemed to cost a little more than usual. Nevertheless, the majority of fares for both flights and Eurostar services fell under £100. Of the cornucopia of viable options, Vueling served to be the cheapest with a 1300 departure from Gatwick and a 1515 arrival into Paris CDG which amounted to a total of £64 (including baggage fees). However, with some Avios to spare and no specific intention to use it otherwise, I had a look at British Airways’ services from London City – choosing this airport over Heathrow due to its convenience and my desire to sample the infamously superior economy product of BA Cityflyer. After doing a search on the airline’s app, I was presented with three options - a morning, afternoon and evening departure. Combining this with 2500 Avios, I could reduce the fare to £42.50 (including luggage) which seemed like a good deal. However by coincidence, not only was this to be the airline’s final day of operations on the route, the flight was to be operated by one of WDL Aviation’s vintage BAe 146-200s. Given the rarity of the aircraft type, I booked this right away with no hesitation! The only slight downside to this being the fact that I would have to trundle across Paris from Orly to Paris CDG, however with plenty of time between flights, this was of little concern.
Once I had paid for the flight, I then decided to book seats. After being presented with the aircraft’s seat map, I was delighted to find the seats in a 2-3 configuration. This suggested that the aircraft operating the flight would not be the same as the aircraft that operated the WDL Aviation operated service from Nuremberg to Paris CDG I had taken back in 2017. In fact, thanks to the fact that each aircraft’s seat map is displayed on WDL’s website, I was able to narrow this down to D-AZFR. Returning to the seat booking process, as with most carriers the cost for reserving these decreases as you head towards the rear of the aircraft – the cost of those in rows six and seven being £17, eight to fourteen £13 and £8 for the remainder of the jet. Opting to choose seat 15A, I soon selected this and paid the £8 fee, bringing the total cost for the flight to £50.50.
Designed with convenience in mind, in spite of my ‘early’ departure time of 0845, reaching London City Airport from the North London neighbourhood of Holloway with plenty of time to spare would not prove to be a difficult task. Connected to London’s transport network by its own dedicated station on the Docklands Light Railway and featuring on multiple bus routes, it would have been foolish of me to waste money on getting to the airport via an Uber or regular taxi. Having already completed my packing for a two week trip that would see me visit France, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Korea, Mongolia and Germany in that order, I woke up raring to go at 0530. Following a quick shower I checked Citymapper which revealed that there was no disruption on either of the two potential routes to the airport. These involved a short walk to Holloway Road station from where I could take the Piccadilly Line southwards to King’s Cross St Pancras, changing onto a Northern Line train, riding this several stops towards Bank before finally catching a DLR service eastwards to London City Airport. The alternative to this being a one-stop journey involving a longer walk to Highbury and Islington Station from where I could take a London Overground service to Stratford before boarding a DLR train to the airport. Seeing nothing but clear skies from my box room that morning, I opted for the latter option and at 0600 I left my home, making the twenty minute walk down a largely deserted Holloway Road. Contrasting with the empty streets, as I had expected, the Overground train was rather busy, transporting masses of tired-looking workers on their way home from their respective nightshifts, and almost equally tired-looking early commuters heading for a day of work.
Following a smooth transit in Stratford, I found myself heading into the heart of London’s Docklands onboard another crowded train. This time, many of those onboard appeared to be construction workers heading off to building sites across East London. No more than 55 minutes after leaving home, the driverless train gently pulled into London City Airport Station and I disembarked along with a mix of airport workers and passengers.
Catching an early morning London Overground Class 378 Capitalstar train to Stratford
Serving to prove that the airport was designed for a quick departure, almost immediately after leaving the station, a line of check-in machines can be found well before entering the main terminal building. Following a very quick walk, I found myself in London City Airport’s small check-in hall, where as I had expected given the morning rush, plenty of passengers could be seen. Fortunately most passengers appeared to be simply passing through on their way from the terminal’s entrance to security, lacking any luggage to check-in. Thus, few queues could be spotted at any of the terminal’s check-in desks.
