Category : Airport News

Should Booze be Banned on Board Aircraft?

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

In the wake of yet another drunken incident on board a flight, we’re looking at booze on aircraft this week. And it’s a particularly contentious subject.

booze on planes

Alcohol on Aircraft

Some people think getting drunk in the airport or on a plane is perfectly fine, something passengers have always had the right to do. Others think things have gone too far, with out-and-out drunkenness becoming more and more common, overtaking the long tradition for having a couple of drinks on board and turning it into something nastier, less acceptable and often downright antisocial.

Some industry commentators and passengers feel feel it’s high time airlines and airports tightened up the rules about drunkenness on the ground and in the air. And a growing number think it’s about time alcohol was banned from both airports and planes altogether in the interests of everyone’s safety, comfort and enjoyment.

Booze on flights – An investigation

First, it makes sense to take a quick look at the primary function of a passenger aircraft. Few would disagree it’s an airline’s job to take people from A to B safely and securely, and ideally make it a pleasant experience despite the fact that you’re stuck 30,000 feet in the air, way above the earth – something that freaks enough of us out without unpredictable drunk people on board.

Second, it seems sensible to look at alcohol itself, too. Along with tobacco, alcohol sits at the very top of every evidence-based dangerous drugs list in the world, way above illicit substances like LSD and Ecstasy. Being drunk kills thousands of us every year. It’s responsible for massive amounts of extremely expensive damage to property. And the health issues is causes present a huge financial burden to the NHS.

So what role does alcohol play in the safe transport of people? Bearing in mind its dangers, logic says it’s highly debatable. While it’s nice to have a drink on board a plane, is it really a good idea? Is booze an essential part of the air travel experience? After all we can’t drink and drive or drink at work, and being drunk on a bus or train doesn’t exactly endear you to your fellow passengers.

In other words, should alcohol be given the same treatment as smoking, banned from all aircraft as a matter of course?

Drunken man jailed for 9 months over plane violence

Gatwick police recently encountered a man so drunk he didn’t even know what country he was in. He probably couldn’t remember the fact that he’d forced the plane to be diverted either, following a terrifying mid-air confrontation. And he’s been thrown in prison for nine months as a result, having been made an example of. It’s a clear sign the police are fed up with this kind of thing, as are the airlines and the majority of people who fly with them.

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34 year old Andrew Tosh, who is surely old enough to know better, “sexually assaulted a female cabin crew member, swore and acted aggressively to other passengers on the Glasgow to Turkey flight”. The police had to cuff him to keep him calm after the plane landed at Gatwick in an unscheduled stop, where they turfed him off the plane to prevent a potential disaster. While being arrested Tosh spat at the police, who had to put a hood over his head, and the way he treated the cabin crew resulted in him being added to the sex offenders register. What a dramatic and shameful end to a drunken binge.

Imagine you were there. Nobody in their right mind would enjoy sitting next to a drunken lout for hours, even more so when you’re 30,000 feet in the air. And what about the cabin crew? Do they deserve having to deal with sexual abuse, verbal abuse and physical threats? It’s frightening for other passengers, especially children, and the police have just about had enough of it. In their words: “This kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable and neither us nor the airlines will tolerate it.”

Sadly it’s only the latest in a string of drunken incidents on board aeroplanes. Happily the worm is turning and it looks like things might eventually change.

Anti-alcohol group calls for an in-plane ban

The Aussie anti-alcohol campaign group Drug Arm Australasia has declared their support for banning booze in aircraft and even in airports themselves. They reckon a ban would, “reduce the risk and harms associated with alcohol use and increase the safety of both passengers and crew.” The call for a ban comes after two flights were disrupted by disruptive and dangerous drunks in just two months.

Qantas and Virgin not planning to change alcohol policies

Popular Aussie airlines Qantas and Virgin Australia both say they’re not planning to change their alcohol policies. Maybe it’s because they’re scared to be the first airline to make a stand? But if one brave airline topples, will the rest follow?

in flight entertainment

In-Flight Entertainment – with drinks

It’s likely, since redirecting planes and making unscheduled stops is expensive and inconvenient for airlines as well as driving sober passengers nuts and disrupting innocent people’s journeys. And the strain it puts on the cabin crew and the people who actually fly the planes doesn’t bear thinking about. What an awful thing to have to deal with in a confined space, where there’s no escape from the mayhem and it goes on for hours and hours.

Ryanair takes action against drunks on board

Bucking the trend for ignoring the issue, Ryanair has already banned booze on flights from Glasgow Prestwick airport to Ibiza after a run of passenger-driven disruptions. They say:

“Any alcohol purchased in airport shops or elsewhere must be packed in a suitable item of baggage, which will be tagged and placed in the aircraft hold free of charge. Customers attempting to conceal alcohol will be denied travel without refund or compensation.

Having consulted with our customers and the airport, passengers flying from Glasgow Prestwick to Ibiza will no longer be permitted to bring duty free alcohol on board the aircraft.

Those who have purchased duty free alcohol will be asked to either place their purchases in their cabin baggage and into the hold at the boarding gate, or leave their purchases behind. The comfort and safety of our customers and crew is our number one priority and we will not tolerate unruly behaviour at any time.”

It looks like Ryanair’s flights between Prestwick and Ibiza will be a lot more pleasurable for ordinary passengers who don’t feel the need to get absolutely legless while travelling. But it still leaves most of us, on other flights, wide open to abuse, fear, delays, diversions and potential in-flight disaster.

Sussex police scheme helps prevent drunken incidents on board

A scheme to tackle drunk passengers at Gatwick Airport has seen alcohol-fuelled incidents drop in frequency, thanks to Sussex police patrolling airport bars on the look-out for excessive pre-flight boozing. They’re taking the initiative along with Monarch Airlines, targeting late night flights to Ibiza. As a result the police say there’s been a 50% drop in booze-related issues. Monarch also says incidents have been “greatly reduced”.

alcohol on aircraft

Alcohol Miniatures on Aircraft

Apparently Sussex police have been telling passengers in airport bars that if they get too drunk, they won’t be allowed on the plane, although the airline’s cabin crew have the final say in whether people are let on board.

As the police say, “We all want people to have a drink and enjoy their flight, but it’s about just not starting a party a little bit too early, and being aware that at altitude the effects of alcohol increase – so two pints can potentially become four pints at altitude.”

Would booze-free flights suit you?

Would you prefer to fly on a plane where booze isn’t an issue because it’s banned on board? If you’re travelling as a family, the answer is probably ‘yes’. The same goes if you’re not inclined to booze your way to oblivion on the way to your destination, a group that probably includes the majority of the flying public.

How about a choice between boozy flights and non-booze options, where you had the choice of ‘enjoying’ a rowdy on-board party or picking a quiet alcohol-free flight? It’s obvious that flights to some destinations – for example Ibiza – are more at risk from drunken disturbances than others. Should airlines ban booze on at-risk routes or make a wholesale ban?

Whatever your views, we’d love to hear them. Feel free to comment and share.

Heathrow Expansion Threatens Ancient Village

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

“We have a historic village with buildings that go back 600 years. You cannot replace that. You cannot buy memories.”

So says a resident of the beautiful village of Harmondsworth, which is under threat from Heathrow airport’s expansion plans.

Harmondsworth Village Green

Harmondsworth Village Green

About Heathrow expansion – The death of a village?

Harmondsworth is home to St. Mary’s Church, a delightful building dating back to the 11th century. It boasts the famous Great Barn, a beautiful 15th century oak-framed beast a whopping 192 feet long nicknamed the Cathedral of Middlesex by the poet John Betjeman.

These treasures would apparently be saved, but there doesn’t seem much point when the proposed runway would be so close to what’s left of the village that no one would be able to bear visiting, never mind living there. And the place isn’t alone. More pretty English villages are threatened by the plans.

The issue is so toxic UK politicians set up an independent commission to sift through the options. Now the General Election is over, a final decision is due, perhaps in June. Once the Commission makes its recommendations it’s down to our political leaders to make a final decision. But as the Archaeological scientist and village resident Justine Bayley says, the developers “have no concern that they are screwing up the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for their shareholders.”

Harmondsworth is under threat because experts feel the south east and London need more airport capacity for business travel and tourists. If it goes ahead the cost of expansion is likely to be around 18 billion pounds – an eye-watering amount of money – although it’s probably more realistic to work on a ‘think of a budget and double it’ basis.

However those in power choose to handle the proposed expansion, homes will be destroyed and surviving neighbourhoods will be faced with extra noise, pollution and traffic.

The news begs several important questions: just how far do we let the planners go in pursuit of an airport expansion strategy that many experts feel is simply not needed, with many of the nation’s regional airports currently running under capacity? Is Heathrow airport expansion a matter of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut? If there’s any doubt about the veracity of the plans, surely they shouldn’t go ahead.

Do we carry on and let it happen, destroying peoples’ homes, peace of mind, futures and an invaluable part of Britain’s historic heritage while we’re at it? Or do we take a step back and think again about a monstrously destructive development project that might not even be necessary in the first place?

Let’s see what the media are saying. First there’s WRAL, a CBS-affiliated virtual television station based over the Atlantic in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. It just goes to show how important the subject of expansion at Heathrow airport is, being talked about all over the world.

WRAL comments on UK airport expansion plans

According to WRAL:

“With its classic red phone booth, pub, and medieval church, Harmondsworth’s center looks quintessentially British. But the search for a twee English village isn’t what brings millions of people within a stone’s throw of its boundaries.

The attraction is neighboring Heathrow Airport, which served 73 million travelers last year. Now Europe’s busiest airport is proposing to build a runway roughly through the center of town, leveling the ivy-covered brick walls of the Harmondsworth Hall guest house and two-thirds of its homes. A village that traces its history to the 6th century would be forever altered, and some argue even what’s left would be uninhabitable.”

London Heathrow Airport

London Heathrow Airport

A bitter ongoing PR debate

There’s been a long-running and bitter public relations debate over the issue and the two different plans to expand Heathrow are both set to be obscenely expensive. Various predictions from big business and economics experts are being called into doubt. Does the ability of people and businesses to move and connect faster really make an economy more competitive? Is it really a case of ‘survival of the fastest’? And are unproven economic predictions more important than the certainty of ruining people’s homes, villages and lives?

Is economic growth a good enough reason

A growing number of economics gurus believe a constantly-growing economy is an unrealistic expectation with damaging consequences. They say a steady economy is what we need to avoid the cycle of boom and bust we get under the current ‘growth is everything’ system. So if we don’t need constant economic growth, do we need extra airport capacity?

Heathrow’s External Relations Director says he understands why some people are very upset, though he claims there are some residents in Harmondsworth and the nearby village of Sipson who support the project. If his home and lifestyle were threatened, he probably wouldn’t be quite so sanguine.

Heathrow extra runway compensation packages

While the airport would offer ‘compensation packages’ for people whose houses would be demolished and others who’d find themselves living right next door to a runway, is mere money enough compensation for being driven out of your home against your will?

It’s a tricky balance to strike, to achieve growth while safeguarding our heritage. A cynical few say the objections would be fewer if the village of Harmondsworth wasn’t quite so pretty and historic, but that just seems like sour grapes. It doesn’t matter what your home looks like or how old it is. If the very fabric of the place you live might be taken from you, you’re unlikely to feel happy about it, especially when you’re forced to leave through a draconian Compulsory Purchase Order.

What about the Government?

In 2010 Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party pledged to fight Heathrow expansion. Now the Conservatives seem to have changed their minds. And the locals are feeling let down. As one said, “My grandparents worked this land. I have war dead in the cemetery of the church. This is my home and if I am forced to leave here, who will it be for? Foreign investors. The message I would give to the world is that the British government can be bought.”

david cameron

David Cameron

Airportwatch’s comments

The Airportwatch website delivers much the same message:

“Heathrow’s plan for a north west runway would mean the devastation of the medieval village of Harmondsworth. The airport boundary would come almost to the centre of the village, with everything south of that line demolished. It would level the ivy-covered brick walls of the Harmondsworth Hall guest house and two-thirds of the village’s homes.

A village that traces its history to the 6th century would be damaged so badly that even what is left would be uninhabitable. People don’t want financial compensation, they just don’t want their village destroyed or the bulldozing of a historic village with buildings that go back 600 years which cannot be replaced.”

Airportwatch also comments on the Richmond Heathrow Campaign’s response to the Airport Commission’s air quality report, as follows:

“The Richmond Heathrow Campaign (RHC) have submitted their response to the Airports Commission’s consultation on air quality. They comment on the inadequacy of the consultation, and the difficulty for lay people in understanding it.

They say that with at least 100,000 people affected by a worsening of the air quality resulting from Heathrow expansion, plans, it is not realistic for the government to approve such a plan. The various possible mitigations for NO2 “may not be sufficient to avoid delaying compliance with standards that are already being breached. This will mean that if expansion were approved by the Government, it would knowingly be planning to continue breaching standards without a realistic plan to put this right.”

The RHC put – in plain English – some of their concerns about the Jacobs study, done for the Commission, and the things it has left out. Just a few of these include: the date chosen to assess air quality is 2030, when a runway would only be perhaps 35% full; much of the anticipated reduction in air pollution is from a higher proportion of air passengers travelling to and from the airport by rail; the cost of the necessary enhancements of rail services would be a huge cost for the taxpayer; health impacts, especially of vulnerable groups, have not been assessed.”

Learn about London’s history of expansion with Time Out

Time Out London has created a fascinating take on urban expansion, tracing the history of the expansion of our capital over the centuries. If Heathrow expansion goes ahead the city will take another step towards mega-status, a vast and still-growing thing eating up villages and towns and leaving and endless urban sprawl in its wake. As they say in their salutory tale:

“You might dispute some areas’ village status nowadays, but back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people were farming in Islington and building country piles in West Ham.”

The resulting article goers on to examine five fascinating old maps tracing the city’s relentless growth. Will pretty little Harmondsworth fall victim to London’s gaping maw or will the remarkable power of public protest saving the day?

Predictions for Heathrow airport expansion

On the bright side for the hundreds of thousands of Brits who live along the flight path or on land that could be grabbed for airport expansion, getting permission is one thing but actually getting the work done is another. We may have a famously stiff upper lip but when we’re threatened, us Brits batten down the hatches. We keep calm and we carry on.

Observers predict an ongoing battle with planners, builders, developers and the government. Sit-ins, protests, petitions, social media outrage… it all goes towards slowing unpopular development projects if not stopping them in their tracks.

What do you feel about expansion at Heathrow airport?

Conservation and green issues, noise, pollution, urban sprawl… what bothers you most about airport expansion? Maybe you’re all for it. In which case we’d love to share your opinion with our readers. Feel free to comment.

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Britain’s Busy Airports Get Busier

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

As we move inexorably towards the 2015 summer holiday season, it looks like Britain’s already-busy airports are getting even busier. What’s going on, is it a long term trend and what – if anything – can you do to make the entire experience as painless as possible?

heathrow airport

Heathrow Airport – Getting Busier

Heathrow and Gatwick airports getting more crowded

Both Heathrow and Gatwick airports experienced record passenger numbers during March 2015. Just under 3 million of us travelled through Gatwick, more than 9% more than the same time last year. Heathrow airport handled just under 6 million people during March 2015, up 3.4% on March 2014.

Total passenger numbers at Heathrow for 2013 were 72,367,054 and for 2014, 73,405,330. That’s more than the entire population of the UK travelling through Heathrow airport. Gatwick’s passenger numbers look like they’re steadily going up too, from 35,444,206 in 2013 to a total of 38,103,667.

Both airports are waiting to find out the outcome of the Airports Commission capacity review in the south east of England, allegedly due ‘shortly after the general election’. We can’t find any news yet, but feel free to correct us if you know different. In the meantime, watch this space. We’ll be reporting on any decisions about airport expansion.

Are busier airports a growing trend in Britain? According to figures on Wikipedia, yes. Their table detailing the top 40 busiest UK airports reveals only a handful of airports with falling passenger numbers, eleven in total. The rest have steadily increased year on year from 2013 – 14.

The UK’s 8 next busiest airports

  • Manchester airport is our third busiest, with an impressive 20,751,581 passengers throughout 2013 and 6% more during 2014, offering over 200 destinations and more than 100 airlines. But there’s more. Almost 30,000 more of us travelled via Manchester airport in April 2015 than April 2014. The rolling annual passenger total is currently a vast 22.3 million, up 6.7% year-on-year.
  • London Stansted airport is the fourth busiest UK airport, connecting with more than 145 destinations via 12 different airlines. They handled almost 18 million travellers during 2013 alone and just under 20 million in 2014.
  • London Luton airport handled just over nine and a half million travellers in 2013 and just under ten and a half million in 2014, up 8.1%.
  • Edinburgh airport comes next, the sixth busiest in Britain with 9,775,443 passengers in 2013 and 10,160,004 in 2014, up just under 4%.
  • Birmingham airport comes next, with 9,120,201 passengers in 2013 and a 6.4 rise in 2014 to 9,705,955.
  • Glasgow airport looked after 7,363,764 of us during 2013 and 4.8% more, 7,715,988, the year after.
  • Bristol airport is the ninth busiest in Britain, handling 6,131,896 people in 2013 and 3.4% last year.
  • Newcastle airport is tenth busiest, with almost four and a half million passengers during 2013 and 2.2% more in 2014.
manchester airport

Manchester Airport – Terminal 3

Which UK airports are handling fewer passengers in 2014?

