Review: BA Cityflyer’s E190 Service To Frankfurt During COVID-19

Yesterday I had the pleasure of flying with BA Cityflyer from London City Airport to Frankfurt Airport. The flight was my second of the year given the current global situation, with some thoroughly appreciated surprises.

British Airways, Embraer E190, Review
British Airways’ Embraer E190 took us from London City Airport to Frankfurt International Airport. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Booking the flight

The flight was booked back in late April, before the UK relaxed its ban on non-essential travel, meaning that fares were reasonable. The flights were booked using the British Airways app, which was a swift and efficient process.

The fare charged by British Airways for the trip was only £12, with taxes, fees, and surcharges of roughly £50 making up the bulk of the booking cost. On top of this, the airline charged an extra £30 for check-in baggage as we had opted for the basic economy fare bracket. This is akin to the fares offered by low-cost carriers, as seat selection is also not included.

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Checking in online for the flight

Checking in for the flight carried more challenges than would typically be encountered traveling from the UK to Germany. While the check-in process is usually available 24 hours before the flight, a message instead revealed that online check-in was unavailable.

Getty Images COVID-19 Test PCR Test
COVID-19 tests were required to fly to Germany. Photo: Getty Images

I was prompted to send my COVID-19 documents for verification, which was not possible straight away. At 22:57, I received my negative test result from private testing provider Randox. My sample was taken at 11:00 the previous day, within Germany’s 72-hour window to accept negative PCR tests.

As I was traveling from a virus variant area (Germany’s highest risk category, akin to England’s red list), I was required to complete a passenger locator form and submit this to the German authorities, alongside my negative test certificate.

Once these had both been completed, I submitted both to British Airways, sending off the completed web form at 23:20 on Saturday. I received notification that my documents had been verified at 00:59 on Sunday, showing that the process is quick even outside of office hours. Once BA had verified my records, I was able to complete check-in for my flight.

British Airways, Embraer E190, Review
The document verification took less than two hours late at night. Screenshot: British Airways Website

Airport check-in

Due to the UK’s classification as a variant risk area by Germany, travel is generally banned from the UK, with few exceptions such as airside transfer passengers, citizens, and residents. With a German passport, my travel partner was issued a mobile boarding pass straight away. Conversely, I was required to show my residence permit at the physical check-in zone at London City Airport. Another passenger attempting to travel to Brazil via Frankfurt was not able to check-in for the flight.

Alongside the check that I was eligible to enter Germany, the check-in agent asked to see all of the documents that had previously been digitally verified online by the airline, making the online process somewhat obsolete. I was issued a paper boarding pass with the words “COVID Doc Checked, Clear To Trvl” written in pen at the top.

The London City Airport experience

While arriving and departing passengers could mix in the City Airport foyer, they had to use different doors to enter the airport separated by perspex. This meant walking from the car park to the terminal involved a short detour towards the DLR station to get around the end of the perspex barriers. Tests and travel documents were also required to enter the airport.

British Airways, Embraer E190, Review
The airport’s landside Pret has been turned into a makeshift COVID-19 testing center. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

There was nothing to do before security, with the airport’s Pret A Manger having been turned into a makeshift COVID-19 test center. With this in mind, we proceeded straight through security. There was no queue for the one security lane open, with the process being quick and efficient.

Despite only having four flights listed on the departure board, the small departure lounge was surprisingly busy. Most passengers were likely booked on the two domestic flights being operated by Cityflyer. A stark reminder of the impact that COVID-19 has had on the aviation industry as a whole could be seen in the fact that the Cafe Nero coffee shop was still getting through its supply of Christmas coffee cups from half a year ago.

British Airways, Embraer E190, Review
The airport’s only open coffee shop has been unable to get through its Christmas cups due to low passenger numbers. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Boarding

Around half an hour before the flight was due to depart, the gate was listed. Gate 5 was used for the flight to Frankfurt, and given the information on the boards, it appeared to have only been used for the previous flight to Frankfurt, as well as being planned for the next one.

Typically, British Airways allows those seated in the Club Europe cabin, alongside frequent fliers, to board before anybody else. This was not the case, given the pandemic. Instead, passengers in the middle of the aircraft were invited to board first, from the front and back doors, with those in business class boarding last.

British Airways, Embraer E190, Review
Boarding was completed from the middle of the plane out. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Given the nature of London City airport, the boarding process entailed a short walk across the apron to steps up to the plane. Boarding the flight didn’t take long, as it was only around 20-30% full, likely given Germany’s restrictive travel policy from the UK.

British Airways recently retired its remaining Embraer E170s, sending them to Envoy in the US. As a result, Cityflyer now only operates the E190, as this is its aircraft permitted to use London City Airport following the retirement of BA’s only Airbus A318.

British Airways, Embraer E190, Review
Despite the low pitch, the seat had ample leg-room. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

The aircraft seats 98 passengers in a 2-2 configuration. All seats on the plane are the same, with a movable divider, meaning that the airline can adjust the size of the business class cabin depending on demand. On this flight, there were six rows of Club Europe. The seats had a width of 18 inches and a pitch of 30 inches, with ample storage space under the row in front.

The flight

The flight ended up departing around five minutes late. The taxi time from gate 5 to the end of the runway was less than a minute as runway 09 was in use. The pilot performed a slight backtrack on the runway, meaning we started our takeoff roll adjacent to the taxiway we had entered from. The pilot increased power to the engines while holding the aircraft’s brake, allowing less time rolling down the runway while the engines were still spooling up. Once the aircraft took off, it shot up like a rocket ship, thanks to London City’s unique location.

British Airways, Embraer E190, Review
The aircraft climbed out of London City like a rocketship. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Once the crew had been given the all-clear to unbuckle, they passed through the cabin with “personal protection packs”. These included a waste bag, a disinfectant wipe, and hand gel. The hand gel pack had slightly too much for one pair of hands, leading to it going everywhere.

British Airways, Embraer E190, Review
Each passenger was given a COVID-19 hygiene pack. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Earlier this year, Simple Flying revealed that British Airways was moving to a buy before you fly catering model on short-haul economy flights. This proposition, called Speedbird Cafe, was not available on this flight. Pleasantly, the crew came through the cabin offering complimentary refreshments. I availed myself of a cup of tea, a vodka orange, and a packet of crisps. Coffee, soft drinks, and other snacks were also on offer, all for free. Customers in the six-row Club Europe cabin were offered pre-packaged meal boxes.

British Airways, Embraer E190, Review
Free catering still exists onboard BA Cityflyer! Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Arriving in Frankfurt

The flight routing was fairly direct apart from the departure and approach. This meant that despite Leaving the gate six minutes late in London, we arrived with 12 minutes to spare in Frankfurt.

British Airways, Embraer E190, Review
The flight took one hour and 17 minutes, cruising briefly at 41,000 feet. Photo: RadarBox.com

It took ten minutes to taxi to the gate in Frankfurt, where we were met with a jet bridge at Terminal 1. British Airways is temporarily using T1 until the second terminal reopens tomorrow. Passengers were invited to leave the plane several rows at a time from front to back.

Having walked off the plane, we were immediately met by members of the Frankfurt Airport police team who checked we had the necessary documents to enter Germany, presumably so that any non-compliant passengers could be returned to London without even entering the airport.

British Airways, Embraer E190, Review
The flight arrived at Frankfurt Airport’s Terminal 1. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

It was then a short walk to the border checkpoint. In London two weeks earlier, we had been met with a two-hour queue to reach the border. There was no queue for the border in Frankfurt, with passport control being cleared in a matter of minutes. While red list arrivals are separated at the border in the UK, virus variant area arrivals are permitted to quarantine at a location of their choice in Germany. This meant that we were free to make our way through and out of the airport.

Frankfurt Airport has an odd system where you have to leave the secure area and enter the public area before entering another “semi-secure” area to collect your bags. We made our way here, where the bags were promptly delivered. Having walked through customs, we completed the short walk down to the regional train station to take the S-Bahn into the city.

Have you flown with BA Cityflyer since the pandemic began? Let us know how you found the experience in the comments!

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