Scrutator: High and dry in Docklands

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IF LONDON City Airport fails, as has so much else in Docklands, it will largely have itself to blame. Last Monday I used the airport for the first time, to fly to Paris, attracted by the promise of a 10- minute check-in and its handiness compared with Heathrow.

It may be the last time. Having an aversion to taxis in the rush- hour rain, I decided to make my way to the airport by Docklands Light Railway as far as Canary Wharf station and thence by the courtesy shuttle bus.

As I stepped off the train into the desolation that is Canary Wharf, the timing was tight but still manageable - my flight was not due to take off for another 30 minutes.

Now, where in God's name does the shuttle bus go from? There are no signposts to enlighten anyone. Eventually I located the pick-up point and waited. And waited. The service should run every seven minutes at peak times. I had been there nearly twice that long. Eighteen minutes to take-off.

In desperation I finally flagged down a passing cab, though what he was doing in Docklands is anyone's guess. Either he was an eccentric millionaire who didn't need the fares or a lost soul in search of conversation.

He proved to be the latter. We plodded along at a stately 25 mph, words of wisdom about the Reichmann brothers and the evils of capitalism being dispensed all the while from the front.

I asked him with as much politeness as I could muster whether he wouldn't mind putting his foot down as my flight was now due to leave in 13 minutes.

No chance. We were stuck behind a coachload of Japanese businessmen on a slow, guided tour of the area. Anyway, most of the roads in Docklands are reduced to single file by building works.

'Don't you 'ave a mobile then?', the taxi-driver chortled. 'They'll 'old the plane if you ring.' I hadn't.

We arrived. I threw the fare at him, running full pelt for the terminal. Lungs bursting, I hit the Air France check-in desk with eight minutes to go, fumbling for my ticket and gasping that I had a reserved seat on the 15.40 flight.

'I'm afraid that flight is now closed,' said the check-in lady, smiling sweetly. 'But the departure board says it's still boarding,' I croaked, 'and I've got to get to Paris by 6.15pm.'

'Very well, I'11 check,' she volunteered . . . 'Sorry, doors closed and engines running.'

By now I was grasping at straws. 'What if every passenger had arrived with 10 minutes to go? I'd still be standing here, wouldn't I?'

'They didn't though, did they sir?' she replied, folding her arms.

I slumped back in defeat. 'OK. Can you tell me when the next flight is to Paris from here?'

'Well, it's one of ours, but it's not until 18.10. I could see if there's an earlier flight from Heathrow . . .' I wondered if she knew how close she was to death just then.

A two-and-a-half-hour wait. Hmmm. Not long enough to get a pilot's licence, but far too long to spend hanging around there. You see, London City Airport doesn't cater for lingerers. Why? Because it is the airport where you supposedly step in and take off.