Flying Emirates over the Thames – à la Boris style

When my friend recently Tweeted: “Flying Emirates over the Thames”, he got a barrage of responses asking where he was off on holiday, not to mention a confused phone call from his mothe

When my friend recently Tweeted: “Flying Emirates over the Thames”, he got a barrage of responses asking where he was off on holiday, not to mention a confused phone call from his mother, who he had led to believe that he was visiting London for a few days, but who was now imagining him jetting off to Dubai or somewhere similar on the sly.

In truth, our destination was closer to home – specifically the new Emirates terminal next to the 02 dome (or the North Greenwich Arena as it has been known recently, no doubt for sponsorship reasons).  After an atmospheric morning at the Olympic Park, we had decided to continue our tour of London with a ride on TFL’s latest money-spinner, the Emirates cable cars over the Thames.

Travelling anywhere near the Greenwich area, the cars are easy to see, suspended over the River Thames from a cable like a series of Borises (minus the Union Jack semaphore, and admittedly moving a lot faster). For any sort of thrill seeker, they are a magnet – not only is there potential to fall from a great height, but this is combined with the possibility of plummeting into what must be one of the most heavily polluted waterways in the world (still, if it’s good enough for Walliams and Beckham…). Naturally, I was intrigued.

Admittedly, I was also slightly dubious about hopping onboard, not least because of the previous weeks reports of the cars breaking down in 30 degree heat and passengers being suspended in mid air for more than half an hour.

On arrival, it was clear that the “airline” part of the title had been taken very seriously, with staff clad in air hostess style outfits ready to help customers at each ticket machine. The queues were brief, despite being one of the busiest days of the Olympics, and after around five minutes we purchased our tickets (£4.30 for an adult single, with a return being exactly double this amount) and boarded immediately.

If you really are trying to create the illusion that you’re jetting off to a far-flung paradise, the TFL ticket barriers, complete with Oyster card touchpads, will probably bring you back down to earth with a bump – although hopefully not literally. The boarding area is largely reminiscent of a theme park ride, with the cars continuing to move as passengers step on board. The cars (I kept wanting to refer to them as “pods”, but the London Eye probably has dibs on that tag) are a lot bigger than they appear, each holding around 10 people, although private and VIP cars are available to book at an extra cost. Although the ride is smooth for the most part, there is potential for it to get a bit lively on a windy day.

Once airborne, the cars travel at quite a speed, a single journey lasting no more than ten minutes. The views, naturally, are impressive, allowing you to see the Olympic Park to the North, although views towards the West and the City Centre are largely blocked by the forest of skyscrapers at Canary Wharf which dominate the skyline. Anyone expecting a panoramic view of London similar to that from the London Eye may be disappointed, and on a misty day, views would probably be further restricted. However, for a reasonable  cost, it’s a great way to get your bearings (and prove to people who don’t believe that there can be an island in the middle of a thriving city like London that the Isle of Dogs is exactly that).

So are we set to become a city of Wombles, travelling overground as well as underground as we go about our business?

The lack of queue when we visited as the height of the Olympics suggests that Londoners have yet to show interest, although locals may be waiting until the madding Olympic crowds that we were promised have gone, before trying out the new toys in their city. Even so, it is unlikely that many people will be able to incorporate this journey into their daily commute, with it being so far away from the centre of London, meaning that it will be relying largely on tourists for continuous revenue.

Who knows, it could catch on. In ten years time, there could be a criss cross of cable car lines across the Eastenders theme image, like little washing lines, airing the journeys of Londoners for all to see, as they avoid the traffic of travelling on the ground, and the claustrophobia of travelling below it. Boris’ recent skyborne frolics could be looked back on as the pioneering moment for a whole new mode of London transport, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “Boris Airport”. Watch this space…