The Man Who Pays His Way: Why kiss and fly means trouble at the airport
Saturday 03 November 2007
Fraser Brown has a problem: "kiss and fly". This sounds like the most romantic of terms, and even more poetic when rendered in the Romance languages: beso y vuelo in Spanish, baiser et voler in French, and (admittedly an approximation) the Italian amore e arrivederci. But translated into traffic at Gatwick, "kiss and fly" spells only trouble.
Mr Brown's job title makes him sound as though he runs a fleet of lorries: he is in fact Gatwick airport's head of commercial transport. His job is to keep traffic circulating at the world's busiest single-runway airport. His biggest headache: the benevolent motorist who is going no further than the airport forecourt to drop off a departing passenger – and who then returns a week or two later to "meet and greet" the same person. This practice generates twice the number of there-and-back car journeys compared with the passenger who uses an airport car park. The kiss-and-fly contingent pays nothing for the privilege, which is one reason why the practice is so popular given car-parking charges at Gatwick and elsewhere.
Why does it matter? Partly because congestion in the skies is bad enough without having to endure congestion on the roads in and around the airport. But mainly because air travel is quite damaging enough in terms of fuel consumed and noise and pollution emitted, even before you add in wasteful car journeys.
To try to kiss goodbye to kiss and fly, this week Gatwick launched a Surface Access Strategy. One reason only 35 per cent of the 35 million passengers this year will use public transport to reach the airport could be the complexity of the railways. Many new arrivals want only the most basic of commodities, a ticket to London Victoria. Yet the ticket machines at Gatwick's rail station require travellers to choose from 27 options.
When the Gatwick Express franchise is taken over by Southern, improvements are promised. On Tuesday, a new Onward Travel Centre opened at Gatwick's South Terminal to help with rail and bus alternatives. And a transport expert, Richard Walker, has been drafted in to improve bus links (his personal favourite bus journey is Acapulco to Oaxaca in southern Mexico, though I am sure Route 100 from Crawley to North Terminal comes a close second). The planners have their work cut out: the airport concedes that among the incentives for kissing and flying are "built-in prejudice against public transport, the size of the group travelling, the amount of luggage they are carrying, and what time they are travelling". That last point is crucial: the no-frills airline model depends on very early departures and very late arrivals. As easyJet overtakes BA as Gatwick's leading airline, incentives for a dawn "kiss and fly" or a late-night "meet and greet" increase.
PRIZE FOR most ludicrous "Surface Access Strategy" goes to Heathrow. Here train operators appear to be doing all they can to prevent people travelling to Europe's busiest airport on the excellent Heathrow Connect service. This is the budget "stopping" version of the very expensive Heathrow Express. It takes as little as 23 comfortable minutes between Paddington station and the airport – a "premium economy" alternative to the Tube, if you will. Yet if you start from the wrong end of the track, you will find it almost impossible to get on the thing. At the airport, the staff at the Heathrow Express ticket desk will cheerfully sell you a ticket for the Heathrow Connect train to London for £6.90. Try it at the Heathrow Express ticket desk at Paddington station, though, and your cash will be declined.
You will instead be directed to a First Great Western ticket queue, full of people buying sleepers to St Austell or season tickets to Swansea. With the clock ticking before the next departure (the Heathrow Connect runs only every half-hour), you might instead search for a working ticket machine, where you will be asked to tap in your destination.
The ticket machines at Paddington have never heard of Heathrow airport. The best alternative is a destination called "Heathrow Bus". But if you need to reach the airport quickly, don't be tempted to go there. Unbelievably, this ticket is for a train from Waterloo (nine Tube stops from Paddington) to Feltham, a bus interchange for the airport.
"This service will revolutionise the way you travel," boasts the publicity for Heathrow Connect. Correct: by making public transport so inaccessible, it could persuade me to hit the road.
I HAVE hitch-hiked to a variety of airports, including Heathrow, Malaga and Seattle, and have never kissed a single driver before (or after) flying. Neither do I have experience of the more amorous variants of "kiss and fly", generically known as the Mile High Club. The "most e-mailed story" this week on the BBC News website said that Singapore Airlines is asking passengers in its new double-bed equipped Airbus A380 to refrain from creating their own, er, in-flight entertainment.
I have checked out the appropriate rules from Singapore Airlines' conditions of carriage. Article 12 bans behaviour "in a manner to which other passengers may reasonably object", with a warning that the airline "may take such measures as it deems necessary to prevent continuation of such conduct, including restraint of the passenger".
It used to be said that Niagara Falls was "the second-most disappointing part of a honeymoon"; that title may now be taken by Singapore Airlines flight 221 to Sydney.
Erasing the past?
The lovely Spanish city of Santander has an excellent Surface Access Strategy: you simply sail on Brittany Ferries from Plymouth across the Bay of Biscay to the heart of this Cantabrian city.
Next, walk a few hundred yards from the port, and you will find yourself in the main square, which has an equestrian statue at the centre. The figure is the former fascist dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco.
This contemptible figure overthrew the democratically elected government, dissolved the Spanish parliament and ruled the nation with great cruelty for 36 years. On Thursday, the parliament in Madrid approved a bill to remove all statues commemorating his dictatorship from public locations.
Although I understand the continuing fury among many Spaniards regarding Franco and his legacy, surely to remove symbols of his regime is to erase history – and is precisely the sort of action that the totalitarian ruler would have taken.
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