A recent week in Southern Spain meant another trip to Manchester Airport, an ordeal for almost 20 million people a year. Why is it when the plane finally takes off, I feel as if I have escaped from somewhere?
The first page of the Manchester Airport website glibly states:
“At Manchester Airport, we’ll take the stress out of millions of journeys every year, making the whole experience easy and comfortable. As one of the UK’s leading domestic and international gateways, you’ll find a huge array of services thoughtfully designed to make travelling with us a positive pleasure.”
No you didn’t and it isn’t !! It might as well be another transit camp of the Gulag Archipelago.
The “whole easy and comfortable experience” begins even before we are admitted for processing. Due to security concerns, the drop off areas are now significantly reduced with a number of diagonal drive in bays established for dropping off passengers. Great idea but seems only to function efficiently at certain times such as when there are no outbound flights or it’s foggy and the airport is on divert. This morning the queue of traffic up the ramp and onto the slip road means that agreeing to our taxidriver’s suggestion to let us off at arrivals is a no brainer. The lifts are working though so perhaps the chief executive should be rewarded with a bonus.
Checking in, this year we have a single piece of hold baggage. This is rigid of course as the new, much vaunted and extremely costly baggage handling system was stress tested to the limit last year by our softer holdall type bag which apparently couldn’t go through and had to be taken to another part of the terminal to be checked in separately. We have printed our boarding passes at home after having checked in online but apparently still need proper boarding passes as the ” machine doesn’t always recognise them ”
Then it is time to continue on to the next part of our admission. The security. We avoid buying the world’s most expensive plastic bags at £1 each by the simple ruse of bringing our own for our small containers of liquids, manage to blag our way through the express channel by slipstreaming an elderly couple from Oldham in wheelchairs. This was not such a clever ploy as it turns out later. After having divested myself of coins, keys, phone, bag, jacket, belt, chewing gum, etc. I pass through the first part of the security screen. I am then selected to try out the new £12 million pound body scanners which take only 7 seconds. They may take only 7 seconds but the palaver before and after takes considerably longer. All this is supervised by staff with all the personality and attitude of an open grave.
I am all for security in these troubled times but why not use some common sense? Were the aforementioned wheelchair pensioners likely recruits to Al Qaeda’s suicide brigades? The security staff obviously thought so as they made them pass through the Rapiscan system too. That did not take 7 seconds either. I cannot help feeling that if airport security is to be effective then there has to be a consistent implementation across all airports otherwise the bad guys will just find the weakest point in the wall.
Having got dressed for the second time that morning we entered the main departure wing, sorry , area. To gain access to the gates and facilities beyond, the £50 million refurbishment of the airport that seems to have taken about 5 years now, thoughtfully, ensures that you MUST pass through Duty free , presumably just in case you have never enjoyed the opportunity of having to produce an aircraft boarding card to buy a bar of chocolate before. There is no other way, you have to follow a path (straight from the IKEA model of sending you round the houses to increase retail exposure) and run the gauntlet of “beauty consultants” with their pancake make up applied with a plasterer’s float trowel spraying you with unrequited fragrances. To a lot of passengers Duty Free and shopping is an important part of their holiday but it should be an option for the rest of us. I, for one, do not wish to feel like a veal calf on it’s way to the abattoir.
We needed some breakfast at this point and chose the “Food Village” Not an experience I would readily repeat unless someone else, for instance HM Prisons, was paying. What was being served certainly looked like what I imagine would be served in Strangeways or the Scrubs. Soggy, square slices of toast on top of anaemic bacon and pools of congealing beans, then queue again to pay the surly staff at separate check outs. The area reserved for utensils, milk and sugar was filthy and had not seen a cleaner for a good hour or so. This, however, matched the rest of the place where many tables remained uncleared. We paid £2.39 for a cup of coffee, the quality of which my dad would have “enjoyed” as a guest of the Nazis in Stalag IVB for a couple of years. Judging from the taste it was probably made from acorns. Never mind, you get unlimited refills – laugh , I didn’t want the one I had. £14 for 2 hot drinks and 2 sandwiches,and on checking my bill realised that the Food Village was adding 20%VAT to these already inflated prices! I am not even sure that this is legal.
Overall the departure area was noisy and with insufficient seating and too many shops. The options for eating and drinking were of the lowest common denominator, poorly presented and over priced. The impression was not one where one felt that the passengers needs were the first consideration and certainly not thoughtfully designed to make travelling with us a positive pleasure. It was more like, how much money can we squeeze from these mugs before we pack them off to the Costas?
On the return journey,the usual slow passport control, a long wait for the bags and then the exit from the terminal to the car park is a choice between an upward slope or stairs. Neither suitable for using a trolley. The same airport trolleys that need a £1 coin to use, an outdated idea abandoned by most airports in the civilised world. Finally our local taxi has to pay £2.50 to park even though he is just picking up and not waiting. Why do so many people seem to put up with all this?
In the last year, I have used Heathrow Terminals 1, 3 and 5, San Francisco, Sydney, Melbourne and Hong Kong twice. None of these major cities can even come close to matching Manchester’s Airport in terms of poor service, surly and pedantic staff, inefficient systems and the all pervading feeling that they are trying to make as much money from the passenger as possible. What is worse is that the Airport is jointly owned by all the Greater Manchester local authorities. Do they ever consider that from time to time certain foreign passengers may well be decision makers with the power to influence investment decisions that could significantly enhance the prosperity of our region? What would they make of this place? It is a poor advert.