A Lot Needs To Change at London Stansted Airport​ If It Wants More Long-Haul Routes

London Stansted Airport is located in the British region of Essex, approximately 40 miles North-East of Central London. The airport is home to the vast majority of Britain’s low-cost carriers, including easyJet, Ryanair, Primera (now bankrupt) and Jet2. It also attracts some charter airlines including Thomas Cook, given the airport’s long history with the leisure travelling market. The airport is so low-cost carrier-dominated that there are very few airlines which operate as scheduled, full-service airlines. In fact, there isn’t a single flag carrier/national airline that flies a scheduled service to/from Stansted.

Over the next five years, the ‘London’ airport is aiming to secure direct, nonstop flights to at least 25 long-haul destinations around the world, including Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Singapore, Kuwait, and Seoul.

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The 25 destinations mentioned are all premium-heavy routes — a world away from the current majority of low-cost routes operated from Stansted, such as Krakow, and Palma De Mallorca.

Each of the long-haul destinations Stansted are aiming for is already accessible on nonstop flights from London Heathrow (the UK’s main hub airport), and some from London Gatwick, the second busiest airport in Britain.

Many in the aviation industry blame Stansted’s distance from London, lack of business travellers, and it’s quite unreliable public transport links, as the main reasons for the airport continuously being perceived as ‘unattractive’ by many of the world’s airlines.  However, if Stansted is serious about attracting airlines to open nonstop links to the major market destinations mentioned earlier, there’s a lot that needs to change.

Here’s a very honest description of the realities of Stansted’s woes…(some of which are not isolated Stansted, and occur at other UK airports too).

Stansted’s ‘Low-Cost Airline Domination’ Has Made The Entire Airport ‘Low-Cost Carrier Minded’

If you’ve flown through Stansted in recent years, you’ll probably identify with this. Essentially the sheer dominance of low-cost carriers (namely Ryanair, given its size at Stansted), means the passenger experience is one of the most ‘low-cost’ in the country.

It starts when you approach the road leading to the terminal. During summer, cars can queue for in excess of 30 minutes to even reach the ‘passenger set down’ area, and the traffic is dotted with passengers dragging their luggage around, abandoning their taxis, and journeying the rest of the way by foot, for fear of missing their check-in deadlines.

Every car is charged a minimum of £3.50 for the privilege of being dropped off near to the terminal…and it’s an additional £1 per minute after 10 minutes have passed. In case you’re wondering, such a dire concept does not exist at Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Singapore, Kuwait, or Seoul Incheon.

If, for example, Singapore Airlines launched a non-stop Stansted-Singapore flight (I think there’s more chance of the failed Berlin airport opening before), passengers who park their car in Stansted’s long-stay car park have a single bus every 15 minutes to the serve the 2 long stay car parks, meaning wait times can be in excess of 45 minutes…just to get to/from the car parks — (with this in mind, it’s no wonder the majority of passengers look ‘in a rush’ when passing through the terminal).

When you do eventually enter Stansted (at any entrance), you’re normally confronted with a sea of passengers in endless Ryanair queues, that stretch around the entire airport check-in area — often interfering with other airline queues, and causing confusion to many.

At the understaffed security zone, large zig-zag queues will (eventually) lead you to often unhappy security officers, of whom always have (no matter what part of the day) a backlog of around 15 ‘rejected’ passenger item trays. Passenger hand luggage at Stansted security is rejected (and then requires manual thorough inspection) more than most of the UK’s airports. While security is at the forefront of UK aviation as a whole, it seems incredible to me that Stansted hasn’t yet grasped why its passenger bags ‘reject’ so much more than other London airports. If you’re travelling through Stansted during a busy period, and your bag requires a manual inspection…be prepared to wait around 20-30 minutes.

Once in the Departures area, there is very little seating, it’s constantly full, and there isn’t a time of day without snaking queues for the bathrooms. The ‘Escape’ lounge is too accessible (given it’s the only lounge in the airport), leading to overcrowding. There’s very little natural light (despite the terminal being beautifully designed, the new interior setup has covered all exterior views), and unless you’re in the mood to sit at a ‘Wetherspoons’ (A loud British pub, belonging to a chain) — you’ll find it incredibly difficult to find a quiet area to wait for a flight, or work.

