chocks away and ready for take-off

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The scenes in airports across the whole of Europe this weekend, with eager holidaymakers, frazzled families, drunken stag & hen parties, and weary businessmen queuing for hours to pass through security, into the departure lounge and then up, up, up and away, were utterly dispiriting. Or they would’ve been had the hundreds of thousands travelled as normally they would. And for anyone missing this wonderful life-affirming Easter experience here’s a reminder of how airport operators, along with help from overly-officious border officials, have become so adept at making the process, mostly in pursuit of profit dressed-up as security, a grim, joyless escapade for one and all.

Nothing sums up modern airports more than their little scam of removing water fountains. Since the 100ml liquid limit was imposed in 2006, airports have been forcing travellers to buy expensive bottled water. However, aha, as we all got wise to this we started bringing either empty plastic bottles or the metal thermos ones, which we could fill-up at the water fountains. Consequently, they’ve either removed the fountains…or hidden them. Gatwick has only one in south terminal and it’s at the end of the toilets’ p*ssy corridor. Nice.

But before you even manage to get to the toilets you have to first navigate the Hampton Court maze, where you go round and round in ever decreasing circles traipsing through the duty-free shopping mall. Take the wrong turn and missing your flight becomes a distinct probability. Personally, I can never resist the urge to buy a £100 ticket for the exceedingly slim chance of winning a 911 Porsche. The whole helter-skelter is evidently a far more profitable use of precious floor space than giving passengers… er, some seats and free wifi.

Most holiday trips are not to duty-free destinations, but that doesn’t stop the airport shops desperately trying to convince us their prices are so much cheaper than on the high street. But they’re not. PriceSpy confirmed that the new-fangled Samsung phone was £559 at their Heathrow store before lockdown but £452 on Amazon. A Fitbit was £134.99 at the on-site Dixons but £128 in Debenhams. A £319 Sony camera at its flagship Heathrow shop was £309 from Argos, and so on. And let’s not forget the ol’ ‘now you see it, now you don’t’ VAT trick which was exposed in 2015. When we’re forced to show our boarding passes at the till, with the unstated implication that it is a legal requirement somehow bound into airport security, it transpires that the sole purpose is to allow the shop to pocket the VAT on purchases made by customers flying to non-EU destinations. Cunning devils.

The final coup de grace has to be when you finally arrive back and your friendly neighbour has agreed to pop over and pick-you all up. Sadly, it’s no longer an act of kindness as airports have cottoned-on to this as an extremely profitable event. £3 for ten minutes and a pound per minute thereafter is the norm but it’s Luton that takes gold in this department, as I found out to my cost on New Year’s Eve: one minute over the allotted free fifteen minutes at a distant, far-flung ‘official’ collection car-park, and my pocket was automatically £42 the lighter! Welcome to the new flying reality and remember, every cloud has a silver lining.