London's inner city airport is it's best, and not only for bankers either...
A CityJet Avro RJ85 taxiing with the O2 Arena and Canary Wharf financial district in the background. Photo My Bathroom Wall
London City Airport often gets overlooked, even by Londoners. But it's my favourite of London's six airports by far, and If you've never flown from or into it, then you've missed out on an airport with a 20-minute minimum check-in time, flights to 10 UK cities from £60 return, and 40 or so European destinations with returns from £79.
You may think that London City a purely pinstripe preserve, and it's true that two in three of its 4.3m yearly passengers are travelling for work. Yet businessmen tend to know when they're on to a good thing - and it's a good thing that can suit holidaymakers, too, especially as the list of destinations has long since broadened to include some great city break, skiing and beach destinations, like Amsterdam, Berlin, Faro, Florence, Geneva, Granada, Ibiza, Lisbon, Malaga, Mykonos, Palma, Prague, Reykjavik, Rome, Santorini, Skiathos and Venice.
Here's how to make the most of London's inner city airport...
Canary Wharf is less than five kilometers away, as is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. And London City is just 13 kimoeters from Trafalgar Square and the West End (compared to 27 kilometers for Heathrow, 47 for Gatwick and Luton, and 68 for Southend), so it's the cheapest airport to get to from central London.
From Zone 1, a single to London City Airport, by Tube and Docklands Light Railway, starts at £2.60 with an Oyster card (£4.30 without): use the maps at tfl.gov.uk to plan your route. Taxi fares start at about £30.
In contrast, a single Tube ride from Zone 1 to Heathrow costs £2.90/£5.30, while the Heathrow Express from Paddington is generally £34 return - though lookout for special offers from £5.50 one-way. The Gatwick Express is £27.90, the Stansted Express from £29.50 and the train to Luton or Southend is from £25. Taxi fares to any will be upwards of £40.
A BA Embraer and on the runway, a TAP Embraer inbound from Lisbon. Photo My Bathroom Wall
At the airport
There's no traipsing along endless corridors to the departure lounge here either. The escalator to security is right by the check-in desks, and spare security channels are opened if passengers queue for more than four minutes. They also use time-saving mini x-ray machines for shoes, keys, belts, watches and wallets.
All of which means that London City can get away with a minimum check-in time of just 20 minutes. If you only have cabin baggage, they can make that 15 minutes, depending on the airline. That's from airline desk to plane door, and is the lowest in the country.
It's quick on the arrivals side, too. The last time I landed at City, I emerged from the terminal blinking in the light and within 10 minutes of the plane's the wheels touching the tarmac I was on the DLR platform. Compared to Heathrow it can be delightfully discombobulating.
And, because London City is compact and efficient, delays are kept to a minimum and lost bags are a relative rarity. In fact it's the most punctual airport in Britain, with the latest figures showing that 87% of flights were on time in the first quarter of 2012. On average, five bags are misplaced a week - and like other airports and airlines, they are usually redelivered within 24 hours.
A British Airways A318 landing from New York. Photo My Bathroom Wall
If you're not in a rush, the relatively bijou departure lounge has a duty-free shop, a Pret A Manger, Cafe Nero, a Panopolis pastry and sandwich shop, Pilots Bar & Kitchen, a Brick Lane Brews bar, and then there's the City Bar & Grill that overlooks the runway. There are far worse places to consume some smoked salmon and bubbly, and for anyone who likes an airport bar with a view - there are plenty of windows overlooking the runway. It doesn't take even 10 minutes to walk from the lounge to the furthest gate.
On the plane
And flying from London City gives you a chance to try a smaller plane than you might be used to. BA uses new Brazilian-made Embraer twinjets that can carry up 98 passengers, and a 50-seater turboprop for trips to the Isle of Man. In fact, only BA flights to New York and CityJet flights to Dublin have a seat confguration of three-aisle-three - all the other flights are two-aisle-two or less, so that everyone gets an aisle or a window seat.
It means that boarding and disembarking is far quicker, and like the other airlines operating from the airport, BA offers a complimentary drink (including beer) and snack in economy, online check-in with seat free selection up to 24 hours before departure, and frequent-flyer points.
A Flybe Dash 400 boarding at London City Airport. Photo My Bathroom Wall
Take off and landing
The runway experience is memorable too. There's just the one, which incidentally less than half the length of those at Heathrow or Gatwick. And it's squeezed between two old docks and has water on three sides. And the final approach can be very scenic.
If the wind is blowing from the west, you'll get a low-level fly-by of the Thames Barrier. But if it's coming from the east, you'll skim over central London at an altitude of just 2,000ft - making a sharp right turn by the London Eye before overflying the Embankment, the Shard and the City.
To avoid the tower of Canary Wharf, planes descend at a steep-feeling six degrees from the horizontal, rather than the usual three degrees. It doesn't sound much of a difference, but it is noticable and means that last-moment pull-up can be a little unnerving.
Skimming over the UK's second tallest building (236m) on final approach to London City Airport. Photo My Bathroom Wall
Where can you fly to?
British Airway is the largest operator at London City, and flies to Amsterdam, Bergerac, Berlin, Billund, Chambery, Dublin, Dusseldorf, Edinburgh, Faro, Florence, Frankfurt, Geneva, Glasgow, Granada, Ibiza, Isle of Man, Menorca, Malaga, Manchester, Milan Linate, Mykonos, Nice, Palma, Prague, Quimper, Reykjavik, Rotterdam, Santorini, Skiathos, Venice, with one-way fares from £45. It also offers all-business-class services to New York, daily to JFK; return fares start at about £2,935. See British Airways
A couple of Alitalia Embraer's at London City, with nifty two-aisle-two cabins. Photo My Bathroom Wall
The other airlines currently serving London City are Alitalia to Milan Linate and Rome; Flybe to Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Belfast, Dusseldorf, Edinburgh, Exeter and Jersey; KLM to Amsterdam; Lufthansa to Frankfurt; Luxair to Luxembourg; Skywork Airlines to Bern; and Swiss International Airlines to Geneva and Zurich, TAP to Lisbon and Porto, and VLM to Antwerp.
From airports such as Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Lisbon, Rome and Zurich, you can connect to hundreds more onward destinations - often already checked in for your next flight, with your luggage on its way to your final arrival airport.
It isn't all Lilliputian loveliness. Because the planes are small and yes the primary market is still business people, if you miss out on the cheap fares, prices after that rocket up quickly. And it's no good for snagging a cheap flight to New York either, as the BA flights only offer Business Class on board.
The airport has no boarding jetties either, so passengers have to make the (admitedly extremely short) walk out to the aircraft in all weathers. And while the car park is a three-minute walk from the terminal, but all 100% spaces are short-term, and cost £35 for 12-24 hours.
Plus there are no flights from 1pm on Saturday until 1pm on Sunday, which is great - and maybe even unique for local residents to be given a break from aircraft noise in this way by an airport - but it can stymie plans for a weekend getaway.
Finally, at peak times the departure lounge can resemble a sharp suit conference, and some of the seating areas in the departure lounge at times feature scrums of city boys, which isn't to everyon's taste.
For more information, see London City Airport