10 DECEMBER 2018


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Article from BTNews 10 DECEMBER 2018

COMMENT: LONDON LUTON AIRPORT – Not fit for purpose!

If you are elderly or slightly infirm, don’t use Luton Airport. That is the advice from Business Travel News

The boarding gates are difficult to use, entry from the drop-off points is problematic and while both Heathrow and Gatwick offer courtesy car access to anyone, the best drop-off facility at Luton, in a move hotly contested by the local taxi operators, was sold to a national firm as a sole concession. It would seem the site owner, Luton Borough Council, could do nothing about it.

The alternative costs a minimum £3 for up to 10min and £1 a minute after that. It is about 200m uphill to the terminal entrance. As one recent correspondent noted, if your driver wants to help with the trudge to the building, it is going to cost more than some advertised flights!

According to the highly-respected publication Which?, published by the Consumers' Association, Luton is Britain’s worst airport, and has been for as long as anyone can remember. The complex, which is Spanish-operated on a long lease from the council, defends itself by saying £160m is being invested to bring it up to international standards. Building works are adding to the less-than-welcoming external terminal area. 

The building itself has a good check-in arrangement and a massive shopping arcade which passengers must pass through. It was the first thing to be developed. 

If you are worried on seeing a queue at security, it is simple to buy a fast-track pass for £5; easyJet passengers on Speedy Boarding can use the facility, while with Wizz Priority it is not included. Confusing. 

Attempts to speed up boarding (it does not work) by the airlines mean travellers find themselves standing in staircases. BTN recently witnessed the absurd situation where passengers had not come off the inbound aircraft while the public address was announcing a final call. Experienced travellers just stood by or sat (if they could find a seat) and waited until boarding actually happened.   

Passengers vote with their feet. While Luton has a commanding position with the M1 running close by to the west and the A1 not far away in the easterly direction, it is expected to move something fewer than 16m passengers this year. Stansted Airport, much more rural, is on target for 27m and could overtake Manchester as the UK’s third busiest airport (after Heathrow and Gatwick) on the less-useful M11. It offers limited rail services on what is effectively a siding off the mainly twin-London – Cambridge railway.  

The Luton – St Pancras line is a major commuter route with up to seven trains an hour. Work is under way with a state-of-the-art £225m Luton Dart (Direct Air-Rail Transit), linking the terminal with the Parkway station. Officials say the system will complete the 2.1km journey in less than 4min, enabling fast access from central London. Who is paying for that and the terminal reconstruction?

Addison Lee operates out of the taxi zone, which is adjacent to the bus bays directly outside the terminal. All other taxis/private hire firms and the public can pick-up/drop-off in the fee-paying dedicated zones or car parks but, as noted, it is an uphill slog to the terminal entrance. Twenty minutes of calling the Special Assistance button was totally ignored.

It's the same for blue badge holders. They are entitled to 30min free parking in the multi-storey car park with a reduced tariff thereafter, but from this area there are no moving walkways and it is down by lift to the ground floor and the same slog to the terminal. It really is bad news for those less mobile, or with roller bags.

The alternative is to be dropped off at the mid-term car park with 15min free time and a courtesy bus ride to the terminal. There is a frequency problem and the buses nose in rather than park parallel. This just clutters up the area in front of the terminal as they try to reverse out. Getting your luggage on and off can be real problem.

Luton Airport has dropped the “International” and now is “London Luton”. However, instead of using the universally-accepted IATA airline three-letter code LTN, it calls itself LLA, further confusing the public.

Luton seems never to have recovered from a series of less-than-inspiring TV ads decades back. What is the problem? The staff are friendly but has the top management lost the plot? Do they use the facilities themselves? Are they trying to satisfy their clients or their masters? But with a council-owned airport, who are the masters?  

Luton Airport will say that things will improve when the rebuilding is completed and that our criticism will not stand the test of time.

We shall see.

If you are elderly or slightly infirm, don’t use Luton Airport.  

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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

Robert Shaw, Burgess Hill

Quite agree, awful place. Vowed never again. Sadly LGW North Terminal is now like a third world airport thanks to 90% of easyJet aircraft not using air bridges. Get soaked on tarmac, lifts that do not work. Not the place for the elderly or infirm. Cannot believe LGW management allows them to do this.

Ken Brookes, London

Briefly here is what happened to us. Thanks to advice from BTN and a friend at Addison Lee, we anticipated problems at LTN. My wife is registered handicapped and we needed the drop-off at the main entrance, as always, with my wife’s walking frame and heavy baggage. The AL friend told us that a local firm had sole rights to pick up and drop at the Main Terminal, but that was Addison Lee. Our actual driver knew nothing of this and spent 20 minutes driving around and finally dropped us off at the general pick up point. The Special Assistance was not answered but we were spotted and helped to the terminal. We were charged £1.50 extra for “waiting time.” Insult to injury?

Robert Shaw, Burgess Hill

Quite agree, awful place. Vowed never again. Sadly LGW North Terminal is now like a third world airport thanks to 90% of easyJet aircraft not using air bridges. Get soaked on tarmac, lifts that do not work. Not the place for the elderly or infirm. Cannot believe LGW management allows them to do this.

Ralph Simon, NW London

I used to be a frequent user of Luton Airport. Although it was relatively primitive, it was small and nimble. Now it is very much larger, but it remains primitive. Abusing travellers and treating them as cash cows ripe for plucking seems to be their mantra. If they were transporting animals it wouldn\'t be permitted. I now use Gatwick, some 3 times further away, Stansted or Heathrow. I am not referring to the work in progress at Luton, but the current and planned facility.

michael imeson,

I don't know how they get away with such awful service! Outbound the security hall is like the van factory down the road, inbound the only escalator in the airport up to arrivals has not been working for years. We queued for 45 minutes in September to get through the dreadful tunnels towards immigration. The taxi rank is miles away. I would be ashamed to say I was an executive at the airport. Oh and the "excuse" about the all the money being spent to make it better has been around for the last five years. Overall, a damned scandal. I

Andrew Sharp, Surbiton

Agree entirely - queuing on stairs is unsafe, especially with the amount of cabin baggage people have these days. Who is paying? I understand that because the airport is Council owned, surpluses have to be ploughed back into the airport infrastructure.

brian nichols, Chalfont St Giles, bucks

Arrived Luton from Tenerife 29 Oct approx 1730hrs and realised no covered walkway for last half of the walkway to the new pick up. point. Torrential rain but had to get drenched to avoid taxi overstaying his wait time. Entered cab wetter than having had a shower! Great end to a nice holiday!! Thanks Luton.