Picture the scene. It is Sunday evening and passengers are herded into the confined space of a waiting room. They wait and wait. The room gets hotter and still the wait continues. People start to fan themselves with any available item they possess. The scheduled boarding time passes, the room is now full and it isn’t getting any cooler. Mutterings become full blown conversations in English, Danish and Swedish; no one knows what is happening. Finally, an announcement is made. The plane is delayed and they have been unable to tell us anything due to a lack of concrete information. They would like to apologize for the heat and suggest that we may be able to wait outside on the tarmac if it gets any worse. For your information, this is the beginning of December, not the middle of July. Eventually, we manage to board without needing to stand on the runway in the cold and wet- kudos to Luton Airport and EasyJet.
Arrival at Copenhagen
More apologies follow onboard the flight. EasyJet would like to apologize for the delay. However, this is due to the late arrival of our aircraft…The cabin crew are helpful, apologetic and professional. After an uneventful flight, we arrive at Copenhagen Airport. Another twenty minutes are spent standing in line. The immigration lines are long and it seems that there are only two officials inspecting every passport. Past immigration and the fun is only starting. The low cost terminal is far, far away, literally! Picture the long corridors of Heathrow and you have an idea of the trek into the main terminal building. Wanderlust magazine could do a feature on this- Adventure Travel without Leaving the Airport. I miss the train back to Sweden, so another wait ensues and it’s midnight before I finally get home. Thank God for coffee. The coffee would be Irish in this case if only I had cream and sugar, but at twenty minutes past midnight there isn’t a hell of a lot open in provincial Sweden.
These weren’t the only annoyances on the trip. On my way there, I’m reprimanded by Copenhagen security for having put soap and a razor in my liquids bag. The razor is fine, but the soap is a solid. Back at Luton this is fine, but I’m told that my zip lock bag is too big, so they confiscate it until I buy a £1 regulation bag, or at least I try to buy a regulation bag but the machine only accepts pound coins (I have two-pound coins and fifty pence pieces). I offer to give them the money if they can change it, but the guys are genuinely obliging and decide to leave me through without the regulation bag. In my favour is the fact that no one has yet launched a terror attack with a razor, a toothbrush, Colgate toothpaste and an assortment of Body Shop Fair Trade products (all brought onboard in a non-regulation bag).
But the above is only a fraction of the joy awaiting travellers in London Luton. If Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, credited by many as the father of low cost travel in Europe, had a vision of low cost passengers arriving on cheap flights to a glorified cowshed, then this might be considered a shrine in his honour. With major work ongoing in the terminal, there is hardly a seat in the place landside. Past security it is packed and, looking for information on my obviously delayed flight, I have to ask Starbucks staff where to go. ‘It’s down there to the left by the gates’, the barista tells me. In fact, there is only a phone at an empty desk. I discover this by going from gate to gate with my query. ‘Stand at the terminal screens or you’ll miss your flight’ the lady on the last desk advises me kindly. Luckily, being an English speaker, my persistence leads me to get some information from a live human being. Imagine if I were an elderly, non-English speaking foreigner on my way home from a visit to a son or daughter…an empty desk with a phone.
How did we get here?
I still remember my parents raving about the food and the service on a Ryanair flight from Waterford to London in the mid-80s. Funnily enough, that’s where it all started because it was their first ever route. Diversifying from that original Waterford route, Ryanair decided to compete with Aer Lingus and British Airways on the highly profitable Dublin-London route, one of the busiest in Europe at the time. Then, along came the first Gulf War, which nearly wiped them out, so copying US-based South West Airlines they launched a new low cost strategy. And the rest is history…Today we have ramshackle airports in the middle of nowhere with near non-existent service, all for a pittance in comparison with the high prices of those halcyon days back in the early 90s.
Despite talk of a Concorde rebirth, low cost flights reflect the economic realities of most travellers. Even the flagship airlines are copying their low cost competitors, often offering a similar level of service to their low cost rivals. How many of those flagship airlines even offer a free coffee on European routes these days? Personally, I expect less when I pay less, but does it have to be such hassle?
Back to the present
Thinking of going to the Adventure Travel Show in London, I search for Friday night flights to London. What pops up?
London Luton with Easyjet…
John 11:35 Jesus wept