Thursday, 31 August 2017

The joy that is Luton airport

Have you ever flown into or out of “London Luton” airport?

Ah, the joy of travelling through “London Luton” airport
The quotation marks are there because no one who lives in Luton, as I do, or even just knows it, would see it as in any way part of London. The airport is about 54 km from the centre of the capital, which is just over twice the distance of, say, Heathrow. I suppose turning Luton airport into London Luton is slightly less fraudulent than the name of Frankfurt Hahn, which is some 120 km from Frankfurt, but only marginally.

As with its name, so with Luton airport’s character. When we first moved to the town, in 2010, the drop-off area at the airport was free to use – as it is in many far bigger airports. Then a 50p charge was introduced. Today it’s £3, a 600% increase. That covers you for ten minutes, and you may not leave your car even if you’re back within the time – as I discovered when I saw a wheelchair user into the terminal only to find the car about to be towed when I got back.

Naturally, you can leave your car, after parking it at the airport, but only in a different area and at a minimum charge of £7, for up to 40 minutes.

Still, at least this experience sets the tone appropriately for the experience one enjoys once into the terminal.

You can enjoy peace and comfort inside the departure zone, in a pleasant area with comfortable seating, free snacks and drinks. That, however, is only if you’ve coughed up £29 to get into the executive lounge. You’re not prepared to pay that? Then jostle with the throngs outside – the place is never calm – and queue while you wait for someone to leave their seat. Cafes seem to make a dismal habit of closing and one of the few that has opened recently started out badly: when we tried to have breakfast there, we found they had no milk and several items missing from their breakfast menu. I’m sure that was a teething problem, but it certainly rather shook my confidence and I haven’t been back.

Poor service and rip-off prices? Yep. London Luton airport wins all the prizes.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because it seems that consumer magazine Which? has officially declared Luton the hellhole of British airports, the veritable pits, the worst of the lot. It has completed a survey of users which gave Luton the lowest marks of all UK airports, with an overall rating of just 29%. Thats the lowest ever score since Which? started doing the survey. It’s also the fifth year in a row the airport has come last.

At least it’s a relief to know that others share my view: Luton airport really is a particularly ghastly place to have to use for travel.

Still, passengers keep coming. As another Guardian article points out, despite the terrible customer responses, numbers are up, with 1.6 million users in July, a 6.2% increase on the same month last year. Even I find it hard to avoid completely: it’s on my doorstep, whereas Gatwick or Heathrow mean adding an hour and a half to the trip and paying scheduled airline fares. However, whenever I can, I use one of those airports or, even better, travel by train: that is the luxury form of travel these days.

It’s true that Luton is struggling with a development programme that still isn’t complete. Maybe things will be better once it is. Although, perhaps only for an additional charge, with anyone not prepared to pay extra stuck with the old service.

After all, what can you expect of an organisation which names itself after a city it takes the best part of an hour to drive to?

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