The Crystal Ski Holidays Blog

Ski-buzz test rides London’s first cable car – the Emirates Air Line

Last month, London welcomed the UK’s second ever gondola lift, the Emirates Air Line. This new addition to Britain’s gondola fleet doubles its size – the only other one being in the Nevis range on the mountain Aonach Mor, Scotland.

The opening day was the 28 June 2012, and the following weekend, Ski-buzz took a trip across the Thames to check out this latest addition to the many lifts, cable cars and gondolas we’ve tested out over the seasons.

Much of the press have described the new landmark as a cable car, as this is generally better understood as a description to the wider public. Technically though, the new lift is in fact, a gondola lift – a Monocable Detachable Gondola (MDG) to be precise. This uses a single cable for both propulsion and support for the cabins attached. Not that it matters all that much, we’re just saying!

The gondola stretches from the new station of Emirates Greenwich Peninsula, just a few minutes walk from the 02 arena and North Greenwich tube station over the River Thames to Emirates Royal Docks.

Dubai-based Emirates airline have sponsored the ‘Air Line’ in a £36 million pound deal lasting 10 years. The overall cost of the project was around £60 million.

The cable car now appears on London’s iconic tube map, showing the gondola as an interchange between the Jubilee line and the DLR. It links Europe’s largest entertainment venue, the 02 Arena, with the UK’s largest exhibition centre, the ExCel.

At capacity the Doppelmayer-built gondola will carry up to 2,500 people every hour, the equivalent of 30 London buses. It’s anticipated to carry 2 million passengers per year.

Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airline, said:

“As one of the world’s most innovative airlines, the link with this new form of air travel in London is a perfect fit for us. The Emirates Air Line will take off as an iconic landmark for London. We are always looking for new ways to support the communities we serve and what better way than to bring this ground-breaking transport scheme to residents and visitors alike.”

The new attraction drew big crowds on the opening weekend, with a wait of around 30 minutes to board the gondolas – although there was a very orderly queuing system (which may feel a little alien compared to certain ski resorts we’ve experienced around the world).

After a very efficient (and smiley) boarding process on the slow moving cabins, we set off across the Thames from the Royal Docks. Each cabin takes up to 8 passengers, though many were loaded with just 6 to allow more space and viewing opportunities.

It was great to listen to the excited gasps from children and adults alike as we were quickly transported up into the air on the north of the Thames, reaching a height of 90 metres, towering over the Millenium Dome we could see in the distance.

The gondolas naturally swung a little in the stiff breeze travelling down the Thames that day, with a few in our cabin made to feel a little uneasy by the experience, especially as the cabins shuddered (as they do) when travelling over the pylons.

However, the journey itself was very speedy – we reached our destination of North Greenwich in around 5 minutes to protests of, “Oh, are we here already?” –  though the gondola will run at a slower speed during off peak times, where journeys can take up to 10 minutes according to TfL.

We were lucky enough to be travelling on a bright sunny day and the views were fantastic. Emirates brand this experience as a ‘flight’, and it certainly lives up to much of the hype. It’s possible to see across to the Olympic park in the distance, over to the city and the towering buildings of Canary Wharf, as well as across the Thames to the Millenium Dome in the distance.

If you only make the journey in one direction, we suggest sitting so you face towards the city and the 02 arena for the most rewarding views.

This speeded-up video shows the experience as a gondola travels around the circuit.

Cost and opening times

The cheapest way of travelling on the Air Line is using a pay-as-you-go Oyster card, with a single adult journey costing £3.20. A cash fare is £4.30 and involves a longer queue to purchase your ‘boarding card’ before joining the queue to get on to the lift itself. However, the fares are not included in travelcards or the Oyster capping system, according to TfL.

The service operates throughout the week from 7.00am until 9.00pm, Saturdays will see the service run until 10.00pm and open again on Sundays at 09.00am.

Hours will be extended during the Olympics and Paralympics.

Full list of opening times

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