There used to be adverts that talked of Gatquick, but on my flight out, it was one of the slowest experiences I’d had in any of London’s airports.
As I was travelling economy and the airport was extremely busy, I found it very difficult to find anywhere to sit.
One mistake I did make was to eat at Carluccio’s in Islington before I left for the airport, as I thought this would be easier, than queuing up at Jamie Oliver’s in the airport. It was easy and I had a good lunch, but if I’d gone to Jamie’s I’d have had somewhere pleasant to sit.
I thought Gatwick was getting better since it was sold, but it still isn’t fit for purpose!
Sir Howard Davies and his Airports Commission has reported about what it feels are ideas to expand London’s airports.
What he is proposing ignores a few facts.
I don’t think that any extra runway at Heathrow is possible, as the people who live in West London, would not vote for any MP, who supports it and therefore in their view make their lives worse. This of course ignores the fact that most people in the area, moved there after Heathrow was opened and they have had plenty of time to move away.In fact, they’re probably some of the most opinionated and selfish Nimbys in the country.
The major airlines, such as British Airways and Virgin want Heathrow to be expanded as this is much more convenient and probably more profitable for them. After all, say if Gatwick were to be expanded, then they would have to have two operations in different places.
Everything, I’ve read about the report, makes little mention of technology that will become available in the next few years.
Aircraft will certainly get more efficient and hopefully quieter, which should ease disturbance.
But some of the bugger changes will occur in how the aircraft are controlled, so they will be able to fly paths, that are much more precise and therefore become less noticeable to those on the ground. Such things as stacks of aircraft over London waiting to land at Heathrow will disappear.
The Commission does state that patterns of air travel will change because of low cost airlines and more point-to-point flying.
And this brings me to the last fact that he ignored.
Generally, it’s passengers who choose which flights they use. And the methods they choose are sometimes bizarre to say the least.
I choose my flights very much on the departure time of the flight and the availability of gluten-free food at the terminal.
Others may only fly with an airline on their favourite loyalty program.
So one factor that will change our behaviour and ease pressure on busy airports, is convenient alternatives. We already get that. Scots who want to fly to say the States, often travel to Manchester Airport, as the flights are cheaper, than at Glasgow or Edinburgh. This loads the trains from Glasgow to Manchester Airport so much, that extra trains are being purchased for the route. Other Scots, who may need to fly to say London to get an onward flight, often take a quick hop to Schipol instead. The big airlines at Heathrow, want this stopped and hence they are in favour of an expansion there.
So one thing that will take the pressure of the airports in London is better facilities and more flights at other airports. We probably need to open up regional airports more to foreign carriers, but then the big boys like their monopolies.
I can never understand why there isn’t a regular service from Stansted to the New York area. Airlines have tried but all seem to fail. Is the marketing of the big airlines and Heathrow to blame?
Crossrail and Thameslink will be game changers in how passengers choose to use the London airports. Millions of people will now be better connected to either one or both of the airports, so if the flights are available at the convenient one, they’ll use them.
Personally, I used to hate Gatwick, as this post from 2011 indicates. But after a change of ownership and better train links from East London, I quite like the place. Gatwick will get better, as the South Terminal gets rebuilt and restaurants are improved. Stansted is now rather a dump and you would only fly from there for cheap flights or unusual destinations.
So even the most stubborn of individuals can be made to change their minds!
Of the options the Airports Commission lays out, only two are viable.
An airport in the Thames Estuary will never be built, as it is just too costly and new technology and the other airports in the South East will expand enough to take the increase of demand.
A new runway at Heathrow will never be built, as the Nimbys and politics will stop that happening.
So we are left with a new runway at Gatwick. I may not agree with how it is built, but the big factor is that the locals are not as opposed to the idea as they are at Heathrow.
But the idea I like is the extending of the northern runway at Heathrow. It was an innovative idea thought up by a pilot and put forward by Arup, who are not noted for bad ideas.
