FIRST IMPRESSIONS Arriving at London City Airport by public transport is considerably easier since the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) extension to the airport opened in December of last year – so easy, in fact, that I arrived almost 90 minutes early for my Monday morning 0930 departure. At most airports this would be perfectly normal; at London City it means the sort of wait that attracts attention from security.
First thing on a Monday morning, the airport was busy without being crowded. I had not had time to check in for the flight online, but did so quickly using the self-service kiosks in front of desks 10-12 and then had an hour reading the morning papers.
This new BA Connect service (BA8743) began May 2, 2006 and currently has just one weekday flight at 0930, arriving at Milan Malpensa at 1225. It returns (BA8744) at 1340 arriving 1430. There is also a Sunday flight departing at 1400 and returning at 1735.
As with all BA Connect tickets, the standard ticket does not include the ability to earn tier points/miles with Executive Club, lounge access (where applicable – London City does not have an Executive Club lounge) or pre-assigned seating on ba.com. The second type of ticket is BA Connect Plus, which does include those benefits, as well as being more flexible.
BA Connect is British Airways’ low-fare operation, having taken over from BA CitiExpress on February 1, 2006. This Milan route is a new flight for the operation and, as with other services by BA Connect from London City (Edinburgh and Frankfurt), the Milan service is atypical of most of BA Connect services in that it is a two-class (Club Europe business and Euro Traveller economy) product and has food provided free on board. The majority of BA Connect flights, as with its predecessor, are out of Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh. These are one-class services and you have to pay for food (sandwiches £2.50-£3; 500ml bottle of water £1; full English breakfast £5).
BOARDING The flight was late to board from Gate 2C and was late in departing. We left just after 1000. The flight deck was good at providing information, and was also quick to promise we would make up much of the time, which we did. As with most London City flights, we simply walked across the tarmac to the plane, with boarding at both front and rear.
THE FLIGHT Partly because of the flight being in its first month – but mainly as a result of the awkward flight times – this flight, even on a Monday morning, was almost empty, with less than 20 passengers on board out of a maximum of 111 (though in a two-class configuration this is reduced as middle seats are blocked off). This is despite there being opportunities for connections, for example with the BA Connect flight from Edinburgh (one of seven daily flights between London City and Edinburgh).
There is also the problem that BA Connect cannot fly into the city centre airport of Linate. This is one shared with the majority of airlines since Malpensa is now the main airport of Milan, despite being 45km from the city – in contrast to Linate’s 8km.
The seating configuration on this BAe146 was 3-3, with the middle seat blocked off in Club. The seat pitch is 76-78cm. BA Connect operates four aircraft types: the BAe 146 with a range of 1,100 miles; the DASH 8-300, mainly on flights within the UK and Ireland, maximum of 50 passengers; the Embraer 145, mainly for flights within the UK and from the UK to Europe, maximum of 49 passengers; and the RJ100, UK to Europe and a maximum of 110 passengers.
On this flight, a hot breakfast was on offer in Club. The normal cut-off point for this is 1000 on BA Connect but, again, with this being the morning flight to Milan, an exception is made, while in economy it was a warm croissant and orange juice.
ARRIVAL We arrived only a few minutes late, and were quickly through the airport. There is a shuttle train service every 30 minutes that departs from Terminal 1 to Stazione Cadorna in central Milan, a service I used on the return trip, which cost E11 one way and took 40 minutes. It is to be recommended, and depending on the location of your hotel in Milan, may also be quicker than a taxi, which costs around E70, and goes directly to Terminal 1 Malpensa.
VERDICT A good service, but until the flight times change and a second daily service is introduced, it seems unlikely that business travellers will take advantage of the convenience of London City departures if it means they have to stay a night in Milan (on the return trip there were fewer than a dozen passengers).
More generally, there is concern about the long-term future of BA Connect. BA chief executive Willie Walsh has made it clear that BA Connect does not feed into the long-haul network of BA, and has to be profitable in its own right. Just how long it has to prove that it can be remains an open question at present. On the basis of this London City flight, it is an excellent service, but at these flight times, not one that many are using.
PRICE Business class return fares usually range from between £305 and £586, with economy fares between £74 and 364.