Luton airport misery as drop-off fee causes chaos

6.7.2009   (Times)

by Chris Haslam

Luton airport will be raising our frustration levels to new heights this summer
with a new traffic-management plan causing confusion and gridlock on the approach
road.   Passengers arriving for early-morning flights last week were horrified
to find traffic tailing back for more than a mile beyond the airport perimeter.

With taxis and private cars crawling at a snail’s pace, desperate passengers
got out and started the long, uphill hike to the terminal. "This is inhumane,"
seethed Sandra Morris, pushing a buggy with one hand and dragging her suitcase
with another. "I feel like a refugee."

"If I don’t walk, I’ll miss check-in," said Alessandro Diaggio.  "My wife has
to return the rental car and I’m going to try to check her in, otherwise she’ll
have to book another flight."

At the front of the queue, airport workers acting as traffic marshals bore the
brunt of passengers’ ire.   "It’s not our fault," said one.    "It’s the idiots
running the airport who can’t see the chaos their master plan has caused."

That "master plan" is a scheme to charge drivers to drop passengers at a "priority
set-down area" alongside the terminal. If you’re in and out in 10 minutes, the
fee is £1, but if you stay a minute longer, it’s £50. Those wishing to avoid the
levy are forced to double back to the mid-term car park, half a mile from the

Introduced last week, the new traffic-management scheme has the stated aim "to…
ensure that all passengers, including the elderly and less mobile, are best able
to access the terminal in a secure and orderly manner".

According to one elderly passenger, sitting exhausted with his luggage on a grass
verge several hundred yards downhill from the terminal, "it’s a shambles.     It
looks like Dunkirk".

Even those who thought they’d avoided the jams by taking public transport from
the long-term car park found themselves trapped in the gridlock.

"It’s six in the morning on a weekday in term-time," noted a courtesy bus driver.  
 "Can you imagine what it’s going to be like when the schools break up?   Thousands
of people are going to miss their flights."

Luton airport’s management, which already charges passengers £1 for the clear
plastic bags in which to present liquids, and £3 for fast-track security, said
that it could take between a month and six months to clear the congestion caused
by the new scheme.     "We’re doing everything we can to persuade the public to
decide where they want to drop off before reaching the terminal.    We’ve got a
lot of signposts up and there’s information all over our website."