Luton Airport now makes Gatwick look attractive.

August 24, 2009

Airports in the UK have been in the news a lot recently. In particular BAA, now Spanish owned, has been criticised for having what amounts to a monopoly on airports in the south east of England. It currently owns Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. That puts “London Luton” in an interesting position as one of the two London airports not owned by BAA (I’m not counting “London Oxford” Hah!)

However having just flown in and out of there to Edinburgh, it’s clear they’re not taking advantage of their opportunity.

I know it’s owned by the local council, and in these tough times they need to make as much money as possible. I thought charging for trolleys (carts) was a bit steep. I thought introducing a £6 charge to get through security quickly was a cheek – I expect them to provide enough security scanning points that we shouldn’t need to pay so I can get through in time to catch my flight.

But there’s now a combination of irritants.

First there’s the approach. They have finally opened the direct access road so you don’t have to drive in via the car factory roundabout. But all this means is that the new road delivers high volumes of traffic directly to the disaster that is the access roundabout. For those who haven’t been there, let me explain. There is one roundabout which give access to the taxi rank, the drop-off zone, the short-term car park and the bus-stop area. All it needs is to be a bit busy, or someone not quickly working out where they’re going and the queue from the short-term car park quickly tails back onto the roundabout, blocking everything else including the entrance and exit roads. So it can take (and has taken me) 20 minutes on the bus from the mid-term car park to the terminal – and I can walk it in 10!

Then there’s the cost of the car park. Unless you can get some sort of special offer it’s often more expensive to park at Luton than it is at Gatwick, even in the long-term car park. Some of us remember when the long term car park was where the short term one is now, and there were no buses because you could walk directly to the terminal. And they call that progress?

If you want to avoid the expensive car park you can arrive by train; at a railway station about 5-minutes drive away. On a Friday night most of the passengers on the train from St Pancras alight at Luton Airport Parkway and then all try to get on the bus (which used to be free but now you have to pay!) which is nowhere near big enough. Chaos ensues. And then you still get stuck in the queue to the chaotic roundabout.

Having got to the terminal you are then offered all the opportunities for Luton Town Council to relieve you of your money with paid for trolleys, quick security and so on.

On the way back there’s security to get back into the country. I know I didn’t have to go through that from Scotland (yet… wait until they achieve devolution, then we’ll need passports to travel to Edinburgh and back) but on previous journeys the queue to get through immigration at Luton has taken longer than getting in to the US at New York! At least there’s more space to queue in New York; the immigration “hall” at Luton is awful.

And now the final straw. The new system at the mid-term car park.

Previously you took your ticket to a desk in the terminal, gave them your pre-book code, they validated your ticket and you just drove out of the car park. Now you have to drive to the exit, press the intercom button and give your code to the operator. Assuming there is an operator. Last night about 9:15 there wasn’t. Or there didn’t appear to be. We waited in a queue of cars for nearly 30 minutes just to get to the head of the queue, and then the intercom rang for ages before anyone answered it.

Either no-one told the operators about the new scheme, or someone was sick, or more likely they’ve fired the parking guys that used to operate the terminal desk rather than transferring them to operate the intercom. Whichever way you look at it, the system doesn’t work.

As we were sitting in the queue waiting to get out of the car park, my wife turned to me and said, “It kind of makes Gatwick look attractive doesn’t it?” And she’s right. It does.


  1. It was in such a bad state, its better now I think

  2. Perfectly written piece of information. Managed Parking Gatwick aslo makes the airport more attractive and nice.

  3. Nice and informative blog…..

  4. gatwick meet and greet brings reliable, cheap and secure services to assist its customers in their travels.

  5. Having written this in 2009, five years later I’ve flown out of Luton again (with easyJet) because the flight times were better than Gatwick. Once again security really didn’t have enough gates open – part of the plan to get you to shell out for the priority lane – but once you get through the terminal is brighter, with more retail opportunities – which I resisted by heading directly for the lounge.

    And the mid term car park actually worked out cheaper than Gatwick with no delays at the (still ridiculously designed) access roundabout.

    I’ll let you know how I get on on the return journey.

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