With absolutely no views of the apron provided from the terminal’s landside area, I had no reason to delay parting with my bag and heading through security. Thus, as soon as I entered the terminal, I headed straight to BA Cityflyer’s check-in and bag drop-off zone. Getting the journey off to a good start, as soon as I arrived here I was warmly greeted by one of the incredibly friendly ground staff members. After scanning my mobile boarding pass and having my passport briefly checked, I printed off my luggage tag before fixing this to my small suitcase and sending this off into the airport. With this procedure over in no more than a minute, I soon found myself heading up the escalators and into the security area where several short queues were visible. Fortunately thanks to the efficient security staff and the fact that many of those in front of me appeared to be lacking significant amounts of luggage, I soon made it airside. All in all, my journey from the platform to the departure lounge took an impressive five minutes, proving that London City is perhaps the UK’s most efficient and compact international airport.
Given the business of the landside area, I expected the airside portion of the terminal to be equally as busy. This was the case however I found that an ample number of spare seats could be found and I soon bagged one near one of the terminal’s large windows, this allowed for fantastic views of the apron as I waited. With little else to do, for the next hour or so I surfed the internet and watched the constant stream of arrivals and departures outside. Once dominated by British Aerospace BAe 146 aircraft, today London City is ruled by E-Jets and that morning I saw a mixture of Embraer 175s and 190s from Alitalia, BA Cityflyer, Helvetic Airways, KLM Cityhopper, Lufthansa and LOT. These came in addition to a collection of Dash 8 Q400s, a Swiss Airbus A220, a collection of business jets, a single CityJet Avro RJ85 operated on behalf of Aer Lingus and British Airways’ all business Airbus A318. On a side note, I never fail to be impressed by the excellent work by both the ground crew and pilots at the airport who manage to park the aircraft in incredibly close proximity with collisions between these aircraft thankfully an incredible rarity.
For those not so interested in the selection of aircraft outside the terminal, considering that London City is very much an airport designed to be passed through quickly, there are a reasonable number of facilities on offer. Airside, these consist of four coffee shops, two bars, a restaurant and a branch of pharmacy chain Boots. As one ought to expect, fast and free wifi is available throughout the terminal and plug sockets of all shapes and sizes are omnipresent here. Last but not least, for the duration of my stay, I found the airport to be spotlessly clean and tidy.
At 0800 I watched as our plain-liveried BAe 146 could be seen decelerating down runway 27 before heading off and commencing its short taxi to stand 6 after its inbound flight from Paris Orly, breaking the near total hegemony of Embraers. As I had suspected, the aircraft operating the flight would be the same aircraft I had taken from Nuremberg to Paris CDG back in October 2017, the then sole WDL Aircraft operating for BA Cityflyer, D-AMGL.
Constructed at Hatfield Aerodrome, just 22 miles to the northeast of London City Airport as the crow flies, this BAe 146-200 first took to the skies in May 1986. This made the aircraft a little over 33 years old at the time of my flight and the thirteenth oldest active Jumbolino in the world. In June 1986, the aircraft was flown across the Atlantic and North America to its first home in Southern California where it flew for Aircal. Following the airline’s merger with American Airlines, the aircraft wore a hybrid AA-Aircal livery until 1989 when the aircraft was reregistered and painted into the silver livery of American Airlines. In 1994, the aircraft returned to Europe and was passed on to Malmo Aviation before in October 2001 being given a British registration and placed in storage at Exeter Airport. Fortunately, in April 2003, the aircraft took to the skies again with its current owner, Cologne-based WDL Aviation and since then has operated flights on behalf of a significant number of airlines across Europe. In the week prior to my flight, the aircraft had been operating a repetitive schedule of flights on behalf of BA Cityflyer, operating a total of 43 short flights connecting London City with both Dublin and Paris Orly, the total distance flown exceeding ten thousand miles, a little under the return distance between London and Los Angeles. On a side note, this aircraft is the same one that put WDL in the global spotlight after its infamous jaunt up to Edinburgh with a load of passengers who had hoped to be delivered instead to Dusseldorf!
Two quadjets on the ground at London City - a BAe 146 and Avro RJ85, a sight likely never to repeated
When our boarding time of 0815 arrived, passengers from the inbound flight had only just commenced disembarkation of the aircraft and so an on time start to boarding seemed impossible. After what seemed like a tiny number of passengers had made their way off the aircraft and walked the short distance to the terminal, several cleaners boarded the aircraft whilst outside refuelling commenced. Inside the terminal, a cluster of passengers could be seen waiting for the flight to Paris, however the number of passengers seemed to be rather small and most definitely far less than the 96 required to fill the aircraft. A surprisingly short time later at 0820, those passengers belonging to ‘group 1’ were invited to board the aircraft and five minutes later all other passengers were asked to come forward for boarding. However, in reality the aircraft was still being prepared for the flight and thus boarding had not actually commenced with passengers ending up in a queue on the stairs down to ground level. Once I had my boarding pass scanned, I ended up joining the queue and after several minutes of standing in line, the door to the apron was opened and passengers headed out to the aircraft. That morning, boarding occurred via both the front and rear doors and after snapping several pictures, I headed into the aircraft via the latter door.