If you can’t stand the crowds you might prefer to travel to a quieter airport. So which UK hubs handled fewer passengers in 2014 than they did in 2013? Obviously the figures for 2015 aren’t anywhere near ready, but the 2013/14 numbers provide a reasonable indication.

  1. Liverpool John Lennon airport – down 4.8% years on year
  2. Leeds Bradford airport – down 1.3%
  3. Cardiff airport – down 4.5%
  4. Glasgow Prestwick airport – down 20.3%
  5. Isle of Man airport – 1.3%
  6. Norwich airport – down 1%
  7. City of Derry airport – down 9%
  8. Scatsta airport – down 6.2%
  9. Blackpool airport – down 14.7%
  10. Durham Tees Valley airport – down 11.6%
  11. Alderney airport – down 2.4%

What’s happened at Glasgow Prestwick, with over 20% fewer passengers?

As Wikipedia says:

“In physical terms, Prestwick is Scotland’s largest commercial airfield, although in passenger traffic terms it sits in fourth place after Edinburgh Airport, Glasgow International, and Aberdeen Airport. Passenger traffic peaked at 2.4 million in 2007 following ten years of rapid growth, driven in part by the boom in no-frills airlines, especially from Ryanair which uses the airport as an operating base. There has been a significant reduction in passenger traffic with around 900,000 passengers passing through the airport in 2014.

On 8 March 2012 the airport owner Infratil announced that they had placed the airfield up for sale. The airport remained unsold until October 2013 when the Scottish Government announced it was in negotiations to take the airport back into public ownership. Subsequently the Scottish Government took ownership on Friday 22 November for £1, Infratil having incurred annual losses of £2m.

It is expected the airport will continue to operate as normal and there will be no job losses. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told BBC Scotland that work would now begin for “turning Prestwick around and making it a viable enterprise”. On 1 April 2014, the public petition committee at Holyrood heard that The Robert Burns World Federation wished to rename the airport to Robert Burns International Airport. In June 2014, Ryanair announced the relocation of some routes from Prestwick to Glasgow Airport by October 2014, among them are the flights to Warsaw and Dublin.”

prestwick airport

Prestwick Airport Entrance

Busiest April EVER at Edinburgh and Glasgow airports

On 11th May the BBC announced that Scotland’s two biggest hubs had their busiest April on record, partly down to Easter bank holiday travel. Just under 930,000 of us hit Edinburgh Airport in April, up 10.2% on the same month in 2014, and 665,000 headed for flights out of Glasgow Airport, 15.4% more than April 2014, probably due to an increase in flights between London and Edinburgh plus more long-haul destinations from Glasgow.

According to the BBC news website:

“Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said: “Our passenger numbers have continued to rise each month in 2015 and last month was our busiest April on record. “We’ve seen strong performances on both domestic and international routes, with London doing particularly well. “A number of new routes have also launched since April last year, including Madrid with Iberia Express, Malaga with Norwegian and Copenhagen with SAS.”

Amanda McMillan, managing director of Glasgow Airport, said: “We have enjoyed double-digit growth in our passenger numbers for six consecutive months, but to have recorded our busiest April ever is hugely encouraging. “There certainly appears to be a renewed confidence amongst passengers and airlines alike, and with the launch of nine new services, including direct flights to Prague and Halifax, Nova Scotia, May promises to be yet another busy month.”

What about the long-term?

Cheap, no frills air travel is probably partly responsible for the rise and rise in the popularity of Britain’s airports. If low cost flights ever nosedive for whatever reason, the upward trend might slow.

This might happen if, for example, aircraft, airlines and airports are forced to go greener and end up having to charge passengers an environmental premium. If the bottom drops out of the economy again, whether at home or worldwide, the trend could also slow. But as things look right now, UK airports will probably just keep on getting busier.

There’s some excellent insight into the next generation of environmentally friendlier aircraft here, reported by the Washington Post in January 2015.

Book an airport lounge in advance…

If you’re stuck using a particularly busy airport and can’t stand the crowds, you’ll probably appreciate the calm and peace of a good value, cosy, well equipped airport lounge. But as things get ever-busier, it’s more important than ever to book your airport lounge in advance.

… and book your airport parking early

The same goes for airport parking and airport hotels, both of which might be busier than you expect. Book your airport parking early and you’ll still be able to sail through smoothly. Leave it to the last minute and you might find your journey is a lot less convenient and nowhere near as pleasant.

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Gatwick Airport and Heathrow Airport News Round-Up

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

With the Uk General Election less than 24 hours away, expansion plans for Gatwick airport and Heathrow are dependant on the result. At the same time the continuing terrorist threat means security is hotter than ever, with airport alerts on a weekly basis. Here’s the latest airport news.

London Heathrow Airport

London Heathrow Airport

Politicians go quiet over Heathrow and Gatwick expansion plans

It’s a sure sign politicians from every party are aware of how unpopular airport expansion is with the people who actually live in affected areas. Very few of us would welcome all the extra noise, pollution, crowded roads, terrorised wildlife and all the other disadvantages of having an even bigger airport right on your doorstep. So it’s no wonder, with the General Election only a few hours away, that the main political parties remain ominously silent on the airport expansion front.

gatwick airport

UK Gatwick Airport

The timetable for airport expansion has been artificially lengthened, and big decisions about the nation’s air transport infrastructure will still affect voters’ decisions in west London and Sussex. As an article in The Guardian newspaper says:

“Decisions over the nation’s infrastructure after the 7 May election will involve billions in spending; affect tens of thousands of jobs; consign many communities to blight, noise and pollution; and alter the economic map of the UK. Yet political debate about the two most critical transport projects undertaken in decades is all but absent. On HS2, the £50bn high-speed rail scheme, parties have nailed their colours to the mast, officially backing it. But when it comes to airport expansion, a decision is imminent, yet neither of the largest parties will show its hand.”

On the other hand airport expansion delays are nothing new. The Airports Commission was set up by David Cameron in 2012 to explore, yet again, for the Nth time, whether more airport capacity is actually needed. It won’t report back until July this year, long after the election result is a done deal. And the Chairman Howard Davies isn’t afraid to admit the expansion timetable was specially lengthened ton deliver a post-election decision.

So, where are we right now? According to the Conservatives, they’re making a pledge to “respond to the commission” quickly, and Labour promise to “make a swift decision”. Neither of which is the slightest bit of help for the people living in places that might – or might not – end up living in the path of an extra runway.

Love them or hate them, Heathrow early morning flights might end…

You crawl out of bed at two in the morning, heave yourself into your car or onto a train and you’re in the air by 5am. Some people appreciate mega-early morning flights, others hate them. If you live under a flight path, you probably don’t think much of them, waking you, your family and animals up with all that antisocial engine noise. But it looks like they might be a thing of the past at Heathrow if a key compromise is made in an effort to secure agreement for an extra runway.

As the Evening Standard says:

“Up to 18 planes currently land at Heathrow between 4.30am and 6am each day, but campaigners want these to be stopped amid noise complaints from those living under the flight path.”

Get West London also reports the story, saying:

“Heathrow’s chief has said he would look at scrapping night flights altogether were it a condition for expansion to be allowed.”

The airport has already promised not to increase the numbers of pre-6am flights if it builds a new runway. If you live under the Heathrow flight path, would cancelling all the early morning flights make you feel happier about the planned extra capacity?

Local MPs back residents’ objections to Gatwick expansion

An awful lot of local people are standing firm in protest against a second runway at Gatwick airport. And they’re delighted to have the support of the majority of the region’s parliamentary candidates. So say the splendidly vocal Gatwick Airport Conservation Campaign, which strongly opposes plans for extra runway capacity at the airport.

According to them all eleven local Tory candidates are against the development, as are the area’s UKIP and Green candidates.

How do the locals know? They surveyed local parliamentary candidates and found most of them were happy to sign a pledge to fight a new runway. And the reasons are the same as usual: more aircraft noise, negative environmental effects and the need for yet more destructive infrastructure in the shape of new roads and even more rail connections. Worse still, evidence that extra capacity will have a positive economic and social effect is under serious question, and many experts believe the justifications simply don’t stack up.

Locals are thrilled because if all eleven local Conservatives are re-elected their votes in a hung parliament situation could – with a bit of luck – be exactly what’s needed to stop new runway plans for good.

Imagine having to wait years and years to find out whether or not your home might suddenly drop in value because it’s directly under a new runway, or your village might become so noise polluted life isn’t worth living there. The delays and the resulting uncertainty must be driving residents nuts, so let’s hope for everyone’s sake a decision is finally made, at long last, in late May or early June.

Airport security as hot as ever

Three people were arrested in connection with a security alert at Gatwick Airport recently, and it was all down to a suspect vehicle. Sussex Police said the alarm was raised early in the morning by someone who spotted the vehicle parked in a lay-by just off the A23, and bomb disposal experts subsequently blew it up with three ‘controlled explosions’. No suspect devices were found, no flights were cancelled and services soon returned to normal.

uk border control

UK Border Control

The report doesn’t say what the vehicle’s owners felt about it being blown to smithereens, but imagine your surprise if you’d parked up, perfectly legally, just off the A23 only to find it in bits on your return.

It just goes to show how careful you need to be when parking anywhere near a major airport. If you need to leave your car in a lay-by near any British airport, it’s probably wise to leave a note in the window saying who you are and where you’ve gone. Or you might come back to find your car in a million pieces.

It’s clear the nation is still on ‘terror alert’. In fact it’s only one of several incidents where suspects have been arrested near English airports.

One 37 year old Venezuelan man, who was caught red handed with a hand grenade while disembarking from a jet at Gatwick airport, is still being quizzed by the anti-terrorism squad. Security has been improved at Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham airports, with new, high profile measures in place. And Scotland Yard announced the arrest of four young men last Thursday in Langley, just 4 miles from Heathrow airport. They weren’t charged but were handed over to the Immigration Service. And Hounslow, near Heathrow, was the scene of two more arrests, with one man released and another handed over to Immigration.

Watch this space…

We’ll be reporting back on the final decision on UK airport expansion, hopefully later this month… unless they delay it yet again. In the meantime exercise common sense in and around airports, just in case you’re thrown in jail until the authorities can prove your innocence!

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UK Election: What Does it Mean for Airport Expansion?

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

The election is almost upon us. If the pundits are right it’s set to be the most unpredictable general election for a generation, and the confusing mix ‘n’ match of speculation, rhetoric and counter claims is about to come to a head. So what effect will the elected party or parties have on the ongoing and highly controversial issue of airport expansion in the UK?

polling station

UK Election – Thursday 7th May

What does the Department for Transport say about expanding airports?

The DoT forecasts annual passenger numbers will reach 445 million by 2050, almost double the 2011 figure. But they also feel a maturing market and an end to the long trend for cheap air fares could mean growth actually slows to 1 – 3% a year compared to the past four decades’ dramatic 5% annual rise.

They also think the bulk of increased demand will come from London and the south east of England, where hubs will be under a lot of pressure by 2030. Heathrow airport is allegedly already operating at 98% capacity (or is it? More on the subject later), with regular delays and cancellations in bad weather. And many people who disagree with an extra runway at Heathrow think the nation could relieve the pressure by making more intelligent use of its existing airport capacity.

David Metz, a former chief scientist at the Department for Transport, insists there’s no way to accurately predict demand. He says London’s public transport infrastructure has already benefited from seriously limited road capacity, and believes limiting new runway capacity might force the UK’s aviation industry to get creative about meeting a big hike in demand, assuming one ever arises.

Unanswered environmental questions

Since almost everyone who matters now acknowledges that climate change is human-driven and is already beginning to bite, answers to the environmental questions behind extra capacity for air travel are still absolutely vital for the decision making process.

The Aviation Environment Federation says a full environmental analysis, promised by the the Airports Commission, still isn’t finished and won’t be ready in time for the election. Local air quality modelling hasn’t been completed and there are still a lot of unknowns around the impact on the UK’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.

Ed Miliband - Nicola Sturgeon - Nick Clegg

Ed Miliband – Nicola Sturgeon – Nick Clegg

What about the political side of the airport expansion debate?

What about the political side of the debate? We thought it’d be interesting to take a look at the five major parties’ views on expanding British airports to cope with the predicted increase in demand.

What if we vote in another hung parliament?

The financial giant KPMG believes expansion plans at Heathrow and Gatwick airports could be derailed if we end up with another coalition government. They warned recently that the report by the Davies Commission into expanding airport capacity in the south east could die a death if any ‘minor’ party gets to hold the all-important balance of power, with consensus unlikely. On the other hand it’s nothing new, since there has been absolutely no consensus so far anyway.

The final official recommendation is due this summer, taking into account 3 options: a new runway at Gatwick airport, a third runway at Heathrow airport or an extension of the exiting northern runway at Heathrow. Whatever the final decision turns out to be, we can probably expect years of protests, delays and changes of mind, as local people fight their corner against more noise, more pollution and more disruption.

The Conservative party’s view of the future of air travel

In 2010 David Cameron announced, “No ifs, no buts, there’ll be no third runway at Heathrow.” But in summer 2015, the UK’s Airports Commission is set to either recommend a new runway at Heathrow, one at Gatwick or an extension of Heathrow’s northern runway at Heathrow. Contrary to his promises, a new Heathrow runway is still very much on the cards. Might we see a serious political U-turn if he takes power again?

Analysis reveals UK demand for business flights has been steadily declining for almost ten years. Another runway at Heathrow would have a big impact on air quality and noise pollution in West London, affecting roads and railways far an wide. And the airport already subjects more people to unhealthy levels of noise pollution than any other airport, anywhere, according to Zac Goldsmith, Richmond Park & North Kingston’s current Conservative MP. It looks like mixed messages from the Tories.

The Lib Dems’ attitude to airport expansion

In October 2014 Liberal Democrat members defied attempts by their leaders to change the party’s policy of “no net increase in runways across the UK” and also refused to give in to demands to give party members a choice to support a new runway at Gatwick. It looks as though the Lib Dems have a green hat on as far as airport expansion is concerned, with grass roots members continuing to refuse support for expansion.

What the Labour party thinks about the future of air travel

Ed Miliband publicly opposed airport expansion when he was Environment Secretary, and did the same during his bid for party leadership. Having scoured the internet for Labour’s current views it’s clear they, like most of the other political parties, are unwilling to make airport expansion into an election issue. On the other hand the party has promised to make a quick decision about expanding airport capacity in London if it takes power.

UKIP’s views about expanding Britain’s airports

UKIP’s Manifesto clearly states the party wants to, “campaign to re-open Manston airport to address the lack of airport capacity in the South East”. With no mention of any other airport, we can only assume they reject plans for expansion at Heathrow and Gatwick.

UKIP Leader - Nigel Farage

UKIP Leader – Nigel Farage

The Green party’s take on air travel

The Green Party makes things reasonably clear. They “don’t want to see any new runways across the south east”, maintaining the same position they have always taken.

The Greens feel the debate has had the wrong focus so far. Instead of looking at where to expand, they believe it makes more sense to decide, first, whether expansion really is necessary, full top. And they don’t think the arguments stack up. They believe Britain does not have an air travel capacity crisis. In fact, according to them, every airport in Britain except Heathrow is currently underused. Which, if true, calls a whole host of other statistics justifying expansion into question. Who can we believe?

At the moment 90% of the most popular flights from Heathrow are short haul, easily replaceable by cheaper, cleaner rail travel. Because trains generate ten times less pollution than planes, it makes environmental sense.

More interesting still, recent research by the Aviation Environment Federation reveals that giving the south east a new runway would mean we overshoot the nation’s CO2 emissions target, even if every regional airport in the country was restricted in an effort to keep things under control. Plus, it appears the frequent claims that airport expansion creates thousands of new jobs are simply not reliable.

London Air Transport

London Air Transport

The big aviation scandal

Did you realise that while EU businesses pay 48 cents in tax per litre of fuel whenever they fill up their vehicles, EU-based commercial airlines don’t pay a single penny in fuel tax? The exemptions add up to a shameful 43 billion Euros every year.

In Britain 15% of us account for 70% of flights. The more affluent you are, the more often you fly. In 2013, 55% of us didn’t fly at all. So who, exactly, is all this frantic expansion planning meant to benefit? It clearly doesn’t benefit local people, the environment or the EU taxpayer, and the reasoning behind it seems to be pretty suspect in many ways.

