We had planned a family trip to London as part of the summer break, and while I would normally take the train, I was curious as to how Flybe could compete on price and service. While the train would have been slightly cheaper (if we had traveled later in the day) Flybe got us there fast, and meant we could enjoy a full day in the city when we got there.
This was to be a flight of many firsts for me. My first time on a turboprop, my first time flying from Exeter and my first time arriving into London City Airport (LCY). Excited was an understatement.
I booked my flights myself and paid £45 for my adult ticket. My older child, who is 13, paid full price, but my daughter who is 9 was only charged at half the adult rate.
The beauty of a regional airport
As someone who has spent most of their life living in either Devon or Cornwall, I have to say with some shame, I have never flown from Exeter before. Generally, that’s because there have rarely been any flights going anywhere I’ve wanted to go. Clearly, I would far prefer a one hour drive to Exeter to a four-hour drive or a five-plus hour train ride to catch a plane; if there is a plane I want to take.
However, as far as London goes, it’s very well served by Flybe from Exeter, with a daily flight in the early morning to get businesspeople to the city in time for their breakfast meeting. This early flight departs at 06:35, which would be awful if check in required the typical 2 – 3 hour window. But that’s my first plus point of traveling via a regional airport – it’s not.
We arrived somewhat flustered at 05:30, thinking it was cutting it a bit fine for the flight. However, there was no need to be concerned, as Flybe had allocated us complimentary fast track security, so we were straight through and airside in moments.
Being a teeny tiny terminal has its benefits too. There was no massive hike to the departure lounge, and all the gates were literally right there – no need to factor in a 15-minute stomp to the plane once boarding was called.
In the departure lounge, there was everything you needed to get your day started, from good coffee to newsagents to sit down restaurants. Another big plus for me was the ability to park the kids with all the bags while I went off and sourced water and snacks for the flight, keeping them in sight the whole time.
Flybe called us through to the departure gate around 10 minutes before we were due to depart. I was a little concerned about Flybe’s luggage policy, as I’d read several reports of crew appearing with calipers to double-check the dimensions of your case. While I’d measured mine as accurately as I could, I was panicking that the handle would put me a centimeter or two over the size. Thankfully, nothing like this occurred and we were on our way to the aircraft.
From the gate, boarding was done by group, which was indicated on our ticket. This was actually a very practical way of doing things, as the aircraft was boarded from back to front, eliminating the need to fight your way through aisle lingerers to get to your seat.
The Q400 was parked just outside the terminal, along with a few other regional planes. It was my first time boarding a plane without the use of air stairs or a jet bridge too. It felt almost like climbing onto a private jet, using the Dash-8s own in built stairs to get on board.
Once onboard, it was clear to see why they’d boarded us in groups. The aisle of the Dash-8 is super narrow. Getting through traffic in the aisle would have been a nightmare. The crew welcomed us onboard and conducted a slick safety demonstration, after which we pushed back just 10 minutes late, at 06:45.
The plane was a De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400 registered G-PRPM. According to Planespotters, it’s 11.9 years old and has previously operated for Continental Connection and United Express before arriving with Flybe in April 2017.
There’s not much to say about this seat; it was basic but comfortable. The seats were pretty thin, but they didn’t feel sparsely padded. There was plenty of legroom and a bit of storage in the seat pocket for your bits and pieces.
The flight was full; I don’t think a single seat was empty, which was a surprise given it seemed to be very undersold when I booked a week before. Despite this, there was ample room for everyone’s cases in the overhead lockers, which was a bonus.
The only complaint I have about the seat, which was entirely my own fault, was the view. Having booked an over wing seat, which is generally my preferred location, it wasn’t until I sat down that I realized my rookie mistake.
Having its wings on top of the fuselage should have allowed for some awesome uninterrupted views of our flight. However, by picking the over wing seat, I had inadvertently selected a seat with an excellent view of the turboprop engine. The Q400 engine is not massive, but it is long. Very long. And very, very purple.
While a good view could be obtained by looking down, when my head was in its natural resting position and I was gazing aimlessly out of the window, I found myself reading their strapline over and over again. Did you know flying is faster than road or rail?
I was a little concerned about the flight itself, having never been on a turboprop before. Everyone I spoke to warned me about the turbulence, and our content manager cemented my fear by sending me a gif of a jelly wobbling uncontrollably prior to take off. I was beginning to regret my morning croissant deeply.
But, as it turns out, my fears were completely unfounded. We took off into clear skies, with a gorgeous view of the Devon countryside below. Soon we were above a layer of cloud, and with nothing to see, I decided to peruse the menu.
For a low-cost airline, I didn’t find Flybe’s prices to be too bad at all. £4 for a coffee and a pastry seemed a decent offer for buy on board, but remembering the potential jelly jiggles coming into London, I opted for a good old English breakfast tea. Happily, it was Twinings and good and hot too.
All too soon the captain advised we were beginning our descent into London. I was somewhat perplexed when we broke through the clouds and I could see the beaches of Southend out of the window. I had wrongly assumed we would come into London from the west, and had visions of us scooting in past Tower Bridge and Big Ben into the airport.
But no. Apparently, the landing strip at LCY works on an east to west basis, so we’d hooked right out over the Isle of Sheppey, and then headed back into the city along the path of the Thames. I was braced for horrific turbulence coming into the city, but thankfully none was forthcoming. Perhaps it was due to the early flight, but it was one of the smoothest landings I’ve had the pleasure to experience.
Having thanked the crew and arrived to a very wet and miserable London, my thoughts turned to onward travel. With bags and kids in tow, I considered grabbing an Uber, but with the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) right there at the airport, I figured we’d give that a go.
The DLR couldn’t have been more convenient, and affordable too. The line connects all the way into the Tower of London, and to every tube line in the network. As we were staying a five-minute walk from Canning Town, we were at our hotel less than 30 minutes after stepping off the plane, a far cry from the time-consuming business of getting into the city from Gatwick or Heathrow.
Overall, this was a very pleasant, quick and stress-free means of getting into London. I found Flybe staff to be pleasant and efficient at every step, and the service to be fairly priced for what you get. I’d definitely pick Flybe again for a trip to the city.