Although it would require a lot of thought over how it would be operated, It has the great advantage that it could probably be built with not too much disruption to either operations at the airport or the traffic on the M25. You could start by building a tunnel parallel to and west of the western section of the M25, which would be opened before you actually started work on the airport. Remember that with Crossrail and other tunnels, we’re the world’s best tunnel builders.
I’ve looked at a detailed map of the area and if the problems of air traffic and organisation of the aircraft can be solved, I think that much of the noise intrusion could probably be contained within the current airport boundary.
But I have this sneaking suspicion that no new runways will be built or extended and in twenty years time or so, we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.
Passengers will just choose their airports with more care and airports will be competing with us with better and better facilities and more point-to-point flights.
It wasn’t that good, as the South Terminal doesn’t have a Jamie’s Italian like the the North one does.
I was in a restaurant, where I had some pretty good scrambled egg, but there were other things on the menu, that I thought, if they had been properly cooked, would be gluten-free.
The restaurant was also serving Aspall’s cyder, which I know is gluten-free, but they didn’t know it was.
Surely, if McDonalds know what contains allergues, it is not beyond the wit of any restaurant to do the same.
So that’s one restaurant, I won’t bother with again.
I went to the toilet at Gatwick and despite it being a long walk from the Departures Lounge, I had no problems.
But it wasn’t so easy for a guy on two crutches I met, who looked distinctly unhappy. He told me the problem was that as the disabled toilet is the only place where smokers can’t be spotted, they use it as a smoking room. He said that it was particularly disgusting and smelt very strongly of smoke.
I bet those smokers don’t smoke in their own toilets at home!
To start the journey back from Palermo, I needed to get to Gatwick Airport for the 06:20 easyJet flight.
I did think about checking in to a hotel at the airport, but in the end I got up early aiming to catch the 04:00 Gatwick Express to the airport.
I looked for a taxi and in the end I took a night bus from close to my house to Victoria.
It was an unusual and almost magical experience, as I sat up front at the top, on a virtually empty bus, that sped through an empty city. It ran a bit faster than the schedule.
Some of my friends advised against this method of getting to the airport, as you don’t know who you’ll meet. But I didn’t meet or even see anybody, except for the bus driver and another passenger on the bus, who took the same route to Gatwick.
If I have to get an early flight from Gatwick, I will use the same method again.
WH Smith, had re-branded their outlet at Gatwick as the London News Company.
It was the same old store, with the same old things that annoy me.
My hope is that one day, we get a good travel convenience store.
I searched everywhere and couldn’t find any, or in fact any other gluten-free snacks to take with me on the trip.
I had thought I’d forgotten to pack any, but luckily it turned out I was mistaken.
But obtaining gluten-free snacks on the move is always difficult.
I flew to Geneva from Gatwick on easyJet on an early afternoon flight, as that way, I got to have a good lunch in Jamie’s Italian in the North Terminal. I always prefer to arrive in a strange place well fed, as I can’t be sure of the food I can get there.
To get to Gatwick, I generally go using the Overground to Clapham Junction and then get one of the many trains to the airport, from there.
Together with quite a few other passengers, I piled into one of Southern’s Class 377 trains. I’ve written about these trains before, and Second Class is so good, I never bother with First. At £6.85 from Clapham Junction to Gatwick, it’s definitely good value, especially as they are well-tabled trains.
But we all piled into a First Class section of the train!
Before the first stop at East Croydon, this was discovered by the ticket collector, who very politely asked us to move on, or buy a simple upgrade. A few jokes were exchanged and I think we all moved, although one guy did buy the upgrade.
I never saw the ticket collector again.
I do wonder though, whether with these trains, the comfort in Second Class is not perceptibly below that in First. The only difference is you have a big table in First and a few signs.
The inspector had handled the situation impeccably and he had warned us about revenue protection officers, who aren’t so pleasant.
I suspect that the whole incident, got Southern a few more returning customers.