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Satellite Airports – do you know where you’re going?

Barry, who co-founded Skyscanner, comes from near Luton and he wouldn’t describe himself as a Londoner.

Two words can make my irrationality levels start to rise: London, Luton. It’s not London, Luton, it’s bloody Luton, Luton. They are two distinct places separated by 55km and a pricey train ticket or a brutally slow drive from London. London Stansted annoys me too and that’s even further away but I think it’s because Luton is a real town and has its own identity. I have nothing against Luton at all – I feel certain it is a good and noble place. Barry, who co-founded Skyscanner, comes from near there and he’s a fine fellow but he wouldn’t describe himself as a Londoner.

Much as I realise this is a minor complaint, I do think that it underpins a serious point. Clearly, part of the reason the budget carriers keep their prices down is that they often fly into secondary or tertiary city airports – which primarily are cheaper but also have more available landing slots. The problem is that often they are miles away from where you want to be. I picked a popular low-cost airline and had a look at some of their routes.

Where you fly to Where you want to be Distance (km)
Charleroi Brussels 47
Weeze Dusseldorf 61
Skavsta Stockholm 106
Torp Oslo 86
Bratislava Vienna 56
Reus Barcelona 93
Lubeck Hamburg 57
Bergamo Milan 47
Schonefeld Berlin 71
Kirchberg Frankfurt 110
Hamilton Toronto 68

I accept that sometimes it will be the case that passengers will actually want to get to somewhere near Weeze or Torp (wherever they might be) and that is jolly lucky for them; but those people going for a weekend away however, are likely to want to venture to the bigger, tourist cities. It’s like a couple from Spain deciding to spend a romantic weekend in Luton rather than London. Somehow, I think it unlikely.

When I see Stockholm with Skavsta in brackets, I assume I am going to be landing somewhere near Stockholm, not over one hundred kilometres away. That is the same distance as travelling from Portsmouth to London. No tourist in their right mind would fly to Portsmouth and then trek on up to hit Big Ben and Harrods. And as far as I am aware, Vienna is not even in the same country as Bratislava which confuses me enormously.

I think carriers have a duty to make it clear to passengers that they could well be flying into an airport that is actually quite a distance from where they potentially want to be. Cheap flights are all very well but only useful if you know where you are going.