Upon entering the rear galley, I was given a cold welcome by one of the two flight attendants serving passengers and ensuring a safe cabin that morning. Without any delay, I then turned left into the cabin where the aircraft’s old fashioned yet chunky and comfortable looking grey leather seats topped with red headrest covers could be spotted. Fortunately, I can confirm that these were as comfortable as they looked and, in an era of decreasing legroom, the amount of space offered by these was absolutely fantastic. Whilst being well above average age for a commercial passenger jet, the cabin appeared to have been very well maintained and I failed to spot any major signs of wear and tear. In addition, perhaps assisted by the light load of the inbound flight, the cabin appeared to be immaculately clean and I failed to note so much as a single crumb. Turning to the seat pockets, these contained a safety card and a plain sickbag but little else. Given the fact that the aircraft had been operating for BA Cityflyer for a little over a week prior to my flight, I was a little surprised at the absence of British Airways’ High Life magazine. Nevertheless, my first impressions of the aircraft were good and, given the short length of the flight and novelty of the vintage BAe 146, I did not need to turn to an inflight magazine for entertainment.
As I had expected, that morning the flight was far from full. In fact, I would estimate that no more than 35% of the seats onboard were filled and I was happy to see that I had a grand total of two empty seats next to me. Moving onto the demographics of this light load, judging solely by my fellow passengers’ attire, around half of those onboard were heading to France on business, and the other half for leisure. That said, of course, having failed to survey each and every passenger on their reasons for their trip, I may have been completely wrong about this. Those onboard came from a selection of nations, and alongside passengers from France and the UK, I noticed co-flyers from India, Japan, Korea and the US. Just before 0840 the captain’s calm and collected voice rang out through the cabin as he performed his welcome announcement in English detailing us of our flight time as well as the weather in Paris. This was then followed by a welcome announcement by the purser before a manual safety demonstration was performed by one of the two crew members whilst the purser read the instructions.
Despite the presence of French speaking crew on my previous flight with WDL Aviation, all announcements onboard the flight were conducted in English only. A short while after this safety demonstration came to an end, one-by-one the aircraft’s four small Lycoming ALF 502 engines quietly powered up into life and I began to see why British Aerospace marketed the BAe 146 as the Whisperjet.
At 0848 as the crew passed through the cabin ensuring all was ready for our departure, the BAe 146 taxied away from the flight line and headed towards the runway, arriving here a minute later. With no holding, the aircraft made an incredibly quick and powerful backtrack during which passengers would have been forgiven for assuming we were taking off. However, after a few moments, the aircraft darted off the runway and waited at the holding point at the runway’s eastern end. A couple of minutes later, a BA Cityflyer Embraer touched down before the aircraft taxied onto the runway. After a short wait whilst a KLM Cityhopper Embraer 190 taxied onto the runway and proceeded to the holding point. Once this jet was safely off the runway, at 0853 with the brakes still held, all four engines noisily roared into life before the brakes were suddenly released. This caused those onboard to be thrown back into their seats as we went down flying down runway 27 before the aircraft made a quick and sudden rotation as if the pilot flying was more used to piloting military fast jets. Unsurprisingly given our light load, by the time the aircraft reached the terminal, this was already firmly in the skies and so a good birds eye view of the aircraft waiting here as well as the Tate and Lyle Sugars factory just to the south of the airport.
Once the aircraft left London City Airport behind, the BAe 146 continued flying west allowing for decent views of the Thames Barrier as well as Greenwich where both the Cutty Sark, Old Royal Naval College and the Royal Observatory could be spotted. Around a minute after our swift departure, the aircraft banked to the right allowing for glimpses of the sights of Central London. As we passed over Stratford (East London, not Shakespeare’s hometown), the aircraft levelled off at 2700 before turning east and continuing its climb. As we left London behind the aircraft headed out over Essex, finally turning southwards near the town of Basildon before heading up into the clouds.