Quite a few commentators believe airport expansion could finally be killed off for good by this election. If, indeed, we don’t need the extra capacity, that can only be a good thing. As Wikipedia says:

The environmental impact of aviation occurs because aircraft engines emit heat, noise, particulates and gases which contribute to climate change and global dimming. Despite emission reductions from automobiles and more fuel-efficient and less polluting turbofan and turboprop engines, the rapid growth of air travel in recent years contributes to an increase in total pollution attributable to aviation. In the European Union, greenhouse gas emissions from aviation increased by 87% between 1990 and 2006.
There is an ongoing debate about possible taxation of air travel and the inclusion of aviation in an emissions trading scheme, with a view to ensuring that the total external costs of aviation are taken into account.

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What’s your opinion?

Do you welcome airport expansion plans or do you think it’s all smoke and mirrors. We’d love to know how you feel about this long-running and spectacularly contentious issue.

Airport News: Soaring Passenger Numbers at UK Airports

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

With several major UK airports reporting massive hikes in passenger numbers in recent weeks, it’s clear our appetite for air travel hasn’t been affected by recent air crash tragedies. Flying is more popular than ever and it makes more sense than ever, in view of all those madding crowds, to make your airport experience as pleasurable and hassle-free as you can.

Heathrow Airport Terminal 4

Heathrow Airport Terminal 4

Smooth transitions are the way to do it. Get the best airport parking deals through us and you’ll sail through the often-nightmarish first phase of your journey with speed and ease. Grab yourself a seat in a smart airport lounge and you’ll leave all the concourse chaos behind, boarding your flight chilled and calm instead of a frazzled, crowd-battered mess.

Increasing passenger numbers signal flying is more popular than ever

The latest airport news reveals increasing passenger numbers, which in turen means busier airports, especially when the increase is hundreds of thousands, not just a few extra thousand. Rival airports Heathrow and Gatwick, for example, have both reported record passenger numbers during March 2015. Gatwick processed 3 million in the month, 250,000 more people representing just over 9% more than the same time last year. Heathrow airport reported a record 5.95 million passengers in March, 3.4% more than March 2014.

Huge Gatwick airport passenger increases

Gatwick expects to see more than 40 million passengers in 2016, mostly generated through more flights and bigger planes. Long-haul at Gatwick airport increased by 7.4% and Dubai saw the biggest growth, with 14.7% more passengers. European flights increased by just over 12%, with Barcelona and Geneva the most popular destinations.

Massive Heathrow airport passenger increases

Heathrow reported a 26.5% rise in people flying to Mexico in March as well as dramatic rises in demand for flights to China, up 20.2%, the Middle East & Central Asia, up 7.6%, and North America, up 6% on March 2014.

Big airport news – Passenger increases at Manchester airport

Congratulations to Manchester Airport, which has just smashed its own record with 22.32 million passengers in the 2013-14 financial year, the most it has ever serviced in its 77 year history. And Easter Friday 2015 was particularly busy too, with 65,000 people passing through on the day.

manchester airport

Manchester Airport from the air

Manchester is the UK’s third largest airport with growth of 7.5% year on year. But March 2015 saw a particularly dramatic passenger number hike of almost 10%. It and Heathrow are the only British airports with two full length runways, and it hoovers up vast numbers of air travellers from all around the north of England.

Long haul growth at Manchester is mostly down to Cathay Pacific which has launched a Hong Kong flight, making Manchester the only non-London hub offering direct, non-stop flights to China. Virgin Atlantic and Delta have collaborated to improve capacity to Atlanta, USA, and Delta is also adding more flights from Manchester to New York from May this year. It’s also the only British hub offering direct flights to Miami. And the main Gulf carriers at Manchester have boosted their frequency and capacity to destinations in the Middle East.

Stansted airport services more travellers than ever

Stansted airport serviced almost a million extra passengers in the first quarter of 2015 compared to 2014. It’s already the UK’s fastest-growing airport and so far 2015 has seen a 16.3% increase in people passing through. Between March 2014 and March an astonishing 20.9 million of us travelled through the airport.

In March this year Stansted serviced 1.67 million people, 24% more than March 2014. And it’s more than a blip. It’s a trend, being the tenth consecutive month of double digit growth.

As Andrew Harrison, Stansted’s managing director, said: “Growth in domestic traffic has been particularly strong with passenger numbers up 40 per cent over last year due to new Scottish flights from Ryanair plus the arrival of Flybe to serve Newcastle and Isle of Man with a Newquay service joining later this year.”

Luton airport sees a dramatic passenger number rise

London Luton Airport has also confirmed a surge in passenger numbers, good news since it has committed to a £100m expansion project. They’ve seen 18.6% more people pass through during March 2015, a whopping 840,820 of us. They’re also experiencing steady growth and again, this isn’t a blip. The announcement marks their 12th consecutive month of growth.

The airport’s redevelopment should increase their annual capacity from 12 million to 18 million a year by 2026, improving the terminal and transport links. They say their growth is down to their wide choice of destinations and easy access to London.

Belfast airport benefit from extra EasyJet services

More flights and more destinations means more people, and EasyJet is expanding in a major way at Belfast airport. The airline confirmed expansion of all of its Belfast to London routes plus 125,000 extra seats to Gatwick, Luton and Stansted added to its winter schedule. EasyJet is also set to increase seats to Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, bringing the total new seats to an impressive 160,000.

Exeter airport busier than ever this Easter

Growth in traveller numbers isn’t restricted to the big boys. The regionals are at it, too. Easter alone saw Exeter airport service more than 16,500 people, boosted by the re-introduction of Flybe flights to Alicante, Malaga and Faro and resulting in a 15% plus increase on Easter 2014.

Exeter Airport managing director Matt Roach said: “It was the first Easter for our twice daily London City flights which proved popular as did the seasonal start-up of Skybus flights to the Isles of Scilly. We are confident that with the continuing investment in the airport facilities – most notably the recently opened new Executive Lounge and Fast Track Security lane, coupled with the opening of the new approach road, that passengers will continue to see the benefit of using their local airport in great numbers.”

Kent’s Manston airport plans highlights extra demand

You don’t bother campaigning for an airport to re-open unless there’s a very good financial reason for it. It’s clear there’s plenty of demand for Manston airport in Kent to re-open almost a year after its closure.

raf manston catering van 1953

RAF Manston – Catering Facilities in 1953

The airport closed in May 2014, having been bought by the Stagecoach Group co-founder Ann Gloag, who then sold a majority stake to a Mr Cartner and Mr Musgrave for redevelopment. But the Commons Transport Select Committee have since questioned their ownership. The resulting five point plan includes the site’s compulsory purchase.

RiverOak, the American business interested in buying and running the airport, says they’re “absolutely committed to reviving Manston as an operational airport”. If you live in Kent, keep your fingers crossed and you might eventually have a convenient local airport you can call your own.

Ryanair expands its winter schedule

Improved scheduling is another sign that demand is high, and Leeds-Bradford airport is doing exactly that courtesy of Ryanair. They’re planning to expand their winter schedule a month earlier than in 2014, covering ten routes with extra flights to Alicante, Gdansk and Malaga for 2015-16 as well as their usual services to Dublin, Lanzarote and Malta. More than 835,000 customers a year will benefit.

How are Scottish airports faring?

Last year Edinburgh passed the 10 million passenger mark, the first Scottish airport to do so. In 2014 they serviced 20% more passengers. Overall Scotland saw passenger traffic growth of just under 4% in 2014. Aberdeen airport reported an impressive 31% growth, but Glasgow reported a 12% fall and Glasgow Prestwick passenger numbers are down 62%, below one million for the first time since the millennium.

What about the big Scottish four in 2015? Edinburgh’s traffic has increased by a little over 7%, Glasgow’s is up12%, partly because of Ryanair’s decision to open a second Glasgow base in October 2014, which is what has adversely affected Prestwick. Aberdeen’s traffic is flat-lining but the 5th biggest Scottish airport, Inverness, saw passenger numbers grow by about a quarter.

Get airport parking and airport lounge deals – Avoid the worst of the crowds

If you’d like to make the most of your journey while spending less, we have some excellent airpork parking and airport lounge deals for you.

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Support Your Regional Airport

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

Not so long ago travellers had very few airport choices, just the major hubs. Now we have a much better choice, including lots of smaller airports dotted around the country.

uk regional airports

UK Regional Airports

Many were originally built before and during World War Two, lay fallow for years afterwards and were then re-purposed as domestic airports to cater for the ever-increasing demand for convenient domestic and international flights close to home.

While the recession knocked passenger numbers for six across the nation, things are starting to turn around and regional hub development is back on the agenda. So we thought it’d be useful to take a fresh look at Britain’s regional airports.

