St Albans residents criticise Luton Airport bosses for operating beyond capacity

PUBLISHED: 21:00 24 August 2016

Luton Airport

Luton Airport

Archant

Massive traffic queues, tardy baggage handling and a lack of creature comforts have been met with a hostile reaction by Luton Airport passengers – and even some of its over-stretched staff.

The Herts Advertiser has received complaints about this area’s primary airport, which has been increasing passenger throughput well ahead of its own timetable, despite only recently starting its major expansion of infrastructure at the site.

Among those unhappy with Luton’s services is Ian Salkey, director of St Albans School of Languages in Market Place, who drives to the airport several times a week to drop off and collect foreign pupils.

He said: “It is very chaotic. Most people you speak to have a story to tell of rudeness, long waits etcetera.”

Ian is fed-up after constantly being stuck in traffic jams when approaching the airport, despite leaving in good time from St Albans.

He has seen other passengers jumping from stationary vehicles and running along the carriageway, hauling their suitcases behind them, in order to catch flights.

Ian said: “It’s madness really – hopefully they won’t get fined for doing that, as they are not criminals, but they are running along the road because they might miss their plane.

“The problem is you go through Capability Green, where you turn into Luton, when the queues start, and it can take an hour to get to the Holiday Inn roundabout.”

Problems continue at the car parks, where there are confusing signs and motorists are hit with high charges because of delays at the airport, particularly within the baggage handling area.

Ian said: “You can get two hours’ free parking in the long-term car park, but if you arrive back at your car just one minute over that limit, you pay the full daily rate of £25 – that is not clearly signed.

“So, when I get to the airport earlier, to make sure I avoid traffic queues, it ends up costing me more. Whereas it used to cost me £7 to pick up people, it can end up costing me £18-25. They are having a laugh.

“There is also chaos in the baggage handling area. It can take one-and-a-quarter-hours to get your luggage after landing, whereas it used to take 45 minutes. It is so slow.”

While recently complaining to airport staff, he asked them whether people who were delayed by traffic jams missed their flights.

Ian said: “I was told it does happen. The worker told me they should have put in extra roads. He said they have ‘shown utter contempt for passengers and staff, and that while Luton management have told employees they are making waves, it’s a sinking boat pretty much; it’s terrible’.”

A fellow unimpressed visitor, Paul Affleck, of Woodford Green, near Epping Forest, said: “We are retired and travel a lot, but we try to avoid Luton like the plague. The infrastructure to go with the expansion isn’t there. I speak as someone who has been fined. I use London City Airport, which is a dream by comparison.

“Luton is handling more aircraft than they can cope with.”

STAFF SPEAK OUT

Luton Airport staff have slammed their employers for operating beyond capacity and creating “chaos” according to a local campaign group.

In the latest London Luton Airport Town and Village Communities Committee (LLATVCC) newsletter, campaigners say there have been traffic jams extending almost back to M1 J10a, even at 4.30am, “as a result of the limited capacity for road traffic in the airport’s terminal area”.

One issue, apparently, is the reduced drop off area, its barriers, and the reduced short term car park.

The newsletter reports comments from anonymous airport ‘insiders’ whose criticism appeared on an “aviation rumour-sheet”, one of whom asserts “at the moment it is operating at 43 per cent above capacity in my opinion.

“The chaos will cost the airport a lot of passengers who won’t be coming back in a hurry to see the improvements by the end of the year … [including] the dual carriageway and the multi-storey car park, but there is still a great deal of pain to go as terminal [improvements] will not be finished until 2018.”

LLATVCC added that another insider described a busy travelling weekend, July 23-24, as, “a complete disaster for the airport. Airport management thought they could muddle through by accepting every new airline, route and passenger that wanted to use the airport this year, when even at last year’s levels they would not have been able to cope.

“They have been left with a public transport system that yesterday collapsed with passengers being forced to walk to and from the station.

“Once inside the terminal there are no seats with passengers forced to sit on the floor. The queues for the restaurants and toilets are massive … people have been complaining that it is taking over two hours to get landside with no steps meeting aircraft, over an hour to get through passport control and then finding their luggage still hasn’t got to the belt.”

LLATVCC says the airport has “well and truly gone for growth, taking on a bewildering number of airlines to say nothing of the ever-growing number of private aircraft. ‘Sweating the assets’ is how the accountants would describe it – the operator is clearly keen to squeeze every last penny from its expanding airport.”

LUTON RESPONDS

A spokesman for Luton Airport has apologised to passengers “for any inconvenience or disruption caused by the major construction works and thank them for their patience.

“We have accelerated the construction work to meet the demand of rising passenger numbers.

“When fully completed, the £110 million transformation will mean enlarged and improved facilities throughout, making travel through the airport quicker and easier than it has ever been.”

The spokesman said that more security officers had been employed to work in an expanded security search area, and additional multi-lingual ‘hosts’ had been recruited to help passengers throughout the terminal. Additional seating has also been introduced.

He said that measures had been taken to include a dedicated team to man the drop-off area, improved signage, adding an entry lane to the zone to increase capacity and increasing the free parking duration to two hours in the long term car park.

A new permanent dual carriageway is due to open in autumn along with a larger drop-off area.

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I should probably have taken the hint! Walking out into the garden recently an unprecedented flock of thirty or more crows raucously greeted me from the treetops at the bottom of my garden. Cawing and croaking these big, black birds clung clumsily to the top most branches and twigs, jostling and flapping to stay balanced in a constant flurry of feathers. There is always something ominous about crows – they are after all carrion crows, the vultures of the bird world – always watching for scraps and weakness that might mean their next meal.

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