Not too long later, the aircraft emerged in the sunny skies above where the contrails of much larger jets ploughing the skies could be seen some distance above on their way between Europe and North America. At this time, the familiar scent of warming food, presumably for the Club Europe passengers at the front of the aircraft, wafted through the cabin and at 0905 the cabin crew member that had welcomed me on board the aircraft commenced the service for economy passengers, doing so from the rear of the aircraft.
BA Cityflyer is well known for the fact that unlike mainline British Airways flights, the carrier continues to offer a complimentary snack on all their flights. However, given the short length of the flight, I was unsure of whether this would just consist of a light snack such as a small packet of crisps, cereal bar or similar. However, upon reaching my row, I was delighted to be presented with three options - two meat and one vegetarian option. Opting for one of the meat options, I received a disposable plastic tray containing two slices of ham and cheese alongside a mini croissant, half an egg and a small tub of strawberry jam plus a single cherry tomato. This was served with either a tub of orange juice or water and I opted for the former. Overall, this light meal was of a more than reasonable quality and I was incredibly happy to receive this on such a short flight! Secondly, I ought to note that whilst the crew member handing out these containers to economy passengers had not made the best first impression during boarding, she conducted the service in a friendly and pleasant manner, thoroughly describing the various meal options to each and every passenger.
A short while after leaving the British coastline behind near Eastbourne, at 0913 our aircraft reached its cruising altitude of 23000 feet and the seatbelt signs were switched off. Seeing as I had no neighbours, I decided to make a quick trip to the rear galley to see what state the toilet here was in. Unfortunately however, after arriving here I found this toilet to be inoperative with the door to this locked and I instead headed to the front of the aircraft where a large queue had formed. After a long wait, twelve minutes after reaching our cruising altitude, at 0925 the seat belt signs were reilluminated and I returned to my seat having failed my mission – thankfully I was in no hurry to visit the facilities! Interestingly, one of the complaints by many of the passengers on board the aircraft who had inadvertently found themselves in Edinburgh two months previously regarded the inoperability of the toilets on board, so perhaps this is a common problem for this ‘vintage’ jet.
Some seemingly classic panelling/signage
By the time I returned to my seat, the hot drinks service commenced and I opted for a black coffee which was delivered to me in a British Airways branded paper cup. By this time, the clouds beneath had opened up a little and, despite the captain’s announcement of overcast skies in Paris, the weather appeared to be significantly better than in cloudy London. Below green fields and the occasional town could be spotted, however, from an aviation enthusiast’s point of view, the most interesting sight during this stage of the flight came at 1033 (French time) when our aircraft passed over the former USAF air base at Dreux-Louvilliers, a site now used by energy giant EDF. Only a short while after this the captain made the usual announcement asking the cabin crew to secure the cabin for our arrival and the two crew members passed around the cabin hastily cleaning up the remains of the meal service.
A couple of minutes after the above announcement was made, our aircraft turned towards Paris and began its long ‘straight in’ approach to Orly’s runway 06. As we sank downwards our flaps were extended resulting in quite some noise as we continued over the scenic countryside to the southwest of the French capital. Eventually, our aircraft reached the suburbs of Paris at which point our undercarriage was extended and we made what seemed like a steep approach to the runway. At 1045, 52 minutes after our departure from London, Flyer 54 Romeo gently touched down in France before gently slowing down and taxying off the runway at which point the purser welcomed us to Paris and thanked all onboard for choosing to fly with British Airways. From the runway, the taxi to stand M06 was incredibly quick and around two minutes after our arrival we pulled up next to a much more modern regional jet, a Hop! CRJ1000 and our four engines power down. Little did I know at the time, but just under two months later I would end up moving to Paris, and after an indirect routing from Birmingham to Orly via Bordeaux I would touch down in Paris Orly once again on that very neighbouring CRJ, commencing my life in the French capital. Back to the present, within a couple of minutes the L1 door opened and disembarkation commenced.
After thanking the crew members I headed down the steps and onto the bus. Having made the journey from London near the rear of the stubby Whisperjet, within a minute of stepping onto the bus, all passengers from our aircraft were aboard and we headed off towards the modern terminal, passing a host of Air France and Easyjet aircraft during the short journey. Once in the terminal it was a short walk to the immigration desks which thankfully were completely devoid of passengers. Holding an EU passport I was able to use the e-gates although for some reason they did not accept my document (perhaps in preparation for Brexit…semi joking). After heading to one of the manned counters I was able to enter France within about twenty seconds and headed down to the baggage claim area. After a smooth and efficient journey, my progress ground to a halt thanks to the fact that the few bags that had been placed in the hold for the flight took almost twenty five minutes to appear. Eventually, these arrived and I headed to the landside arrivals area, stopping first for a coffee before going across to the observation deck to kill some time before my journey to Paris CDG for my flight to Kazakhstan.
Whilst I could complain about the cold welcome I received when boarding or how only half of the aircraft’s lavatories were in service, instead my experience with WDL was rather pleasant. First and foremost our elderly aircraft was more than comfortable and importantly this appeared to be clean and in tip-top condition. Turning to the crew, the two flight attendants working the flight were for the most part friendly and worked incredibly efficiently to complete all the rounds of service on the short flight. Furthermore, I cannot ignore the fantastic fact that BA Cityflyer continues to offer something in the way of complimentary offerings whilst their parent airline has snubbed these in their Euro Traveller cabin in favour of a BoB service. Overall WDL Aviation provided a pleasant way of getting to Paris, and, whilst flying with the airline is not always the easiest of tasks given the nature of their operations, if I found out that they were operating one of my future flights on behalf of another carrier, I would be rather pleased. Finally, judging by the provision of breakfast I would not hesitate to book a flight with BA Cityflyer.
Sadly although not all too surprisingly given the aircraft’s age, the aircraft was placed into storage in December 2019.
OTHER TRIP REPORTS
Korea DomesticAir Philip ERJ-145 Gimpo-GwangjuAsiana Boeing 767 Gimpo-JejuAir Busan A320 Busan-JejuJeju Air Boeing 737-800 Busan-JejuJin Air Boeing 777-200ER Jeju-GimpoKorean Air Airbus A220-300 Gimpo-BusanKorean Air Airbus A330-300 Jeju to BusanKorean Air Boeing 747-400 Gimpo to JejuKorean Air Boeing 787-9 Gimpo-Jeju (INAUGURAL KOREAN AIR BOEING 787 FLIGHT)
Short HaulBek Air Fokker 100 Almaty-AstanaChina Southern Airbus A321 Beijing-Xi’anCityjet Avro RJ85 London City-CorkFar Eastern Air Transport MD-80 Taipei Songshan-MakungIberia Airbus A350 Madrid-Heathrow (INAUGURAL IBERIA A350 FLIGHT)Jeju Air Boeing 737-800 Daegu-BeijingJoy Air Xian MA60 Yantai-Dalian-YantaiMeridiana MD-80 Olbia-GatwickMIAT Mongolian Airlines Boeing 737-800 Busan-UlaanbaatarMotor Sich Yak-40 Kiev-OdessaLucky Air Airbus A320 Lijiang-KunmingSouthern Sky Airlines Antonov 24RV Almaty-Balkhash-AstanaThai Airways Boeing 777-300 Bangkok-PhuketTibet Airlines Airbus A320 Kunming-LijiangUkraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 Kiev-IstanbulV Air Airbus A320 Taipei-Busan
Medium HaulAir India Boeing 787-8 Incheon-Hong KongChina Eastern Boeing 737-800 Incheon-KunmingChina Southern Boeing 777-200 Urumqi-BeijingKorean Air Boeing 737-800 Incheon-KunmingSCAT Boeing 737-500 Xi’an-AlmatyUzbekistan Airways Boeing 787-8 Tashkent-Seoul IncheonVietjet Airbus A320 Ho Chi Minh City-Taipei
Long HaulChina Southern Airbus A330-200 Istanbul-UrumqiChina Southern/Korean Air B777/A321/A330 Seoul-DubaiKLM Cityhopper/KLM Fokker 70 and 747 Combi Humberside-Amsterdam-Seoul IncheonKorean Air A380 Seoul Incheon-Paris CDGOman Air Airbus A330-300 and Boeing 787-8 Heathrow-Muscat-BangkokThai Airways Bangkok-Karachi-MuscatVietnam Airlines Airbus A350 and Boeing 787-9 Heathow-Hanoi-Seoul Incheon
Somewhere between Korea and the UK.