What is a regional airport?

According to Wikipedia:

A regional airport is an airport serving traffic within a relatively small or lightly populated geographical area. A regional airport usually does not have customs and immigration facilities to process traffic between countries. In Canada regional airports usually service connections within Canada and some flights to the United States. A few U.S. regional airports, some of which actually call themselves international airports, may have customs and immigration facilities staffed on an as-needed basis, but the vast majority serve domestic traffic only.

Aircraft using these airports tend to be smaller business jets, private aircraft and regional airliners of both turboprop propelled or regional jetliner varieties. These flights usually go a shorter distance to a larger regional hub. These airports usually have shorter runways, which exclude heavy planes with much fuel.

About Britain’s regional airports

Britain’s local airports are usually close to cities and large towns, for example Bristol, Durham Tees Valley and Blackpool. And they’re getting bigger, offering more airlines, flights and routes as time goes by. Take Liverpool’s John Lennon airport, which originally offered a mere handful of flights but now provides routes to as many as 60 international destinations.

John Lennon Airport

John Lennon Airport – Liverppol – From

Since we focus on airport parking, it’s also worth saying the parking at regional airports is usually very good, too. But check each airport’s  official website for full, up to date information. While an increasing number of them actively discourage travel by car, instead promoting their excellent local public transport links, there’s always somewhere safe to leave your car.

Why use a local airport?

Regional airports have enjoyed a dramatic renaissance in recent years. A massive 95 million of us used one last year while growth at major hubs like Heathrow experienced lower growth, possibly because more travellers chose to fly from closer to home. It’s no surprise when it’s faster and costs less to travel shorter distances to somewhere smaller and easier to navigate, with fewer crowds.

Regional hubs are also known for friendly, personalised service. And for many travellers they’re the greenest option, often easy to access by public transport and a lot closer to home than the closest major hub.

On the downside the facilities tend to be more basic than the big boys… but on the other hand most of us don’t want to hang around the airport for any longer than necessary. We don’t want to be forced by boredom and frustration to engage in  unnecessary shopping, we just want to get going!

Durham Tees Valley airport seeks local business opinions

Set in the north east’s industrial heartland, Durham Tees Valley airport offers international flights via KLM, bmibaby and RyanAir. Its top destinations include Amsterdam, Cork, Dublin, Jersey, Paris, Venice and Verona, Turkey, Tenerife and Tunisia.

Durham Tees Valley Airport

Durham Tees Valley Airport

Having struggled to beat the recession, the airport is taking firm steps towards a brighter future. Rather than guess what travellers want Durham Tees Valley Airport has taken the marketing high ground,  asking local companies for their views about how they can improve. A major Business Travel Survey is collecting local business’ opinions on a wide range of factors aimed at understanding how the airport can better meet business needs. Watch this space to see what improvements the airport decides to mke.

Cardiff Airport introduces 11 new routes

Cardiff Airport

Cardiff Airport – Wales

It’s great news for local travellers. FlyBe are due to open up shop at Cardiff airport, the latest in a run of positive moves since the Welsh Government bought the airport for £52m. It represents a significant vote of confidence in the hub, which was on its last legs not so long ago. FlyBe’s chief executive Saad Hammad said he wanted to see at least 400,000 passengers flying out of Cardiff every year to enjoy the airline’s 11 new routes, which include flights to Munich, Paris and Milan.

Bristol Airport gets going on £150 million expansion

Five years after Bristol airport was given the go ahead to expand, work has finally begun on increasing the size of the terminal. The news follows a long planning permission battle and means the hub could eventually service an impressive ten million passengers a year, four million more than the current number. The delays were down to the worldwide economic slump and associated drops in passenger levels.

The existing building is just fifteen years old but it’s already maxed out, with no wriggle room for expansion. The improved building will  provide much-needed extra space plus more shops and eateries. The work should be complete by summer 2015, in time for the holiday season. The airport is offering a dazzling summer 2015 schedule to match, with flights from Balkan Holidays, First Choice, Just Sunshine, Thomson, Thomas Cook, Red Sea Holidays and more.

Ashford Lydd Airport’s strong, loyal local business travel market

Tiny Kent-based Ashford Lydd is a well-loved business travel alternative to the congestion of London’s major hubs with fast access to the south east and the capital plus daily flights to Le Touquet in France. The M20 is on the doorstep and the high speed rail link from Ashford International zooms you to London, St. Pancras in 37 minutes.

Lydd Airport

Lydd Airport

According to the BBC:

Lydd Airport bosses want a new terminal building and an extended runway to take up to half a million passengers a year. Opponents said safety fears about the nearby Dungeness nuclear plant had not been addressed. Shepway District Council gave permission for the expansion plans in 2010 but the government called for a public inquiry.

The £25m project, also known as London Ashford Airport, includes a runway extension of almost 300m (328yds). Hani Mutlaq, the airport’s executive manager, said the government’s decision was “a victory for common sense and for the people of Romney Marsh”. The approval is subject to environmental, noise and traffic conditions.”Once all these have been addressed, we hope to begin the runway construction work as soon as possible,” Mr Mutlaq said.

Cambridge City Airport, internal and international routes

Cambridge City airport lies just three miles from the city centre and fourteen miles from Newmarket, the world famous horse racing venue. It provides a comfortable departure and arrival experience with short check-in times, convenient airport car parking, passenger and VIP lounges, Costa coffee, snacks plus – most important of all – really fast immigration procedures and a single-point UK Border and customs area. They provide flights to a range of exciting destinations including the Channel Islands, the Alps, Verona, the Italian Lakes and South Tyrol.


Cambridge International Airport

In early March they announced another new route: SUN-AIR flights to Sweden’s second biggest city, Gothenburg.

What about the future?

It looks like local airports have a bright future. The UK government is keen to expand local hubs, partly because adding extra runways to the big nationals like Gatwick and Heathrow is proving so tricky, with plans put back years, even decades, and local people and conservationists up in arms. During the past five years more than twenty local airports have submitted expansion plans, illustrating their popularity and potential.

Expanding local air flight opportunities mean more local jobs as well as more choice for travellers. And as regional airports become more popular, big businesses are stepping in to take advantage of the trend. Several regionals are currently involved in big-money deals, attracting investment capital to fund improved facilities.

If you’re a frequent traveller or live a long way from a major hub and want convenience plus great value for money,  going regional might be the best choice. And the more of us use them, the more likely ticket prices are to drop, according to the basic economic theory of supply and demand.

Are you flying regional this year?

Are you planning to ditch the big hubs and fly from a local hub this year? Maybe you do it regularly. What are your experiences? We’d love to hear them, so feel free to comment.

Gatwick Airport Expansion: Latest Developments

Thursday, January 8th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

Airport expansion is inevitably a sticky issue. So what’s going on right now as regards building a new runway at Gatwick airport, one of the biggest and busiest in the nation with two terminals but just one runway? Here’s a summary of the situation as the New Year gathers momentum.

London Gatwick Airport

London Gatwick Airport

The current situation at Gatwick – Expansion news

In a binding agreement dating back to 1979, West Sussex County Council prevents Gatwick from expanding via a second runway until 2019. It obviously doesn’t mean the airport can’t make plans in advance of the date. But things are moving very slowly indeed. As Wikipedia says:

“In 1979, an agreement was reached with West Sussex County Council not to build a second runway before 2019. In its original consultation document published on 23 July 2002 the Government decided to expand Stansted and Heathrow, but not Gatwick.

However, Medway Council, Kent County Council and Essex County Council sought a judicial review of this decision. The judge reviewing the lawfulness of the Government’s decision ruled that excluding Gatwick from the original consultation was irrational and/or unfair.

Following the judge’s ruling and the Secretary of State for Transport’s decision not to appeal, BAA published new consultation documents. These included an option of a possible second runway at Gatwick to the south of the existing airport boundary, leaving the villages Charlwood and Hookwood to the north of the airport intact. This led to protests about increased noise and pollution, demolition of houses and destruction of villages.”

The Airports Commission released an interim report on London Airport expansion choices in December 2013 and short listed Gatwick Airport as a potential site. In early April last year Gatwick Airport published three options for public consultation. The Commission will deliver its final report to the British government during 2015.

Gatwick Airport Runway

Gatwick Airport Runway

Gatwick airport expansion – The objections

Willie Walsh, the CEO of the British Airways’ parent company, has already ruled out supporting a second runway at Gatwick airport because, as he sees it, there isn’t a decent business case to support it. At the same time the Chief Executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust is worried about the idea because of the detrimental impact it’ll have on wildlife and our precious green spaces.

Local people are divided: some support a second runway at Gatwick because of the perceived economic and employment benefits, others are against Gatwick expansion because of the extra noise, pollution and congestion it’s likely to bring.

Then there’s the biggest argument of all: is expansion appropriate full stop, in times when human-led climate change is already having an effect and continuing to harness fossil fuels is less of a sensible option than ever. Many of the aircraft in the skies today are thirty, forty, fifty years old, engineered before green considerations came to the fore and they’re often heavy CO2 emitters.

New technologies, on the other hand, are making things better. Take jet biofuels, for example, created from oilseed crops. Carbon offsetting schemes are becoming more popular. New ‘green’ departures and are being achieved through continuous rates of climb. And greener minimum thrust, continuous descents and approaches have been put in place at some airports, by some airlines, to help reduce carbon emissions.

3 options for a second runway at Gatwick

Here are the three options suggested by the airport for public consultation:

  • Option 1 – A 3.4km runway 585m parallel to / south of the current runway

Under this option there’d be a runway for take-offs and another for landings. The inevitable hike in passenger numbers would be catered for by expanding the existing north terminal in a southerly direction to make a new remote pier to the west. It’d also mean a new short term multi-storey car park for both the north and south terminal, something we’re obviously interested in as airport parking specialists.

This one’s also the least expensive and the choice that requires the least land, estimated at another  388 hectares. It causes the lest extra noise but on the downside for the airport, it comes with less capacity than the other options.  The maximum capacity increases airport traffic by a whopping 24 million travellers per year, peaking at 70 aeroplane movements an hour: 389,000 a year.

  • Option 2 – A 3.4km runway 1045m parallel / to the south of the current runway

This option takes passenger growth under consideration by building a third terminal between the two runways, near to the rail link with its own access roads from the M23 and A23. In this case there’d be three new short term multi-storey car parks and the plan would require 573 hectares of extra land, which would mean demolishing the commercial buildings on Lowfield Heath. The shuttle would be extended too, linking the three terminals closely via extra carriages and more frequent services.

This choice is more expensive and is bad news for people who live in North Crawley, North Horsham and East Grinstead. It also means flights would pass directly over the pretty village of Rusper, just  6km from the  new runway’s westerly take off and landing points.

Again, we’d have one runway dedicated to taking off and another to landing. Passenger traffic under this option is predicted to rise to 40 million per year, peaking at 85 aircraft movements an hour, 483,000 flights per year.

  • Option 3 – Similar to option 2 but…

We’re looking at the same infrastructure as option 2 here, but option 3 comes with an extra short-term multi-storey car park. Plus both runways would be used for take-offs and landings.

This is the noisiest option. Simultaneously using two runways a mile apart for take-offs affects a much bigger chunk of land than the other choices. On the brighter side, 76% of the time prevailing westerlies mean take-off and landing go from east to west, in other words into the wind and over less populated areas.

The people who live in these less populated areas would bear the brunt of the extra noise. And the plans also more than doubles the number of people already using Gatwick airport, peaking at 47 million travellers every year. It would mean 95 aircraft movements per hour, which stacks up to 513,000 a year. Let’s face it, that’s an awful lot of noise and disruption.

Gatwick Airport Directions

Gatwick Airport Directions

What’s the most likely outcome?

There might be no outcome at all. Agreeing the best option is only the beginning of  a very long and complex process, with plenty of opportunities for anti-expansion campaigners and local people to delay matters. And with climate change high on the political agenda at last, there’s also the chance that any and all airport expansion may eventually be vetoed for the good of the planet and the benefit of our children’s future.

On 5th January 2015 a poll of 1,036 Londoners revealed that, when given a choice of where to build a new runway, 45% chose Gatwick compared to 39% for Heathrow.  The Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin believes Britain should increase its capacity to compete internationally. So do various other politicians, business leaders and aviation experts. But others are convinced there isn’t a case for expansion at Gatwick or anywhere else, including the Aviation Environment Federation, which says that, contrary to some reports, the UK is definitely not suffering an airport capacity crisis.

Many conservationists, including those at Friends of the Earth, are certain the business case isn’t convincing, as well as being far from compatible with climate change targets. And the opposition group Airport Watch says the UK is perfectly capable of making the most of its existing capacity instead of expanding.

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Whatever happens, it’s unlikely we’ll see work starting any time soon. Which is a relief for some and a disappointment for others. In the meantime, there’s no real way of telling how the Gatwick airport expansion plan will pan out… if at all.

How would you feel if you had to put up with 70-90 planes an hour flying over your home or place of work?

Computer Fail Flight Disruptions – What’s Next?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 by Kate Goldstone

We talked about flight delays, flight disruptions and cancellations a couple of weeks ago, mentioning how easily it can happen in a seasonal context. Then, on 12th December, passengers faced widespread flight disruption after a computer failure at Britain’s air traffic control centre, NATS. We couldn’t have predicted it. Nobody could. So what was it all about? And could it happen again?

Computer System Failure

System Failure

Computer glitches ‘r’ us – Airport woes

When National Air Traffic Services encounters a technical fault, everything grinds to a halt. It has to, otherwise lives would be put at serious risk. This particular glitch caused issues at airports throughout Britain, including the major hubs Heathrow airport and Gatwick airport. And it happened only a year after a dramatic telephone system fail at the NATs control room in Swanwick, Hampshire, just one of several crises since the centre started life in 2002.

A total of 84 flights out of 1300 or so were cancelled at Heathrow on the Friday. Gatwick suffered flight delays of up to 90 minutes with 19 cancellations. And there were cancellations and delays at numerous other airports including Stansted, London City, Newcastle, Luton, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Southampton, amongst others.

The government became embroiled more or less instantly, saying the disruption was not acceptable and asking for a full explanation. Labour called for ministers to “get a grip” and the Labour chairwoman of the transport select committee, Louise Ellman, insisted it was “vital that we establish what happened”. So what, exactly, went wrong?

UK Daily Air Traffic

UK Daily Air Traffic – from

Flight disruptions in December – What went wrong at NATs this time?

Apparently a single dodgy line of code in one of NATs’ 50 or more computer systems – a mistake hidden amongst literally millions of lines of code – caused the problem. But the issue runs much deeper than a simple one-off failure. It appears some parts of the NATs computer system are ‘elderly’ and as such they pose an ongoing challenge.

How come? Imagine you set up a computer system ten years or more ago. It worked perfectly at the time, but as the years pass you need to upgrade and update it to cope with extra flights, new technologies, new safety measures, security and so on.

Do you replace the whole system every time? It’s probably too expensive and, at least at first, unnecessary. So you bolt extra functionality onto the legacy system and carry on as normal. It works for a while. But eventually the whole thing begins to fall over. You need to start from fresh. But the cost is overwhelming.

That’s how it often happens. And NATS isn’t alone. Banks have suffered from the same kind of thing, where old, complex computer systems are less and less able to cope with the contemporary demands made on them. As a result they crash every now and again, leaving millions of us unable to get into our bank accounts.

Heathrow Terminal

Heathrow Terminal – from

Can they fix it?

The Swanwick system is made up of fifty different sub-systems, containing a total of around four million lines of code. NATs are spending a whopping extra £575 million over the next five years to update the systems, but they can’t just switch everything off to carry out repairs. They have to do the work while the system’s running.

Swanwick controls an enormous 200,000 square miles of airspace above England and Wales. It handles more than 5000 flights every day. And it’s no stranger to software issues, technical problems and computer glitches. One of the reasons is the simple fact that the system runs at “full pelt” all the time, so when something small goes awry it has a profound effect. Add the fact that NATs is facing cost-cutting as well as redundancies and you get the picture.

Thankfully the system was up and running again pretty quickly and by the Saturday, things were more or less back to normal.

Vintage Computer Room

Vintage Computers – from

Will it happen again?

There’s always a risk one computer system or other might fall over. Then there are other kinds of delays. Extreme weather,  communications problems, technical issues, long immigration queues, re-fuelling, air traffic congestion, politics, airport staff strikes and embargoes, volcanic eruptions, terrorist attacks, security problems, illness and even drunk and disorderly passengers have all led to air travel nightmares in the past.

Wherever you’re flying to or from, at whatever time of year, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for delays, just in case. We’ve written an airport survival guide to help you cope.

How do you know if flight delays are imminent?

The Flightstats website includes a real time flight tracker and airport delays service, where you can look up the status of flights and get the information you need to plan ahead effectively, checking your journey either by flight, by airport or by route.

What about delays on the way there? You can punt the details of your journey into the BBC travel website and it delivers real-time advice about delays on the roads and railways.

