Friday, 4 May 2018

Luton Airport, revisited

Luton Airport is living proof that Change Alone is Eternal, Perpetual, Immortal. I can't honestly say I can't remember when the current modernisation works began; they had no beginning and seem to have no end. The passenger flow from groundside to airside on Departures and from airside to groundside on Arrivals is in a state of permanent flux. Security, which used to be done on the first floor, is now on the ground floor; acres of new shopping space have been added over the years, with many units still not leased.

[By way of background, I fly through Luton around ten times a year and have done so for the past 10 or 12 years, so yeah, I know the place well. I know that you'll always find a seat at the new Pret-a-Manger, located where Bar Ten used to be by Gates 1-7. I know the free airport wifi is invariably crap, especially whenever there are any significant delays. And I know that W.H.M. Shit (anag) rarely has those large 15p bags needed to hold your magazines and other purchases. And that free copies of the Times are available by the gates, but run out early, though the rack by Gate 28 usually still has some even in the evenings.]

Today I was in for a shock as I left the baggage area for the exit - again it has changed. Once again, one leaves through a different set of doors, back to where they once were... or were they? It was so long ago... Below: a new look for Arrivals.

All change, but the signage isn't keeping up. Or the communication. Once, there were two machines serving railway tickets in the baggage reclaim area. Here, one could buy a ticket to London, ahead of the crowds queueing by the ticket machines nearer the exit. Those machines in the baggage area went a while back, on my last visit the ones by the exit were gone too.

Today, I wandered through the Arrivals hall, bewildered. The exit had been shifted - no sign of anywhere to buy tickets for onward travel - bus or train. The actual exit is now closer to the entrance area for Departures, and a long way from the stop for the bus taking passengers on to Luton 'Airport' Parkway station. Stuff it - if they can't sell me a ticket, I'll walk to the station, I decided. I ended up walking past some new construction (car park? offices?), through the National Express departure bays (all in new positions), then, beyond the drop-off point, finding myself having to hop over fences (in full view of the police) to cross the road in the wrong place to save myself backtracking several hundred metres.

The road from the airport to its station was not designed for, nor by, pedestrians. Either way, one is forced to walk along the verge of a busy road, without pavements. It's doable - it takes about 30 minutes (40 minutes in the snow) if you don't have more than a light rucksack. and it saves £2.10 on the bus fare.

Anyway, I get to Luton 'Airport' Parkway station, buy my ticket to town (£14.70), train comes in promptly and all is well. But I shall be going through 'London' Luton Airport airport again on Monday; will all go smoothly?

Luton is not my airport of choice; Heathrow is so much closer to my father's. But Luton is where the low-cost carriers fly into. I can get from Warsaw to Luton for 198 zł one way (£41) ticket bought three weeks in advance. The train to town is £14.70, tube across London (off peak) is £2.80, bus from Ealing Broadway to my father's is £1.50 (total £21.10 including airport bus). In other words, the 1,000 mile flight costs just twice as much as the 30 mile overland journey from airport to Ealing.

Now, all this is important in the context of a no-deal Brexit. If the UK should tumble out of the Open Skies treaty, third-country airlines won't be able to ply their trade between an EU member state and a non-member state. So forget flying an Irish or Hungarian airline between Poland and the UK - one will be stuck with national carriers, LOT and British Airways.

Looking three weeks ahead, BA's cheapest London-Warsaw ticket is £201. That's five times more than WizzAir. OK, so the tube's much cheaper (£1.50 off-peak from Heathrow Terminals 1-3 to South Ealing), but so what. LOT is half the price of BA (£102.70 for the cheapest flight one-way, three weeks out). Still two-and-half times pricier than WizzAir.

Which is just one reason why I really hate Brexit.

FOLLOW-UP 5 May 2018: Just seen the article in yesterday's City AM - WizzAir has just registered its UK operation as a separate entity, with eight planes and 300 staff. No doubt the planes, all based at Luton, will have G-____ registrations (rather than H-____ as at present). Registering then in the UK, taking on extra UK staff, will not be cheap. Costs will be passed on to the passengers. Unnecessary duplication of business process - just for the sake of Brexit.

This time three years ago:
Another office move (I'm pleased say we're still in the same building!)

This time four years ago:
Workhorse of the Free World's Air Forces over Jeziorki

This time five years ago:
Looking for The Zone, in and around Jeziorki

This time seven years ago:
I awake to snow, on 4 May

This time 11 years ago:
This is not America. No?


John Savery said...

I've been through Luton twice in the last month since the arrivals area moved again. I seem to recall seeing the ticket machines tucked away on the right hand (?) side on my last visit.

I agree signage is poor and the whole layout, departures and arrivals, is designed to take you through endless shops rather than get you to your aircraft smoothly.

I hadn't considered the impact of the open skies treaty, but would a Hungarian or Irish airline be able to set up a UK subsidiary to enable it to compete on routes in and out of the UK?

Michael Dembinski said...

@ John Savery

Re: Open Skies - EasyJet has done just this - it's set itself up as an Austrian company, headquartered in Vienna. In theory doable - but then have SouthWest, American Airlines or United bothered to set up in the UK so that they can pursue the lucrative EU markets?

Dominic said...

Wizz Air appear to have taken account of this, and just the other day they announced plans to set up a UK-based subsidiary. It probably helps, from their commercial viewpoint, that as things stand a fair proportion of the flights they currently operate are between EU and non-EU destinations. (Budapest to Astana stands out as an unlikely one to be, as does Luton to Kutaisi).

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Dominic - right you are. Coincidentally, I read this today in yesterday's City AM (which I didn't have time to read before writing this post). WizzAir has a similar set-up in Ukraine (i.e. a separate legal entity operating out of Kiev and Lviv)