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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
TV Review: Sabotage, a meltdown and, of course, plenty of sauce
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
sport
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?