One disturbing characteristic of ‘budget’ airlines is their dedication to stripping service to the bone and then charging the customer for every little thing on top. We’ve still not quite reached the often threatened idea of a money slot on the toilet door but I wouldn’t rule out anything. One day they’ll find out how to make us stand and strap-hang but it’s not happened yet, thankfully. Sadly, this type of penny-pinching and determination not to miss an opportunity to part us from our money seems to be spreading to many of our airports. Most recently I was disappointed by the money-grabbing behaviour of Luton Airport.
Luton has long been a favourite with the budget airlines and was originally EasyJet’s hub airport. It now works with many more of the airlines competing for the budget traveller. If you want anything more than the absolute basics, Luton will charge you.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to imagine you might drop someone at the airport without having to pay but Luton has taken every possible step to prevent that happening. As we approached the terminal, sitting in a slow moving traffic I thought about just opening the door and jumping out but there were barriers along the side of the approach road to prevent this and there was a van with a compliance camera parked up on the roundabout by the terminal to make sure that couldn’t happen. When he came back to pick me up a few days later, my husband saw that same van sneaking up on some cars who had parked up in a bus stop to avoid the charges and the van was taking their photographs so they would be fined for their sins.
Instead of jumping out and delaying nobody, we had to crawl through the traffic and use their 10 minute drop off zone. It takes considerably more than 10 minutes of course – probably 10 to get in and a few more to get out once you’ve dropped. Last time I was in Luton I saw an altercation between a driver who had exceeded his ten minutes and the towing crew who wanted to take his vehicle away. It didn’t quite come to blows but the driver of the offending vehicle did attempt to steal the keys of the tow-truck to make sure that they couldn’t take his car. All this successfully blocked the flow of traffic whilst they waited for the police to come.
The only way to avoid paying is to put your car in the mid-stay car park and take the bus and even then I think you only get 30 minutes to get from the car park to the terminal and back again before they start charging. If you actually want to see your loved one into the terminal, have a coffee, give them a hug and wave them on their way, you’ll need to pay. For this purpose, the long stay car parks are too far away and you’ll have to pay for a day or more so don’t even consider that. Mid-Stay is close enough that you can walk to the terminal in about five to ten minutes although a bus is provided for those who don’t want to. However, whilst they ‘kindly’ allow you 30 free minutes in the Mid-stay, if your stay should exceed one hour, you’ll have to pay for the whole day. This is a shocking £19.50
Short-stay is closer to the airport but still not actually that close and the charges are ridiculous. On my most recent visit, my husband came to pick me up. The car was in the short stay car park for just 29 minutes and the fee was £3.80. That in itself was not a shock. What I did object to was seeing on the receipt that the payment machine charged an additional £1.95 because he paid with a credit card. Last time I was at Luton airport, I got delayed by ridiculous queues in passport control. As a result of spending more than 45 minutes in the passport area, the car was parked for shortly over an hour and incurred a charge of £11 – plus of course the heinous credit card fee. Keeping in mind that even on a good day, your bags will take 30-60 minutes to be processed, Luton Airport is granting themselves a license to print money. Budget airlines are so desperate to deliver ‘on time’ arrivals that they routinely lie about their journey times in order to meet their targets. My ‘three hour’ flight to Portugal took just two hours and ten minutes so that even though we were delayed for an hour in take off, we touched down ‘on time’. My flight into Luton from Amsterdam arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Since it’s just not possible for anyone collecting passengers to know whether they will be early or late, the airport is taking advantage of their own inefficiencies to generate more money.
Many of the flights which people take from Luton cost barely more than exceeding the one hour time limit in the car parks. Once inside you can be parted from even more money. By ensuring that the baggage check lines move as slowly as possible, they can charge you an additional fee of £4 to jump the line and use the Fast Track. Personally I think that’s the best bargain in the airport but if you aren’t sure, or if you’re travelling in a group, send someone up first to check how bad the queues are before you pay. Once inside the departures lounge, Luton have drastically reduced the amount of seating so that if you want to sit down, you’ll need to buy a drink or a meal to use one of the areas attached to the catering suppliers.
I’m not going to claim that Luton is the worst airport to use in the UK because sadly it has lots of competition for that honour. It is however one of the most annoying and penny-pinching places. Mostly I use Birmingham airport for my frequent travels. They too have made it almost but not quite impossible to drop people off but they provide a £1 for 10 minutes drop off zone that’s always quick to use. The short stay car park will let you stay an hour for about £3.50 and the long stay parks are at a walkable distance (or with a free bus service) and offer you a limited time to drop people off.
For those who travel rarely, this review probably reads like the ravings of a mad woman and I can understand that impression. If you travel twice a year for your holidays, you can probably let these irritations wash over you. If you travel almost every week, the little things add up to major niggles. My best advice on avoiding or minimising the costs would be as follows. If you are travelling with hand luggage and getting dropped off at the airport, ask the person driving you to drop you near the roundabout by the Ibis and Holiday Inn Express Hotels. Or alternatively if there way is clear, by the entrance to the mid-stay car park. From there it’s about a 10 minute walk to the airport. If you are being picked up, ask your friends to stop by Luton Airport railway station and then call them as soon as you get to passport control and have checked that the lines are not ridiculous. Then they can head to the pick up zone and be in place as you leave the airport and pay just a pound or park in the short stay for the minimum time necessary. If you have baggage to collect, only call them once you have the bags. It may mean you wait a little longer for them to arrive, but it can prevent a very high parking charge.