Monday, August 18, 2008

Comparing London Airports...

We have 5 blog entries about London:
1. Comparing London Airports... August 08
2. Grey old Janury... January 08
3. East End August 07
4. London Calling! March 07
5. London and ipods... October 06

Well, we've sure racked up some air miles in Europe now, particularly through the UK, where Clare & I have now frequented the departure lounges of these airports between us: Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Southampton, East Midlands, Leeds/Bradford & Edinburgh... (not sure if Belfast City & Belfast International count too!) So Clare happened to be writing an email to a colleague (and some of our friends) about London Airports, with a little comparison guide. Here it is:
1) Heathrow (24kms west of London): Coming from Australia – you’ll probably come here, probably to T3 or T4 (in fact, you’ll have no choice but to come here!) AVOID T5 (mainly British Airways flights) like the plague if you want to keep your bags. We try and do everything to avoid this one. Every time something goes wrong at Heathrow - snow/strikes/breakdowns/fog, one minor slip up and the whole thing grinds to a halt, literally. And then it takes days to recover. It is just like what you see on television. The levels of security just keep changing here. I think they are taking pictures of you now like the US does. The US does eye checks, finger prints and a series of questions that they match to previous entries. Note that if you have 2 passports they are matching your answers to your passport number not name. Joe got caught on that one. Lots of long haul international flights, at often competitive prices (if you get the right deals, but UK domestic and European flights from here are generally quite expensive. The Underground (Tube) into Central London is a lot cheaper than the Heathrow Express to Paddington, but you have to carry your luggage down there, which can be a real hassle – and it takes ages into Central London.
2) Gatwick (46km south of London): This is actually our favourite London airport. This is very easy to get to via the underground/train lines from Victoria Station in Central London (around 30 mins from Gatwick to Victoria). When we go to London for a daytrip, this is where we try and fly to if possible (the 10 Euro fares!) Both Ryanair & Aer Lingus fly here from Dublin so we get a lot of choice. The pain here is not the actual security but the ‘kids’ before the security section who make you have one bag and not extra bits ie. one handbag and absolutely nothing else, not a laptop bag, shopping bag or a packet of sandwiches. Which is ridiculous since the airlines and security let you have a handbag and a laptop bag. So other than the kids in yellow shirts, there never seem to be too many queues there (when we’ve been there!), and far less of the general stress of Heathrow or Dublin.
3) Luton (48km north of London): Not really London, but the main London airport for EasyJet, a few Ryanair flights and other boozed up charter airlines like Monarch & Thomas Cook. Staffed by kids - yes really - who barely know what a non EU passport is. Security used to be a piece of cake there and for a while they were trialling a weird machine (like a cat scan) that apparently can see thru your clothes. Still, gets you thru quite fast. This is the airport that was used by the ‘Airline’ reality TV show (EasyJet), ie. lots of people who only take a package trip to Spain once a year and have no idea - they turn up without their passports, etc, etc. My husband loves them (airport TV shows) so we know them all. And his aunt lives close by (Luton) so we have used this a fair bit. Trains to Kings Cross, London Bridge (more expensive than the Gatwick trains), and various coaches to Victoria Station, etc.
4) Stansted (48km north-east of London): Quite a well organised airport out in the countryside, but again with a lot of throughput (this is the main Ryanair Airport for London). Good shopping and food options compared with all other London airports. You often have to come here for connections to other parts of Europe - like Norway, etc, and Ryanair fly to different destinations from here (than Dublin). Bit of a distance from London – they have trains to East London (which we haven’t used before), and coaches to Victoria Station, etc. We tend to get car rental from here. Gatwick is way more convenient though. Security here always wants you to take your shoes off and belts, etc. I rarely have to take my shoes off at any airport except this one.

None of these airports have dogs to do anything. Everything would move faster if they did. They also don’t do ‘residue’ tests like they have had in Oz for years now.
Now, the airlines:
The low fares might initially look attractive, and they are if you follow all the rules and keep the cost of ‘extras’ down – but coming from OZ, be aware of the following:
1) You can’t do online check-in unless you have an EU Passport, so you must choose the airport check-in option (which costs extra) if you’re Aussie.
2) If you pay for a baggage check-in, you’ll get a 15kg allowance, not 20kg, definitely not compatible with coming off Qantas or Singapore Airlines, etc.
3) They WILL charge you for every extra kilo over 15 kilos. The Ryanair check-in staff at all their airports are outsourced contractors, and they get commission on every extra that gets billed. There is absolutely no negotiation with Ryanair staff over luggage.
4) No seating allocation = the running of the bulls. If you’re at a European Airport late at night waiting for a Ryanair flight, expect a stampede as the flight lands and prepares for take-off again.
5) If you do get left high and dry by Ryanair (and honestly, it hasn’t happened to us yet), and you’re in a hurry to get home, then you’ll have to get your credit card out and start paying your way back on normal airlines. That’s the price you pay for the cheap Ryanair fares.
For all that, I will say however, that every Ryanair flight has got us there, consistently, and pretty much on time. Don't be scared off - they are damn cheap if you're hunting for a bargain.
Don’t have too much to say on them, did a return trip from London to Athens in 2005. Their reputation is certainly less cheesy than Ryanair. Their initial fares might look more than Ryanair but are worth considering, and they go to some different places. No seating allocation. From what I remember, their crews are a bit more professional than Ryanair.
Worth comparing with Aer Lingus on the Heathrow-Dublin sectors, as they don’t charge extra for baggage, etc. Seating allocation is done.

No comments: