Simon Calder: The highs and lows of Blackpool's airport

Sometimes even a Town Crier has to enlist technological help. When I encountered Blackpool's telegraphic thespian, Barry McQueen, he was on the phone – no doubt letting the wider world know the breaking news that Blackpool had triumphed in a survey to find Britain's most pleasurable airport.

I met Mr McQueen on Tuesday at Blackpool's Pleasure Beach. One guidebook insists that this amusemant park "doesn't have much to do with pleasure". Clearly the writer does not share my appreciation of the Pepsi Max Big One, a rollercoaster that puts the g in gravity and your stomach somewhere in Morecambe Bay; nor of the remarkable resurgence that the Lancashire resort is enjoying. Blackpool wisely kept its trams running through the 20th century while every other conurbation in Britain was recklessly tearing up the tracks. The town's foresight has now been rewarded with £85m in funding to enhance the tram system.

And talking of transportational excellence: in a survey of more than 9,000 members of the Which? online opinion panel, Blackpool's Squires Gate airport was ranked above all others in Britain.

The timing could not be better for the Lancashire airport, which is celebrating its centenary this year. In 1909, it became the venue for Britain's first proper flying meeting in 1909. For much of the late 20th century it was moribund, sustained only by a few charters and hops across the Irish Sea. But during the "no-frills revolution", low-cost operators identified it as a cut-price alternative to Manchester.

Blackpool has the basic facilities that no-frills carriers appreciate, without the congestion that besets other airports. And it seems that passengers are very happy with Blackpool's simplicity. It scored top marks for check-in, "airport experience", and the time taken to pass through security and get to the gate. For "food outlets" Blackpool scored four out of a possible five stars, even though it has only one café. "We can give passengers a hassle-free airport experience," chirrupped the company in response to its triumph. But after my visit, I fear Blackpool faces relegation in next season's poll.

Slot delays may not be a problem for the airport, since it has only a dozen departures a day. But "coin-in-the-slot" delays will certainly cause expensive hold-ups for passengers.

Blackpool is one of several areas that seeks to cash in from the new rules on liquids in hand luggage. While BAA airports (the biggest of which filled the foot of the Which? survey table) give resealable plastic bags away free of charge, at Blackpool you have to put a £1 coin into what looks like a sweet dispenser in order to get four of the precious plastic bags. Need some money? The handy ATM charges £1.99 to get your hands on your cash. And before you board your plane, you will find your pocket picked, at least metaphorically. The Which? survey was concluded in November, before the airport's owners introduced the "Airport Development Fee". While we may love Blackpool just the way it is, that clearly doesn't work for the airport owner. It wants to "improve passenger facilities, develop the infrastructure and grow the route and airline network". Uncontentious aims – but Blackpool's flightpath is controversial. What it means for every adult passenger is spending an extra £10 before being allowed into the departure lounge.

The misguided passenger might have fondly imagined that, by buying a ticket, they were buying the basic elements of a transportational commodity getting them from A to B. Not in Blackpool. This is the latest manifestation of "low-fares-itis", whereby the aviation industry seeks to portray prices as lower than they actually are. What Blackpol has done, to avoid scaring away Jet2 and its other airlines, is to reduce the passenger service charge included in tickets, and switch it to an on-departure fee.

We end up paying anyway, so why is this move so bad? Because it adds complexity to a process that is already cumbersome enough. The first few thousand victims of the fee weren't improving the airport – they were paying off the capital cost of the machinery installed to collect the money and check you have paid. You pump cash into a ticket machine and get a receipt, then a few yards away put the piece of paper in a scanner to open a turnstile. A man standing at the entrance to security demanding a £10 note from everyone would at least reduce by one the hurdles to boarding your plane.

Luton's £3 queue-jumping charge, mentioned last week, is at least optional; Blackpool airport warns that anyone disinclined to contribute to the development plans will not be allowed on their plane. While the charge remains, the only high-altitude experience I'll take in Blackpool is back on the Pepsi Max Big One – opening for the summer today.

Travellers say bah! to BAA

The foot of the Which? popularity table makes gloomy reading for the 120 million travellers likely to pass through the London airports owned by BAA this year. Heathrow Terminal 1 (pictured) is rated worst, with Terminal 2, 3 and 4 only marginally better. Gatwick's South and North Terminals are rated fifth and sixth worst respectively. Stansted, also part of the Spanish-owned company's airport portfolio, shares seventh-worst spot with Manchester's ageing Terminal 1.

The only part of BAA's London operation to perform adequately is Heathrow Terminal 5, above, which this month celebrated its first birthday. It rates joint 23rd place, alongside Liverpool John Lennon airport. But while the £4.3bn structure scored well for check-in facilities, it managed only average marks for "airside amenities" and waiting times for passport control and baggage reclaim. Let's hope the airport is not contemplating an Airport Development Fee to try to boost its rating.

Suggested Topics
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower