How many modes of transport can you fit into a day? And all to arrive back at the same place. This little adventure started out when I found that LAN (now LATAM) operated a Boeing 787 between Madrid and Frankfurt – and had some very competitive business class fares on the route. So, the chance to experience a new aircraft type, a new airline and a long-haul business class product – what was not to like?
The service to Frankfurt is an extension of a flight from Santiago, Chile to Madrid. LATAM uses its fifth-freedom rights to carry passengers on the inter-European sector. A one-way business class ticket from Madrid to Frankfurt was just GBP80 (USD100).
Now, I live in London, so I had to work out how to get to Madrid and back from Frankfurt – and try and do it in a day. I delved into my stock of Avios and booked an open jaw ticket with British Airways from London City (LCY) to Madrid, returning from Frankfurt to LCY, in their Club Europe business class cabin.
The day started early with the first train from my local station in the South West London suburbs. This service is ‘declassified’, which is railway jargon for offering no first class service. But there are first class sections on the train, and you can sit there with a standard class ticket. Not a huge difference, but a wider and comfier seat, a table and a reading light. My first upgrade of the day?
The journey to Waterloo normally takes 35 minutes but this first train of the day calls at all stations on the route and takes 48 minutes. Time enough for a light snooze.
On arrival at Waterloo, it was time to plunge into the depths of the Underground, specifically to the Jubilee Line for the short journey to North Greenwich. The Jubilee Line is London’s newest tube line and the extension from Westminster to Stratford was opened in 1999.
Alighting at North Greenwich, in the shadow of the O2 Centre (which I still call the Millennium Dome) I walked across the still dark plaza towards the Emirates Air Line. This cable car opened in June 2012 (just in time for the London Olympics). It is just over a kilometre long (3,600 feet) and rises to a height of 90 metres (300 feet) above the River Thames. I arrived just as it was opening and was on the second gondola of the day across the river. With an Oyster card the cost is just GBP3.50. Landing on the North bank by Royal Victoria station, it was time to jump onto the Docklands Light Railway (DLR).
The DLR opened in 1987 and is a fully automated metro system. Trains are driverless, but there is a ‘train captain’ aboard each one to look after passenger welfare. Getting to London City airport necessitated a change at Canning Town. Alighting at the airport, there is a dedicated walkway straight to the terminal entrance.
I didn’t strictly need to go to a check-in desk as I only had hand baggage, but there was no queue and the boarding passes printed out at the desk come on real card, not the horrible thermal paper you get from the self-check-in machines.
LCY has a small terminal building. This has a key advantage in that there are no long walks and generally no long queues. On the downside, there are no business lounges regardless of who you are flying with. So, Caffe Nero it was for my regular morning cappuccino. There are fine views of the apron and runway while you wait for your departure.
When checking in online I found that instead of the expected Embraer 190 my flight was to be operated by an Avro RJ, a slightly revised version of the BAe 146. This turned out to be G-LENM, operated by Cello Aviation. Originally purchased by Delta Air Transport in Belgium in 1995, it was acquired by Cello in 2013. Regularly used for short term replacement of aircraft on maintenance it was in an anonymous all-white colour scheme. One advantage over the Embraers was the 3-3 seating plan, meaning an empty middle seat. A disadvantage was the lack of a cabin divider between business and economy.
I was unsure what to expect service-wise from Cello but was pleased that the crew were friendly and followed BA’s service standards. Accordingly, a full English breakfast was served – and gratefully received as it was about four hours since I’d left home.
The flight to Madrid Barajas airport was smooth and uneventful and passed quickly as I read my latest book. After landing, we taxied seemingly interminably before being deposited at a remote stand. There was a passport control desk just inside the entrance and I passed smoothly into the Schengen area of the terminal.
We had arrived at Terminal 4, but I needed to get to Terminal 4S, the satellite terminal. I wanted to avoid going through passport control and re-clearing security, so I went to the transfer area and jumped on the shuttle train to the satellite. One small problem. My boarding pass for the LAN flight was on an e-mail on my phone and I hadn’t downloaded it. After alighting at the satellite terminal, there was a passport and boarding pass check, but no mobile signal. OK, I thought, I’ll just get on the free airport wi-fi. After providing my name, address, phone number, inside leg measurement and dietary preferences I thought I was in, but no. “Please fill out this short survey before we give you access.” All this while being stared at by three immigration guards in their booths, probably wondering who this weirdo was.
Finally through, I headed to the Iberia VIP lounge, accessed by virtue of my LAN business class ticket. The best thing about the lounge for me is the huge windows offering a great view of the activity on the apron. I grabbed a Coke and some snacks and sat back to enjoy the view.
Boarding time came and I noted at the gate that passengers travelling through from Santiago to Frankfurt had been made to deplane in Madrid. I’m not sure if this was a customs requirement or whether an opportunity to clean the aircraft after a 12-hour flight. It meant that the gate was busy and, even with priority boarding, embarkment was slow.
LATAM’s 787 business class is in a 2-2-2 configuration with five rows of lie-flat seats making up a 30-seat cabin. The seats are 23 inches wide and have a seat pitch of 75 inches. There is a large in-flight entertainment screen and generous storage. (LATAM has just announced a new business class seat to be installed across its fleet, with all-aisle access, but this program will take about two years to complete.)
Charles introduced himself as the cabin crew member looking after us and served a pre-departure beverage of orange juice. Champagne was also available. I was unsure if this relatively short sector of a much-longer flight would be catered, so I was pleasantly surprised when a chicken salad was served with a further round of drinks. All too soon, the flight was descending into a darkening Frankfurt.
If you find yourself having to travel between the Spanish capital and German financial hub, then flying LATAM’s Boeing 787 has to be a much preferable alternative to European-style business-class-in-an-economy-seat. And for GBP80 (USD100) it may even be cheaper than some fares on low cost carriers.
My journey wasn’t over at Frankfurt, I still had to get back to London and that involved changing terminals. The Skyline train provided an efficient transfer. British Airways uses the Japan Airlines Sakura Lounge at Frankfurt. This was crowded and a bit of a disappointment with a limited selection of food and drink. Oneworld plans to consolidate and improve its lounge offerings where there is no dominant alliance member at particular airports. Let’s hope Frankfurt is on the list.
A bus journey across the apron took us to G-LCYJ, a BA Cityflyer Embraer 190 for my flight to London City. I’d reserved seat 2D. On the Embraer this is a bulkhead seat on the starboard side with a generous amount of legroom.
After a taxi around what seemed like the whole of Frankfurt airport, we departed for LCY. A standard airline chicken meal was served, and the one-and-a-quarter hour flight was soon coming to an end. A descent and turn in a clear sky over the City of London saw us soon back on the ground at LCY. The reversal of my outbound journey to the airport, this time without the cable car detour, saw me home within two hours of landing.
Please comment below on this journey or any other LATAM or Boeing 787 flights you might have taken. What do you think of using long-haul aircraft on short-haul routes like this? Would you prefer it to the usual narrowbody aircraft?
For completeness, that was six modes of transport: main line train, tube train, cable car, light railway, aircraft and bus.