It’s that man again

I can’t resist linking to one of the best interviews with Michael O’Leary I’ve read. With the normally voluble and equally opinionated ex-Telegraph edtior Dominic Lawson, for once almost shut down by his interviewee. O’Leary’s latest riff is that he might be interested in taking over one of the South East airports BAA is likely to be forced to divest. Here, he grabs the zeitgeist:

“It would be very hard not to improve any of the London airports. We’d staff security queues properly, and passport controls – which are a joke at the moment. We have people being delayed one or two hours just to get back into their own country..

Q. But there’s still the long wait for security checks, even if you don’t put any luggage in the aircraft hold, isn’t there?

A.”Yes, but that is not the airports’ fault. That’s the noddies in the Home Office because they decided they’d got some incredible intelligence that lipstick was the new weapon of mass destruction: that Osama bin Laden had spent years in a cave in Pakistan developing a range of lipsticks unknown to Estée Lauder or anyone else, which were clearly the new weapons of mass destruction

Being one of thousands queued up recently for half an hour at 6.30 in the morning at the new nightmare security check lay-out at Terminal 1, I give two cheers for O’Leary – not that he can do anything about Heathrow or is ever likely to. Like everybody else, I was ordered curtly to “stand on the white line” while a tall, Dr Who stick insect peered at me.
“This is the new biometric scanner but you haven’t told me about it ” I complained.
The official at least had to good grace to apologise.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I can’t resist linking to one of the best interviews with Michael O’Leary I’ve read.

    Link ? what flamin’ link ?

    He is right though, the London airports do generally suck. These days I just avoid flying out of UK airports where possible.

    If you’re flying to the USA, it’s an extremely good idea to book your flight out of Dublin. The immigration pre-clearance facility there makes it considerably easier and less stressful to enter the USA. While there are security checks in place in Dublin, I’ve never had the same kind of problems as I’ve had at the London airports. The hourly Ulsterbus (which runs right through the night, albeit at a reduced frequency) and the Aircoach make reaching the airport very easy.

  • Brian Walker

    Sorry Comrade – link added long before I read this, but glad to see you’re on autopilot anyway.

  • Harry Flashman

    Brian, this is your third Ryanair thread, what’s the obsession?

  • I may be missing something here: my main delay is often not at security or passport control (excepting the aero-slum at Luton, of course), but at check-in. That must be in some part be the fault of the airlines, particularly when two or three desks are serving a queue, while another two or three desks are unattended. If the BA ads are correct, though, it begins to look as if LHR T5 has finally cracked it.

    Then, again, I seem to be able to breeze through those automated computer consoles at US airports (last month LGA, EWR, BOS), but not the BA and Virgin ones at LHR T4 (although the LHR Continental ones do work for me). Weird.

    There’s a decent summary of the parochial SE England problem by Tim Webb, in today’s Observer. He argues:

    … how can Britain’s airports be fixed? One of the few issues that BAA, the airlines and the commission are agreed on is that the lack of airport capacity in the south east makes competition difficult. Because there is so much demand for flights in the region, the airports there will be fully used whether they are well-run or not. So a new owner of Gatwick would not have to try any harder than BAA to attract airlines and passengers. Moreover, even if airlines did want to move to a better-run Gatwick, there wouldn’t be any space for them.

    His conclusion is:

    There is no quick fix to the problems of airports in the south east. Heathrow is in the wrong place: being west of London means most flight paths are over the capital, making expansion difficult. Stansted, Gatwick, City and Luton airports are too spread out to provide any connectivity.

  • cynic

    “There is no quick fix to the problems of airports in the south east. Heathrow is in the wrong place: being west of London means most flight paths are over the capital, making expansion difficult. Stansted, Gatwick, City and Luton airports are too spread out to provide any connectivity.”

    I don’t agree with this. The problem at Heathrow isn’t where it is per se…it’s overall airport capacity and the urban sprawl that was allowed to develop between it and London (which would have happened wherever it was).

    At peak time all the airports are full and the air routes into / out of London highly congested. If the airports weren’t so spread out I suspect that the congestion in the air would be even worse.

    There are already rail links between Luton and Gatwick and Cross Rail will make some difference though passengers will still need to make one change to connect between some of the airport pairs.

  • cynic @ 06:22 PM:

    That’s a very fair assessment, and in line with what the Department of Transport’s marking-time White Paper said in 2003. The “solution” (a.k.a. Elastoplast) was two more runways: Stansted and Gatwick. Nothing much can greatly change before the back-end of the next decade.

    The current vogue (Blasted Boris and others) is to re-open the Thames Estuary project (dismissed as too expensive an option by the White Paper). Anyone with a spare £11+ billion to finance it?

    I differ from cynic @ 06:22 PM over the rail links. However one sums it, the time-distances between the three outlying airports are unacceptable, and will remain so.

    Heathrow to Luton is the closest, some 36 miles, a minimum of an hour by car (think M25). National Express run a bus link, and sagely say:

    Journey Time : Around 55-70 minutes, but allow much longer.

    Only one into self-mutilation would try it by train: about three hours by the Heathrow Express, tube to St Pancras, Thameslink or Midland Mainline to Luton, and finally a shuttle bus to the airport.

    Heathrow and Gatwick are about 45 miles apart. There are numerous buses scheduled on this route, but many are on long-distance (from as far away as South Wales and the North of England). The road between the two airports is frequently the longest linear car-park in Europe. The minimum schedule is 75 minutes, but that is optimistic in the extreme.

    My final grief here is that, a while back, I was coming to London from Barcelona. My flight was delayed indefinitely (thank you, easyJet!) and I eventually arrived at Luton instead of Stansted. Well after midnight. The car, of course, was at Stansted. I’m still in doubt about the worst moment in those early hours: the young cab-driver aspiring to be Lewis Hamilton (55 miles in a lot less than even time), or his three-figure bill.

    Presciently, the word that has just popped up for me to authorise this post is “hell”.

  • Brian Walker

    3. Harry, first, the quality of the above comments is an answer. Second, O’Leary’s anti-consumer marketing rage fascinates me as a device for taking attention away from incremental price rises (as described).And third, the airport experience is so vile and cynical (crowded with shops, little comfortable space for steerage passengers, prison camp guard atmosphere at slow security) that I reach out to anyone who gives BAA and the others a kicking. That do?

  • andy

    Good use of the word “securocrat” by O’Leary! Clearly he’s some sort of deep-cover fanatical Republican. Which we can all agree is a good thing.

    FWIW, I’ve spoken to people involved in airline security on the government side (although its Department for Transport not Home Office) who would broadly agree with O’Leary’s view on the non-efficacy of security procedures.

  • andy @ 10:49 AM:

    I’ve always casually assumed that UK security is mainly directed to one issue: keeping the US Transport Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security (memo: annual budget of $45 billion) sweet.

    I had to use the word “security” so frequently in that short paragraph, it somehow makes me think there’s an analogy with Steinbeck: “… ever’ time since then when I hear a business man talkin’ about service, I wonder who’s gettin’ screwed.”