This week we’ve done something different by pairing up the airport news of the week. Before we get into it, we would like to make an announcement of our own: if you’re reading this on LateDeparture, you might have noticed that we changed our site layout quite dramatically. The old layout has seen its days, so we redesigned the whole thing with the aim to make it a lot more user friendly and give you a better experience. Let us know what you think!
First it seemed all just a distraction from the failed third runway expansion for London Heathrow but more recently, the concept of an entirely new airport located in the Thames estuary is gaining momentum. This is the time for us to investigate and report on this idea in more detail.
For once this week’s round up of airport related news is focusing entirely on one country on the island of Great Britain. With Qantas’ ongoing strike woes continuing in Australia and Spain’s decision in delaying its airport privatization, to just name two examples, other regions certainly weren’t absent from news headlines around the world, yet it was England that caught our full attention this week.
It’s no secret, LateDeparture has always had a love-hate-relationship with the UK’s third busiest airport. Whilst the airport itself is quite alright, it can feel crowded plus the pure nature of mainly operating low cost carrier can add to the airports stress level (as reviewed a while back). Now, however, the airport presents itself in an entirely different light. And it’s not because of the UK Competition Commission’s turnaround of allowing BAA keep owning the airport, it’s a different story: the actors from the controversial but highly acclaimed comedy show, Little Britain, Matt Lucas and David Walliams launched a spoof of British documentaries Airport and Airline. The series officially started in Britain on Christmas day last year and follows the activity at a fictional airport and three airlines: FlyLo (a low-cost airline), Our Lady Air (an Irish low-cost airline) and Great British Air (a major international British airline).
With Prince William and Kate Middleton’s royal wedding only days away, we thought it’s timely to look closer at Britain’s capital airports in order to find out whether these London airports are actually living up to the (new) royal standards. Plus, is there even such a thing as a royal airport? The answer to the latter question is yes and no. Actually more no than yes. A ‘yes’, because for shorter flights the Queen and the rest of the British Royal Family use RAF Northolt (IATA: NHT), a Royal Air Force station approximately 10 km north of London Heathrow Airport (IATA: LHR). From there they use BAe 146 or HS125 aircraft from ‘No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron’ when available according to the Monarchy’s official website. More no, because in order to save costs the British Royal Family is encouraged to use commercially scheduled flights. This they do mostly out of Heathrow as their royal travel grant-in-aid documents reveal (see for yourself here).
Does 2 hours for changing from one terminal to another at London’s busy Heathrow airport (IATA: LHR) sound like a lot of time? Nope. Would it make you nervous? Likely. Should it? Yes! Well – hang on a minute – let’s look bit closer at this as airports do improve their operations every now and then. Let me show you that ‘bad child Heathrow’ can actually work like clock work, even with a missed approach on your incoming flight. Here’s my experience report on how to change terminals at London Heathrow:
The Guardian yesterday published five things Alain de Botton learned from spending a week in Heathrow‘s terminal 5. BAA hired the Swiss philosopher a month ago and granted him unlimited access to all areas in the terminal. Here is what he found:
1 A surprising number of people die at Heathrow every week: around two a terminal. The 20 minutes after you’ve got off the plane are especially hazardous to your constitution. Then again, given the tenderness that parting couples show one another at the barrier, the prospect of death en route can do wonders for any fractious relationship.
2 There’s a British Airways check-in employee at Terminal 5 who, if you manage to be especially rude to her, will pretend that her machine has suddenly designated you for an upgrade. Then, just as she observes your scowl turn into a deferential smile, she will take a second look at her screen, sigh empathetically and announce that sadly the system has mysterious changed its mind and there won’t be an upgrade after all. “That’s a lesson that normally lasts a lifetime,” she reckons.
3 It’s a good deal more interesting to study how an airline meal is made than to eat one. Every weekday at around 4am, a mile from Terminal 5, in an aluminium shed owned by Gate Gourmet, a woman called Leyla sets to work grilling the hundred lamb cutlets that will, a few hours later, face Emirates business-class passengers on EK008 to Dubai.
4 What spoils our experience of airports is that we tend to go there only to catch a flight. We’d be wiser to start going with a view to doing nothing other than have a look around, as people used to do in the 1960s – and which we will probably have to relearn to do, as we wake up to the extraordinary environmental impact of even the most advanced aeroplane engines.
5 To judge by the continuing success of airport-based company Caviar House, homo sapiens manifests a special proclivity for the creatures of the sea as it prepares to take to the skies. Our sea-based appetites perhaps result from a semiconscious desire to savour man’s triumph over both the oceans and the skies, the overworld and the underworld, this duality perfectly reconciled in a man who can in the same afternoon eat a dozen oysters and board a 747 to another continent.
Alain de Botton’s new book, “A Week at the Airport” is available here (Profile Books, £8.99). In addition, Passengers can get one of 10,000 exclusive copies distributed for free at Costa Coffee stores in all 5 London Heathrow terminals.
[Picture from the Guardian]
London Luton Airport (IATA: LTN) has excellent connections with key towns and cities across the country. Arrive at Luton by bus and you have almost door to door service but be dropped off by a friend – walk an extra 30 seconds to the entrance – and hello – pay £1 for the privilege!! Mmmm. However, once inside Luton International Airport the flat wide floor plan is inviting and user friendly.
With the “must have” M&S and WH Smith to scoop up your trashy mag & bottle of water, the concourse also offers variety of food options including snacks and a full bar from the open style, spacious Cafe Bar.
You’ll also find Bar Des Voyageurs, a beautiful Parisian style bar offering a selection of hot and cold snacks and a choice of wines from around the world.
Once checked in, take a simple flight of escalators to level 2, straight through security and voila, you have entered the international gateway!
Here you will find the typical homage to capitalism, but after wading through duty free shops & alike (some l might add have amazing bargains) you are greeted by the golden sun streaming through the massive windows.
For those sceptics: On the other 364 days of the year you are still greeted by an abundance of wonderful light ;). This is truly an underestimated advantage to any flight where you might be suffering the dreaded late departure… natural light.
So, you have now entered the perfectly positioned open/free flowing bar Est … offering freshly prepared cocktails, juice combinations, Italian coffee and a delicious selection of antipasti platters.
Opposite is the cosy sister restaurant, Est … where you have a full menu to choose from including freshly made pizza, pasta, focaccia, salads and more.
A helpful Amusement Arcade called “Game Grid” is also positioned directly opposite: fun for all the family! Drop the kids off & watch them whilst sipping a glass of Chardy!
Once called for your flight you wind through a rabbit warren walkway of fibro but you will get there in the end.
Let’s Talk Arriving in Luton…
As above, your friends and family can chose to pay £1 to greet you at the virtual door OR you can jump on a bus. Although travel time is only 2 minutes down the road to the “free section”, who can be bothered after a long flight? Mmmm.
Top 3 adventures in Luton International Airport:
- The attractive open Bar Cafe smack-bang in the middle of the check in/entrance area lends itself to a payback drink with your friend who just lost £1 by dropping you off.
- Indulge your retro pacman fantasies in the amusement arcade, Game Grid.
- Watch the chefs carve your roast or take out the freshly baked bread from the exposed ovens at The Real Food Company. Fresh fruit is on display so why not choose your own smoothie! (A new children’s play area has just opened too!)
|Airport Name||London Luton Airport|
|Design||.5 (points for super functional layout)|
[Picture from Flickr – some rights reserved]
On my business trips to California I usually prefer to fly Virgin Atlantic, but this time, unfortunately, the economics were against my preference. Well, to be honest, British Airways isn’t actually that bad even though their Premium Economy product lacks all the benefits of its arch rival but I guess value for my employer value for money was pretty okay this time. But there is one very clear benefit of flying with BA out of Heathrow (IATA: LHR): you can leave from Terminal 5. And that, you have to admit, is despite all the BAA bashing, is a fantastic terminal.
LateDeparture.com has previously written about Terminal 5 but we then focused on the main building, housing the “A gates”. Terminal 5’s full structure, however, consists today of the main building and a satellite terminal with the B gates (Terminal 5B). A third complex, the C gates (or Terminal 5C), is currently in construction and due to open in May 2010. British Airways mainly operates their long haul flights from the B gates, hence I now got the chance to have a closer look at it.
Reaching the satellite terminal is simple and quick: you hop on a short underground shuttle from the main building. Make sure you set aside 10 to 15 minutes for the journey with the actual shuttle ride only taking about 1 minute. There, by the way, I suggest you ride in the front as it travels pretty fast and looking out to the track is a somewhat exciting (I know boys will be boys…).
Once at the terminal, you will find a few shops (see PDF map for details) including a nicely stocked Boots (I liked their selection of miniature travel essentials), a WHSmith, a Duty-Free Shop, a “Caviar House Seafood” bar with a great view towards the main building and a sandwich & coffee place. None of them are actually interesting enough for you to leave the shopping and gourmet heaven of the main building in a hurry, but there is one very distinct advantage of the satellite: it is quiet. Because fewer flights depart from this terminal, less people are present which again means you can easily find somewhere to sit and relax. This, together with the 360 degree view of everything that is going on at Britain’s busiest airport makes it an attractive option for people like me who are fascinated observing the airport’s operations, landing and departing aircrafts (try to spot Singapore Airline’s A380). With the satellite’s close proximity to the main terminal, it could even be an attractive alternative for sitting out longer delays occurring in the main terminal.
[Photo by LateDeparture.com – all rights reserved]
Update: Fire engines are arriving but are held back at the holding area outside the Central Bus Terminal.
Update: The terminal has just been reopened. Now hundreds of people are trying to get back in. It looks chaotic!
Update: I’ve now made my way to Kuala Lumpur but nearly missed my plane in London since I had to queue for about an hour for security at Terminal 3 and it seemed as most other passengers of that flight were already through it before the evacuation. Luckily for me the fantastic onboard service from Etihad Airlines made up for the Heathrow shambles.