Friday, 28 November 2008

Flying From Heathrow Is Not Necessarily Quicker – A Personal Viewpoint

Over the past year I travelled via London Luton and London Heathrow on several occasions.
I have found that the service from London Heathrow to Dublin very reliable – no delays and arriving on time. The only occasion there was a delay was on the evening of Thursday July 7th 2005 – Understandable.

People generally think that the budget airlines will be more delayed than other airlines flying from a major airport like Heathrow. My experience this year of flying to Nice from London Heathrow has proved otherwise.

In March I took a very early flight to Nice. We say on the tarmac for nearly three quarters of an hour in the early morning, before starting the “joy ride” around Heathrow joining a large queue of planes wanting to take off. The plane taxied past the new Terminal 5 (How on earth they will cope with the extra passengers in the airspace when it opens – you will probably circle around London for an hour!) and eventually we were airborne.

The plane had a good tailwind, but it still arrived over three quarters of an hour late. Why? Are there too many planes coming in and out ? Maybe it is only on certain routes.

In May I took the Friday evening flight from Heathrow. Cannes film festival was well underway and the fifth Historic Monaco Grand Prix was on that weekend.

On arrival at Terminal 1 check in, my wife and I were offered a trade in for our tickets. They had sold more tickets than they had seats for and were asking each passenger if they would prefer to stay in a hotel overnight in the Heathrow area and fly on the Saturday morning.

We were not interested. We checked in and went through the controls to the “shopping centre” to await the notification of which gate to proceed to. It was getting nearer and nearer to departure time and still no notification. I went to the British Airways help desk and was told the flight gate would be announced any minute. It was about a minute later, about seven minutes before it was due to take off.

Fortunately the departure gate was one of the closer ones to the terminal – about five minutes walk. It was several more minutes before we actually boarded and the rest of the 100 per cent full plane. By this time it was about twenty minutes after the time it should have taken off. The cabin crew representative apologised for the delay that had been down to “extra cleaning”. We lost our take off slot and nearly an hour later than we should have taken off, actually got airborne.

We should have arrived in Nice just before 11.30 pm local time with sufficient time to get to Terminal 2 to collect the rental car. Although the plane made up time, it was still after midnight when we landed at Terminal one. The car rental company had a sign up saying go to their depot at Terminal two. We decided to check to see if they were still open and they, plus some of their competitors were still there as they officially closed at midnight.

There were also other people there collecting carsand I thanked the receptionist for staying on. She told me this happened every night. I received in the post a few days after my return home a bill for 39 euros for out of hours attendance.

I wrote to the airline saying that as the plane was delayed as they had to undertake “extra cleaning” and that as they would have been more than happy to pay for two people’s hotel accommodation as they had overbooked the flight that a reimbursement of the 39 euros would be welcome.

I heard nothing for a couple of weeks, so sent a follow up. They replied back from the original letter saying that they could not reimburse “taxi expenses” and that they hoped I would fly again with them soon. I replied to them, suggesting that my letter had not even been read correctly and yes, I was going to Nice again in July, but this time had booked with a competitor.

I received a very polite but brief letter from the Customer Relations person saying that they certainly could not compensate us. It would have been interesting to know what costs they would have had to pay to accommodate us in a hotel with food etc as they offered on that May Friday evening.

In July we went to Nice via London, Luton. Yes the plane was late coming in from Geneva, but as soon as it was emptied and refuelled etc we were on our way. There was a small queue with aircraft waiting to take off, but generally it was a lot, lot better. Luton is getting busier, but usage over the last year have included, Amsterdam, Dublin and Barcelona and the delays have not been like those at London Heathrow. What is more the on-site long term car parking is a lot cheaper than at Heathrow.

The plans for Heathrow are to make it even larger. Although there is a lot of local opposition, the villages of Sipson and Harmondsworth will probably disappear in the next few years and become the third runway plus Terminals 6,7 plus. That airspace is going to be exceptionally crowded and it will probably take the same time to fly from most European destinations to the Heathrow area as now, however it will then probably mean the plane is stacking and circling for more than hour to actually land!

Philip Suter is a Director of jml Property Services; a UK based company offering Insurance products on line at and a holiday home advertising service management training within the UK. He a travel writer and is a very experienced property consultant with over 30 years work in the Residential letting business in the UK and served on the National Council of ARLA. He is a Fellow of the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) and a Member of The association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA)

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