Simon Calder: Touch down at London's new draw

The man who pays his way

Sydney to Dubai is the longest flight in Emirates' extensive route network, a 7,500-mile haul against the jet stream that takes a good 14 hours. The cabin crew on the Airbus A380 deserve a break between dispensing drinks and good nature upon the time-tangled passengers. So, they are allocated a few hours to bed down in the crew rest compartment. They even get pyjamas. But not the kind that you or I might buy from M&S: these night garments have EMIRATES CREW emblazoned on the back, just in case the slumbering stewardesses are woken in an emergency.

I learned this last Saturday morning in a sun-soaked London SE10, after wandering through a car park to Britain's newest tourist attraction, beside a muddy curve of the Thames. The Emirates Aviation Experience had been officially opened the day before by Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, and Tim Clark, president of the Dubai-based airline. However, 8am on Saturday was the first time that normal people were allowed in. I expected aviation enthusiasts would be queuing from long before then, so I ambled along at about quarter-past – and found, more by luck than judgement, that I was the first proper visitor. Equally surprising was the very low admission fee, just £3 for fascinating insights into the working lives of cabin-crew – the people on whom so many passengers' lives depend, as the crash-landing of an Asiana jet at San Francisco demonstrated later that day.

In case they need assistance with the emergency exit doors, cabin crew identify in advance an "ABP" – an English-speaking Able-Bodied Person with the potential to help out. "But if they then order a vodka every 15 minutes, we find someone else," an on-screen stewardess revealed.

While such vignettes are being played out inside the fuselage, beneath the wings there is a constant "Blow, Bang, Squeeze, Suck" – which may sound like the punchline to an unsavoury aviation joke, but is actually the attraction's explanation of how a jet engine works. You can inspect a scale model of a GP7000 engine, made of Lego (which the real ones aren't). But most visitors, I suspect, will be drawn inexorably to the flight decks – five of them. All but one are working simulators, "lite" versions of the kind used for pilot training. They don't have the hydraulics to simulate motion, but they do have a convincing set of controls and a display of the airports at Heathrow and Dubai – by night or day, rain or shine. Given the street address of the Emirates Aviation Experience, Edmund Halley Way, it's a shame that the Comet doesn't feature, but pay £35-£45 for half an hour and you can choose to land an Airbus A380 or Boeing 777.

You need pay no extra simply to sit in the captain's seat of the biggest jet in the world and marvel at the way that the fate of 500 passengers and crew is controlled by a joystick that looks as if it should be controlling a computer game. Which, in a sense, it is.

One more element that I particularly enjoyed, since I was working on today's guide to baggage, was the brilliant idea of attaching a camera to a case and following its journey through the airport entrails from check-in at Dubai airport to reclaim at Bangkok. What did the luggage tag say again?

Cable vision

The Emirates Aviation Experience isn't Walt Disney World. But for anyone interested in the intriguing choreography of air travel – as portrayed in BBC2's Airport Live series last month – it delivers. Why, though, would the world's largest airline outside the US build a £2.5m facility like this close to an airport that it will never, ever serve (London City) but many miles from two that it does, Heathrow and Gatwick?

The answer lies just next door. Another Emirates-branded project, the Air Line, opened with great ceremony a year ago. The UK's first urban cable car, which provides a dramatic link across the Thames, has a capacity of about 40,000 passengers a day. The ridership in June was about 4,300 a day, which is a load factor of 11 per cent – compared with 80 per cent on Emirates' planes. The publicity material for the cable car says: "Interested in flying to North London? Look to see what awaits you ...". It proceeds to proclaim the delights of Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral and Little Venice. They are all north of the river, but anyone taking the Air Line across the Thames from Greenwich will end up further away from them. E16 isn't a departure gate – it's the postcode for a touristic black hole.

The Emirates Aviation Experience intends to incentivise people to come to this corner of Docklands, in order that they will then do the obvious thing and spend £8.60 for a round-trip on the Air Line – which, on a sunny day, is well worthwhile. The once-forlorn Greenwich peninsula is turning into a fun park, and providing a fascinating new dimension for the old capital.

Wrong kind of line

The Emirates Air Line has a departure every few seconds, the majority of them empty. The Jubilee Line departs from North Greenwich every two to four minutes, at least in theory. But when I tried to return from my aeronautical day out, a signal failure at Stratford brought London's newest Tube line to a halt for half an hour (an event categorised over the public address announcement as "minor delays").

When the system was finally rebooted, the journey to central London was punctuated by long waits at every station as hundreds of stressed people tried to board an already overstuffed train. The trip seemed to take almost as long as that 7,500-mile long haul from Sydney to Dubai, only without the in-flight entertainment. Or the excitingly inscribed pyjamas.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

    Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

    £25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Coordinator

    £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum cares for one of the largest...

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced PSV Coach & Minibus Drivers

    £12500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Drivers wanted for a family run...

    Day In a Page

    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

    Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
    Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

    Are you a 50-center?

    Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
    The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

    Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

    The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
    Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

    Hollywood's new diet trends

    Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works