03 March 2009

My favorite airport - Bergen Flesland

I travel a lot and spend too much of my life in airports. On the whole I don't really enjoy the experience although I am, by now used to it. The whole airport experience has got significantly worse over the last few years, due to a number of factors including the post 9/11, knee jerk security reaction and the reduction in service quality as the big carriers try to out-cheap the budget airlines.

In most parts of the World the typical airport experience involves
1. Leave for airport 3 hours before departure because its going to be a long and painful experience.
2. Arrive at airport - generally have to park or get dropped off several miles away, spend ages getting to the actually terminal.
3. Go to check in - argue with check in staff about luggage allowance, seating etc. This is fairly standard and somewhat tedious because they are inconsistent and despite smiling a lot they are pathological liars.
4. Go to security - now this is the worst bit...

If one were cynical (and I am) you may believe that giving you loads of hassle at the airport is designed to annoy you but at the same time amplify the feeling of being threatened while strengthening the subliminal impression that the people in charge are at least doing something about this grave threat. The threat is real but extremely small. Statistically, you are more likely to be struck by lightening twice on the same day than be on a hijacked plane. But the threat has been grossly exaggerated as a justification for all sorts of other nasty actions, such as stealing people's oil. This fact is illustrated by an interesting paradox...

If you try and board a plane with a gun they will arrest you - obviously. However if you try and board with a knife or even a bottle of highly infeasible liquid explosive that looks like Evian, then they will simply confiscate it. So, for the very determined suicide terrorist this is a "no loss game" - they can just keep trying until one day they get through. Meanwhile for everyone else it is a totally pain in the arse, designed as I said to provide inconvenience that fosters a belief that there is a huge threat but the government is looking after you. A few questions to ponder:

- Did anyone ever shout "stick em up and spread em" whilst hijacking a plane with a pot of jam?

- Is there any difference between the nail clippers you buy in the shop outside the airport and those you buy inside? Security, but not when it interferes with revenue creation.

- Isn't a broken wine bottle a more effective weapon than a key-ring penknife with a 1 inch blade? Yet one is band and the other is not. Why? Think duty free equals income, again security, but not when it interferes with revenue creation.

- If I wear a jumper I don't have to take it off to go through the scanner machine. If I wear a jumper with a hod, I still don't have to take it off. If I wear a cardigan or sports top with a zip, I still don't have to take it off. If I wear a hoddie with a zip I am asked to take it off - I have tried this experiment numerous times. I am rather keen to know what is special about that hod/zip combo that makes me a security threat?

- Is that an X-ray machine? Well if it is it should be able to see through this bag and see that I have a computer in it. Why do I have to take the computer out?

- The utter idiot fest in London Gatwick were you remove your shoes to go through the scanner, walk 10 m and are then told to remove your shoes again and have them scanned. What is that all about?

- The whole clear plastic bag thing for your tooth paste etc. Ok so if you want to limit the total volume of liquids it works but what happens when I only have one thing that says 80 ml on the side of the tube. How does placing it in a plastic bag make any difference?

- And finally the people in the queue. They have stood there for an hour watching their fellow human sheep being told to take off their belts, remove their mobile phones from their pockets, leave the bottle of water behind (so you have to buy another on the other side) and still when they get to the machine they try and walk through with belt on, phone in pocket and water bottle in bag. For Christ sake - it may be inane and pointless but its not that complicated. Salt Lake City airport has green, red and black lanes like ski runs, green is for clueless people with 5 small children who have never seen an airplane, black is for experienced travels who can get through running. It works a treat and should be adopted everywhere.

Anyway back at our trip to the average airport...

5. Get through security and realize that you still have 1.5 hours to kill. Ask yourself why you bothered turning up so early.
6. Wander around a load of over-priced shops that you would never dream of visiting at any other time in your life.
7. Buy some food that you don't really want and watch lots of Tenerife bound easyjetters drinking beer at 8am
8. Get called to gate, despite the fact that the plane still isn't going anywhere for three quarters of an hour. Find out that it isn't infact boarding at all, they laid - again. Wander off.
9. Get distracted looking at electrical goods in the duty free shop and then get summoned over the tanoy. I like it when they call me by name, it makes me feel special.
10. Board the plane and then sit there bored while the plane is delayed for another hour.

This rant is getting away from the original purpose of the post which was to comment on my local and favorite airport, Bergen Flesland, which just voted the best in Europe (see below) by some dodgy travel mag from the UK.

Why do I like Flesland? Because it works, efficiently. To repeat the above trip to the airport...
1. Leave home 1 hour before the plane departs and drive 25 mins to the airport.
2. Park and walk 5 mins to check in.
3. Check in anytime up to 20 mins before the plane leaves and get no hassle from the check in staff.
4. Five minutes to go through security, sometimes 10 when it’s really busy. Limited hassle and most of the travellers know what is going on
5. Walk past the few shops and get straight onto a plane that leaves in 10 minutes

Fantastic - that is how all airports should be. And anyone who says that it's easy for Flesland to be efficient because it's small - well that seems like a good argument for not expanding the other already oversized and overstretched airports even further.


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