Can I claim compensation for delayed flights?

The Money Saving Expert website contains everything you need to know about claiming compensation for flight delays, including a suite of helpful template letters to save you time and hassle, plus a handy table revealing how much you should be able to claim. Here’s a quick summary of the rules:

  • Whatever happens, you must be delayed for more than 3 hours to claim. The length of the delay drives how much you can claim. If you’re delayed more than three hours or your flight is cancelled, you might be eligible to claim anything between £100 and £470 in compensation.
  • Compensation is paid per person.
  • The rules only apply to EU-regulated flights, where your plane left from an  EU airport, including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
  • It doesn’t matter which airline you’re booked with or which EU airport your flight landed at. Here’s an example: your flight from Manchester to Miami is delayed. You qualify for compensation no matter which airline. But if you fly Miami to Manchester you can claim for flying with an EU airline but not with a non-EU airline like Air India. And yes, it is confusing!
  • You can claim for delays as long ago as February 2005, but claiming for delays pre-2008 gets tricky. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you can only claim for delays over the past 6 years. And it’s only 5 years for Scotland, under Scottish Law.
  • You can only claim if the delay was within the airline’s control, which includes staffing issues and under-booking. Things like political troubles and terrible weather don’t count.
  • In England and Wales you can claim when a technical fault has not been caused by ‘extraordinary’ circumstances.
  • If the crew turned up late you can claim depending on the reasons for their lateness. It’s done on a case-by-case basis.
  • If your plane arrives late from its previous destination, things get murky. The law doesn’t make it 100% clear whether or not you can claim, but it might be worth trying.
  • What if your plane was diverted to a different airport? If you arrived at your final destination more than three hours late you might be able to claim. It depends what caused the diversion.
  • If you missed your connection, whether or not you can claim depends on the cause of the disruption.
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Getting the airport car parking bit sorted

There’s one thing you can be reasonably sure of. We’ve had a good hunt around the wonderful interweb and can’t find a single story about airport parking going horribly wrong. Arrange it through us, sit back and relax in the knowledge that the parking side of thing is highly unlikely to go pear-shaped!

What Can UK Air Travellers Expect This Christmas?

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 by Kate Goldstone

What can you expect this Christmas if you’re travelling by air? Who knows? Anything could happen, the British weather being what it is. Take last year, where travel chaos reigned on Christmas eve. Here’s our take on surviving potential delays at the UK’s airports this festive season.

Gatwick Airport Christmas 2013

Gatwick Airport Christmas 2013 – from

Christmas air travel chaos – Could it happen again?

Gatwick Airport on Christmas Eve 2013, and it’s total chaos. The airport’s departures were transferred to the south terminal after flooding caused a massive power failure on Christmas Eve. Thousands of passengers were stranded, some for as long as twelve hours, and dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed.

No trains ran to or from the airport for most of the day, since fallen trees had disrupted the entire network. And as a result of the delays, most local hotels were full to bursting point. Thankfully the airport provided food and bedding.

Of course it wasn’t the airport’s fault – there wasn’t a lot they could do in the face of such extraordinary weather conditions and they don’t control the National Grid. But in April this year a report by MPs called it a “wake-up call for airports across the UK”.

The main problem was the lack of information, which really took its toll. The House of Commons Transport Committee report highlighted a lack of toilets and drinking water too, and the fact that people weren’t given accurate, timely updates. They also said there was a lack of clarity about who was in charge.

Will delays and cancellations screw up people’s Christmas air travel plans this year? Is there any sensible advice about coping with airport delays? And what’s the weather going to be like this Christmas?

Christmas Travel Chaos

Christmas Travel Chaos – from

Improved airport procedures and protocols for Christmas 2014

This year Gatwick airport has set aside a £30m resilience fund to help fund solutions to future delays. And they say they’ll be better able to get the “operational resilience issues” side of things under control, too. This means making “well-drilled plans” that “put passenger interests first”.

As a spokesperson said, “extensive work has already been undertaken to improve contingency plans and passenger welfare in times of disruption.” It isn’t just Gatwick, either. Apparently other British airports are putting similar measures in place, just in case.

An earlier review by Gatwick itself into the crisis said it’d be good to have a “passenger champion” at every terminal to support travellers and answer their questions. Gatwick has also kicked off a series of new flood defences designed to protect it from flooding in future, a wise move since climate change experts predict Britain’s weather is set to get wetter.

Gatwick Airport Travel

Gatwick Airport Travel – from

The MPs’ report recommended the Civil Aviation Authority bring forward improvements in passenger information so people know their rights when facing disruptions to their travel plans, not least about compensation. The Committee’s chairman Louise Ellman also said people should be reimbursed quickly for the extra money they spend because of air travel disruption. A spokesman for the CAA said:

“Both Gatwick and Heathrow are required to have their contingency plans in place by October and, once published, we will regularly review them – taking action where necessary if we feel the plans are not sufficient to protect passengers during disruption.”

Flooding isn’t the only threat to airports this Christmas

Flooding is one thing. But delays at airports can be caused by snow and fog too, and by very high winds. Then there’s the ever-present terrorist threat, which can lock an airport down instantly. Your destination airport might be closed for one reason or another, which will also cause issues. Again, there’s nothing airports can do about any of it after the fact, except do their best to look after passengers and keep them properly informed.

What is the weather forecast for Christmas 2014?

It’s impossible to know what the Christmas weather’s going to be like until a few days before the festivities begin. But TheWeatherOutlook website provides updates based on the latest medium and long range meteorological data.

As we write, on 3rd December, the weather on Christmas Day looks like this:

  • The south – Too mild for snow
  • Wales – Cold, perhaps with some snow or rain
  • The Midlands – Cold and dry
  • The north – too mild for snow
  • Scotland – too mild for snow
  • Northern Ireland and the Republic or Ireland – too mild for snow

Other forecasters believe it could get a fair bit colder towards the end of this month. It’s a lottery, which means checking the forecast nearer the time is your best bet if you want to be prepared. You can’t beat the BBC weather website for accuracy and trustworthiness.

UK Winter Weather

UK Winter Weather

What do airport websites say about their own policy on delays?

Taking a look at a few major British airport websites including Heathrow airport, Stansted airport and Luton airport, there’s no sign of their official policy on delays. The information doesn’t appear on-site, even when searching internally for ‘delays and cancellations policy’. Or does it? If you know where to find the information, let us know by leaving a comment. Then we can share the information with our readers.

 Airport SMS update services

Luckily most big airports provide an SMS update service, for example Heathrow’s SMS update service, where you get real time tracking and updated information about flight times, delays and cancellations over your mobile phone.

15 tips for Christmas air travel delay survival

So you’ve checked the BBC weather website or wherever for the latest Christmas forecast. And it’s absolutely dreadful. With the best will in the world, you might face delays. Here’s some common sense advice about surviving the experience with your sanity intact:

  1. Check with your airline before setting off for the airport
  2. Check with the airport itself, via their website
  3. Sign up for the airport’s SMS update service for real time information
  4. If you can, take some bottled drinking water with you just in case
  5. If you’re travelling by public transport, check for delays and start off earlier if you need to
  6. If you’re driving, check for jam and congestion so you can do your best to avoid it
  7. If the airport doesn’t give you regular updates, keep the pressure on. The more passengers insist on proper information, the more likely you are to get it
  8. Take plenty of DIY entertainment with you, whether it’s your smartphone, laptop, tablet, Kindle or a real book
  9. Check what you’re not allowed to take in your luggage so you don’t get delayed even further
  10. The same goes for hand luggage – the rules are complicated and change frequently
  11. Head for the airline counter as soon as you know there’s a delay or cancellation. If you’re quick enough you might just be able to snag a seat on the next flight out
  12. Ask airline staff I they’re offering vouchers for overnight stays, food and alternative flight tickets
  13. Be polite to airport staff– you’re much more likely to get the help and support you need if you’re nice. After all, it isn’t their fault you’re delayed
  14. You might have a report to write, a book you’ve been dying to read, a loved one to whom you owe a long email or a family Skype conversation that’s long overdue.  Make the best of a bad situation
  15. Stay positive! Scientific research proves the more negative you are, the worse the entire experience will feel. Stay positive and it won’t feel anywhere near as bad. It’s under your control

Nobody knows what the long range weather forecast holds in store this Xmas. But last year’s issues at Gatwick airport have driven some profound changes in the way airports handle disruptions, delays and cancellations.

With a bit of luck air travel delays for Christmas 2014, if there are any, will be a lot less painful than last year.  The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Let’s just hope we don’t have to eat it in 2014!

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