Travel: A flying start from the Thames: London City Airport offers a taste of journeys from a bygone age. Frank Barrett indulges in a spot of time travel, keeping his feet firmly on the ground

When I tried to buy a ticket to London City Airport at my local tube station, the clerk was perplexed: 'London Airport: you want Heathrow or Gatwick?' he demanded. His ignorance was understandable: would anybody on the Clapham Omnibus, given a map of London, be able to put their finger on the City's airport?

Even those who could guess that it is somewhere near the City, would probably be very surprised to know that the airport lies in wildest Docklands within the vicinity of the Woolwich Ferry, far from the shadow of Tower Bridge.

Since its opening seven years ago, London City Airport has failed to make much of an impact on ordinary travel patterns. After all, isn't the place only designed to serve executives jetting off to Paris and Frankfurt on expenses-paid trips?

Well, up to a point: the airport is certainly a business traveller's airport. Many of the destinations it serves are heavy with the smell of trade and dealings in serious money: Zurich, Antwerp, Brussels, Berlin, Rotterdam and, of course, Paris and Frankfurt.

However, the airlines fly seven days a week and even the most frequent travelling executive tries to rest on weekends, leaving the airlines to find ways of filling otherwise empty aircraft.

Their answer is the cut-price off-peak fare and the weekend break package. Tour operators are taking advantage of the airline deals to come up with attractively priced holidays from London City Aiport.

For example, Crystal Premier has two-night packages to Antwerp from pounds 189; if you want to organise your own package, VLM offers weekend break return fares to Antwerp from pounds 120.

On its new route to Dublin, for example, Virgin's City Break fare costs pounds 84 return.

But price is not necessarily the airport's main attraction. Despite its relative remoteness it is still much easier to reach than Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted.

Above all, City Airport is quiet. When I called in at midday on a Thursday, the check-in area was entirely deserted. My footsteps echoed in an empty hall.

Flying from City Airport is a reminder of what air travel was like in bygone days before it went mass-market.

It is an airport on a human scale: the check-in desk is a few minutes walk from the car park - and it is a few minutes walk from the check-in desk to the plane. No car park shuttle buses here, no endless Travelators, no human scrum at the duty free shop.

Unlike Gatwick or Heathrow, where you are encouraged to check-in at least 60 minutes before the scheduled departure time, at City Airport the check-in process takes just 10 minutes. This means that you could be working in the City until 4.45pm - you jump into a taxi and get to the City airport well in time for the Paris flight at 5.35pm.

On all the European routes, with the exception of Lugano, there are late afternoon or early evening services returning to the airport on a Sunday.

Of course, you could take a trip to the airport and fly nowhere: simply enjoy the view.

The upstairs restaurant and cafeteria have fine plane-spotters views over the runway. A full breakfast in the restaurant will set you back pounds 5, a beef burger at the counter service bar costs pounds 5.25.

Look at the small aircraft, marvel at the absence of crowds and you could almost imagine you were in Heathrow circa 1955. London City Airport is the nearest thing to time travel, and all for the price of a Docklands Light Railway ticket.

GETTING THERE

By tube and bus:

From the centre of London, the most efficient route from Monday to Friday (there is presently no weekend service) is via the Docklands Light Railway from Bank Underground station. To Canary Wharf takes about 10 minutes - a bus shuttle (which runs about every 15 minutes from a stop in the North Colonnade) takes 15 minutes from Canary Wharf and costs pounds 1 one way.

There is a daily bus shuttle service from Liverpool Street station: the journey takes about 25 minutes and costs pounds 3 one way.

By car: The airport is about six miles from the City and about eight miles from the West End. From Tower Bridge, via The Highway, normally takes around 15 minutes. Parking is a couple of minutes walk from the terminal building and short-term parking costs from pounds 1 for the first hour up to pounds 15 for 24 hours; long-term parking costs pounds 5 per day.

Cities served: Seven airlines operate from the airport to 10 European cities: Paris (Air France); Frankfurt (Business Air); Berlin Tempelhof (Conti-Flug); Zurich and Lugano (Crossair); Brussels (Sabena); Dublin (Virgin Atlantic); Antwerp, Rotterdam and Liverpool (VLM).

City breaks: Crystal Premier Cities (081-390 9900) to Antwerp and Dublin; Sovereign Cities (0293 599900) to Berlin and Brussels; Time Off (071-235 8070) to Berne, Bruges, Brussels, Lucerne and Zurich; Travelscene (081-427 4445) to Berlin, Bruges, Brussels, Dublin and Lucerne.

Further information: General airport and flight enquiries (071-474 5555).

(Photograph omitted)

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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Casual Visitor Experience Assistants

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To work within the Visitor Experience Departm...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend