Sunday, April 12, 2009

Final Call: Getting to Innsbruck

Question of the week

I'm trying to find flights to Innsbruck for a long weekend in July. I'd prefer to go from East Midlands, but I can't find anything. I think I may have to go from London. - LA, East Midlands, UK

For a popular holiday location, Innsbruck is a devil to get to. Outside of the ski season, the only direct flight from the UK is easyJet's twice-weekly service from Gatwick.

With the grownup airlines, Frankfurt and Vienna are the most useful attack points; this means a connecting flight with some combo of Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines. I'm not sure where in the Midlands you are, but Lufthansa flies from both Birmingham and Manchester to Frankfurt. There's nowt from East Midlands itself.

If you will be hiring a car, consider flying to Munich and renting from there. Its a much bigger airport, with more routes to choose from, and the drive would only take a couple of hours. But if you do that, you'll miss out on the stunning views on the approach into Innsbruck.

Ask a question

Do you have a burning question about the world of air travel? A dispute you're having, or a rule you can't get to grips with? Post in the comments section below, or send an email.

Friday, April 10, 2009

'Heathrow Hell': One year on

March saw the one-year anniversary of the chaotic opening of London Heathrow's £4.3bn Terminal 5. By any measure, things have improved immensely since then: lost bags are down, wait times are down, and punctuality is at its best for seven years. A great job, right?

Wrong. Ask the passengers who use the terminal day in, day out and you will hear the faint sound of a wistful sigh. From the Heath Robinson security trays (a solution looking for a problem) to the compulsory detour through a shopping mall to reach BA's Galleries Lounges (if you frogmarch people past perfume, they'll buy it, right?), nothing is as easy as it should be. Then there's the strictly-enforced 35-minute cut-off time for departures: if you're not airside by then, you can forget about trying to run for your flight. You've already been offloaded. I wonder how many empty seats have flown off to sunny destinations because of this policy.

The one-hour minimum connecting time won't earn much favour with the juicy connecting traffic, not with the competition in Europe promising - and delivering - 30-minute MCTs. And managing this without a spangly new terminal.

It's not all bad news. T5 is elegant and airy, if a little sterile, and the baggage system really does appear to run like a dream. Passengers needn't go hungry thanks to the range of eating options on offer. (Are you listening, half the airports in Europe?) Equally, those that like to spend will find no end of gifts and gadgets to ogle at while passing the time. Your journey through the terminal will be smooth and pleasant, as long as you Obey The Rules.

But this was meant to be British Airways' Golden Child. The flagship terminal. Instead it's a triumph of their convenience over ours. Passengers are a troublesome bunch who get in the way at every turn, so they've been designed out at every opportunity. Somewhere along the line, BA and airport operator BAA forgot about the humans. They forgot that passengers are humans, and they sometimes want to talk to humans. And they forgot about the little extras that (should) set them aside from the low-cost carriers.
  • Want to check your bag early and explore the city? Not until two hours before the flight, Sir.
  • Tight connection, but you think you can make it if you run? Computer says no.
  • Flights delayed so much you'd like to try your luck at the car rental counter? Good luck escaping the departure lounge.
The on-time statistics may be impressive. The lounges may be luxurious. The baggage belts may be state-of-the-art. But if the planes are leaving half-empty and the passengers feel like they're only there to deliver a boarding pass to gate B33, isn't it a bit of a Pyrrhic victory?

Five Inside Tips for T5 Travellers

Terminal 5 may be smooth, but its not that smooth. Here are five ways to get the most out of your visit:
  • Escalators take an age to shunt you around the various levels. Use the lifts wherever possible.
  • First-class passengers can use a secret door to the right of South security to gain access to BA's most exclusive lounge, the Concorde Room.
  • Don't go to the satellite T5B unless you know your flight will depart from there. Getting back to T5A will be a hassle.
  • If you're flying longhaul without checked baggage, remember to stop by a 'passport and visa check' desk.
  • Check your tickets carefully. Although most do, not all BA's flights depart from T5.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

This ticket isn't worth the bog-roll it's printed on

Ryanair Charges

Flickr / Podknox
You have to hand it to him. Ryanair's effervescent CEO, Michael O'Leary, planted an off-the-cuff comment, allowed the internet rumour-mill to grind its merry way, and is now enjoying the kind of publicity you just can't buy - however many €0.01's you spend.
  1. Potty-mouthed CEO makes tongue-in-cheek remark about in-flight crapping
  2. Media take tongue-in-cheek remark at face value, explode in a fit of derision
  3. Potty-mouthed CEO smells an opportunity to garner more free publicity
  4. Long-suffering public make their choice; potty-mouthed CEO gets to show off sense of humour
My money's on the O'Leary-brand arsepaper.

All this comes in the same week that the ever-ballooning taxes and gouges hit the spotlight in the USA. As puts it:
"Hundreds of executives will gather at an industry conference to figure out how to grow the $3.5 billion in so-called “ancillary” revenues they expect to collect from us this year.

The Airline Sales Channel and À La Carte Pricing Conference appears to be there for one reason alone, at least from a customer’s perspective: To help companies find new ways of separating you from your money."

Nice. I suppose if they're going to do it, the may as well get together and do it more efficiently. To save you the airfare, Michael, here are a couple of belters that you missed. No charge:

Charge a penalty for no-shows. No, not just a rebooking fee, but a penalty for that missed opportunity to flog scratchcards and gin-pouches.

Deliberately delay flights into Stansted and Hahn. Not by much, but by just enough to derail anyone optimistic enough to attempt a 'connecting' flight. That way, you can rub your hands together with glee as you offer the hapless passenger a seat on the next flight for €385.

Little fines for everything. Checked in at the wrong desk? £15. Try to board out of sequence? £12. Creased your boarding pass? That'll be £35 for a reissue.

Any more suggestions? Post 'em in the comments section below.