Arriving at Stansted? Once your flight has landed, don’t be surprised if you’re met with excessive waiting times for luggage. This summer 2018, the airport has routinely played the ‘blame game’ by responding to thousands of tweets from passengers waiting over an hour for the luggage belt to move, only to say to some (it doesn’t reply to all) “you should contact the airline baggage handler”

As of September, the summer rush in the UK is over — but the problems continue at Stansted, just look at these tweets from the last ten days:

While the fault will almost certainly lay with the airline’s appointed baggage handler, there is publicly zero-intervention from Stansted, and this comes across as if the airport is satisfied with its passengers enduring such an experience.

Nearly All Passenger-Facing Staff Are Unable to Interact Professionally With Non-English Speaking Passengers

When I commute (by plane) each week to my home in Southern Europe, I often have to pass through Stansted, given my first choice airports (London City and London Heathrow) do not always offer daily flights to my airport destination, or at least not always at the time I need to fly.

While I’m realistic in realising Stansted would struggle to have an abundance of staff that possess the ability to speak every language of the Earth — I’m amazed that I am yet to hear a staff member (specifically at Security) able to communicate effectively with non-English speaking passengers.

Not only does there appear to be zero passenger-facing staff with international language skills (it’s not the biggest ask at an international airport, is it?) — Instead, passengers are routinely shouted at, as if suddenly, a non-English speaker will begin to understand fluent English because the language is being yelled at them instead.

I’ve seen such examples take place between Stansted security staff and French passengers (France is closer to Stansted than Scotland is), I’ve witnessed three staff bellow at a group of Malaysians who asked (in very broken English) ‘who do we complain to’ to which airport security staff refused to respond — sadly, it doesn’t take being a frequent flyer to witness these type of situations, and I couldn’t imagine any South Korean airline wanting its passengers subject to such a disrespectful, but regular occurrence.

Security Loopholes in the London Stansted Airport System?

Passengers flying from the UK should have complete faith in the security protocols in place to keep the UK, and the world’s skies safe. However, on two occasions (both from Stansted, and both in the last six months), ground staff discarded ignored passport checks during boarding, for fear the airline will miss its take-off slot. While this is definitely a contracted-ground staff company issue, Stansted has a role to play here too.

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Last month, when I pointed out to ground staff boarding my European flight (which are always subject to passport checks, given the UK is not in the Schengen ‘passport-free’ area)  that she should be checking passports & ID cards…she shrugged her shoulders and informed me that if I didn’t board immediately, “you will all miss your slot.” I wrote to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, as this wasn’t the first time I had experienced this at Stansted — which is concerning, to say the least.

On another occasion, during boarding, I observed a passenger present a screwed up piece of A4 Paper, which he claimed was a ‘temporary passport.’ The agent looked confused, and said she didn’t understand anything on the paper, telling the passenger “It’s all in another language, I don’t know what this is.” She stared at the paper for a few seconds longer before concluding “Well if there are any problems, they will sort it out at the other end of the flight” – before scanning his boarding card, and allowing him to board. Again, I reported the incident.

There is Nothing Premium about London Stansted Airport 

Markets such as Kuwait and Los Angeles can be incredibly lucrative for an airline, given their Business & First Class cabin demand. While the airlines are responsible for the majority of the premium experience — Stansted struggles to offer something remotely premium, and an Emirates passenger, Gisele, travelling on the recently launched Stansted-Dubai route (one of the only full service routes from Stansted) told me “I’m shocked Emirates haven’t yet intervened with how awful the First Class experience is at the airport…we were counting down the minutes to reach the plane, for civilisation, peace, and something that felt like I was indeed travelling in First! Fast Track security is not fast, the boarding gate is a mess and the lounge (a.k.a waiting room) is dire” 

Final Thought 

What I hope Stansted Airport will realise, is that each and every one of these woeful aspects of the airport can be changed for the better. The airport possesses the control to ensure they can actually work on being less ‘Low-Cost Carrier Minded’ and much, much more internationally-focused, and open-minded to other cultures and languages.

The airport’s expectations of baggage handling companies and security staff should be much higher — as these are vital elements which determine the overall passenger experience, and currently, Stansted is separating the airport itself, from the internal companies that run the airport’s day-to-day operations.

Do you think Stansted will be able to attarct new routes to these destinations within the next five years?

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