Zurich to London City – British Airways CityFlyer

by Continental Club on May 28, 2009

The Swiss, of course, are famous for their clockery. They’re also rather renowned for their railways. Combine the two, and Swiss Railways are a by-word for punctuality.

So it was something of a surprise that our train to the airport left the Hauptbahnhof almost 20 minutes late. Having said that, by the time the guard had articulately made his sincere apologies in three languages, citing some unspecified technical glitch as the cause of the delay, we were almost arriving at our destination. The train was, as it had been on arrival, clean, comfortable and quick, and all trains bound for the airport and beyond are clearly identified with the ‘Flughafen’ designation on the Hauptbahnhof destination boards.

British Airways utilistes Check In Area 2 and offers both traditional desks and self-service machines, the latter capable of processing passengers for half a dozen airlines.

Passing through the boarding pass check and security, there’s a decent selection of shopping and refreshment options, before signposts to the E Gates lead BA passengers down an escalator and towards the Skymetro transit shuttle.

Having been welcomed by Heidi on the inbound journey, Skymetro passengers are treated to reminders of the Helvetic countryside as they whizz past the tunnel-wall video screens and shoot on down the tube towards the train’s terminus.

The E Gates are not havens of retail abundance, but the Bellevue Lounge provides a warm welcome for British Airways Club Europe passengers and Silver and Gold card holders, as well as Priority Pass lounge access members.

The access to the lounge, however, is through a slightly tatty space which has an air of no-one being quite sure what to do with it.

Once reached, the lounge is spacious with dining, lounging and work areas, all overlooking the aprons and runways of the airport.

The work area offers two laptops, as well as additional desk space for passengers to use their own equipment at. Reception offer free cards to access the lounge-wide WiFi for 120 minute sessions.

The self service bar area presents a generous selection of well-chilled soft drinks and beers, premium spirits, wine and prosecco. There are cascades of nuts, pretzels, gummi bears and savoury snacks, as well as abundant fruit.

There are also platters of sandwiches, a crock of soup, hunks of crusty bread and delectable chunks of cake.

There’s even a feature fireplace, which is presumably particularly enjoyable on cold winter days.

Flights are not called in this shared lounge, but screens are clearly visible. It’s not too long a walk back through no-man’s land and past a handful of gate lounges and a chocolatier’s kiosk, to the gates used by British Airways.

It’s not immediately apparent whether priority boarding facilities are offered, however, nor how efficient the overall process is (although it surely will be; it’s Switzerland after all). The lack of visibility is merely a function of the load on this RJ100-operated flight to London City airport – just 1 Club Europe passenger and 17 Euro Travellers.

In order to trim the small aircraft, Euro Traveller seat allocations have all been made from row 10 back, so there’s a significant void between the lone premium passenger and the hoi polloi up the back. The curtain separator, only in place on the occupied starboard side and in its furthest forward position, is rendered almost redundant by the gulf of vacant seats.

Push back is right on time and the crew complete the safety demonstration with a passenger almost equal to First Class on a BA Boeing 777. Once airborne in the aircraft once dubbed the ‘whisper jet’ but now rather noisy compared to more modern equipment, the crew begin service promptly. There’s a bar service, a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich in a ‘Deli Bag’ (far better than that offered on UK domestic services) and tea and coffee.

The light load makes the cabin more comfortable than it would otherwise be; most operators of the RJ100 and the BAe146 upon which it was developed utilise a 5 abreast seating format, but British Airways have always shoe-horned 6 in. For those slim-of-hip, it’s not a major issue, except for those in the A and F-designated seats, who’ll find that the seat headrest is actually cut out slightly to accommodate the curvature of the cabin wall. Taller and wider passengers are therefore very firmly advised to avoid these window seats.

The flight is smooth and quick, lengthened only slightly by the necessary of an approach into the Docklands airport from the West. Once on the ground, there’s the trademark pirhouette at the end of the runway, essential thanks to the narrow spit of land upon which its built and the lack of any parallel taxiways.

Disembarkation is through both the front and rear doors, which seems a touch of overkill for the 18 passengers, but it allows the swiftest of passages from the aircraft, straight through passport control and customs, and out into the dinky terminal concourse and the forecourt outside within 5 minutes of doors opening.

Years ago, this is what all our UK regional airports were like; perhaps the physical constraints of City’s location will mean that it’s the only one which is likely to remain this way. It’s almost certainly a character that will be hugely appreciated by passengers on British Airways’ forthcoming service to New York.

Final verdict for British Airways Euro Traveller: 7.5/10. It’s difficult to rate a flight which was so clearly under-loaded, almost certainly as a result of the mid-Bank Holiday weekend timing. Having said that, Zurich Airport and the Bellevue Lounge were joys to use, the cabin crew on board were still motivated despite the low load, the catering was marginally better than other BA services and London City is a superb airport too. The aircraft, soon to be replaced by new Embraer jets, was cramped and noisy, which would undoubtedly have been an issue with a full load, but the short flight time means that even this wouldn’t have been a huge problem. A very pleasant experience.


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