Glasgow Prestwick Airport – perhaps better known as ‘Troon International’ – is quite possibly the worst airport through which I’ve flown. I’m not a hugely seasoned traveller, but I was once nearly arrested in pitch darkness at East Midlands at 2am (they’d turned off the terminal lights), and earlier this year was trapped in a small departure lounge at New Delhi, the principle feature of which was a total lack of escape potential from the worst sewage smell I’ve ever encountered. What, then, can Prestwick possibly do to earn my nomination? Let me see…
- There’s a Ryanair Dublin flight at 06:50 on Monday morning. This is not a good time, given that a taxi to Prestwick costs £35 (ie. usually more than the flight), the trains don’t start for another couple of hours, and hence one pretty much has to drive.
- Also leaving at or around 07:00 are flights to Pisa, Paris Beauvais, Stanstead, and Prague. Also Ryanair. All of them. Given that the only airline using Troon International for more than two flights a day is Ryanair, this strikes one as spectacularly inept planning.
- Ryanair typically put on about seven check-in staff.
- One of the check-in staff is brilliant (top tip: the older lady with the greying hair). The others we’ve timed at three minutes and thirty seconds per passenger. We’ve had plenty of opportunity to check that figure.
- 3:30mins × 100 people on a 737 ÷ 2 check-in lines (if you’re lucky) = 2½ hours to check in the whole plane. For a 45-minute flight. If your check-in lines don’t include the lady with greying hair, you’re not going to make it unless you rock up at 4am.
- Did I mention that the check-in staff are surly, uncommunicative, and more intent on chatting with each other than helping passengers? Oh, you guessed, huh?
- The whole process is, of course, complicated by Ryanair’s customer-hostile policy of requiring payment for checked baggage. In the event that you’ve not prebooked this, of course the check-in desks can’t take payment — that requires a trip to a different counter, with its own lengthy queue… which (obviously, ahem) doesn’t have a luggage conveyor. Hence, having coughed up the dough, one must rejoin one’s original check-in queue to actually check-in the bag. Most customers find this process entirely delightful.
- Once one’s shuffled through the check-in queue, one joins the security check queue. Which is even longer, and slower. There are two scanners, but before one reaches them Prestwick insists on rifling through one’s hand luggage. By hand. They’re quick (ie. cursory), but 500 people trying to get through security within a one-hour window, with three staff on, gives them only about 20 seconds each.
- They confiscate all fluids, creams, gels, etc, as per current UK regulations (“Arrgh! Lipsalve!“). If one wishes to keep one’s containers, however, they’ll empty the contents… into a large bin. With all the other fluids. Because, clearly, if you’re confiscating liquids on the grounds that they might be explosives, mixing them together can’t possibly be dangerous, right? Sigh…
- At the scanners, one must remove belts, shoes, laptops, and outer jackets (including, on occasion, cardigans), and remember to place everything in the right stacking order in the minimal number of trays, since each machine has a stock of only about six.
- All laptops are swab-checked. I haven’t seen any exceptions to this, yet have never had my PowerBook swabbed at any other airport.
- Having collected one’s belt, shoes, laptop, outer jacket, bag, cash, wallet, phone, boarding card, and so on, one’s left hopping around trying to redress oneself, with 300 people right behind all intent on missing their flights.
- The only route from security to the departure lounge is through the duty-free shop, the layout of which is specifically and carefully designed to impede progress. In particular, light and easily-dislodged items are cleverly placed at bag-height, in order that they be most readily knocked off the displays.
- Once through the duty-free gauntlet, the route through the departure lounge to the gates is similarly blocked… by seats.
- The seats are almost all covered in chewing-gum, and give every appearance of having been thus disfigured since velour was thought to be modern.
- The screens displaying gate numbers are, usually, illegible.
- Gate staff can’t be arsed to help point one to one’s flight.
- The tannoy is only audible from outside security (ie. while waiting in line for an hour or so), or from inside departures (ie. while running). While one’s actually in security one can’t hear a thing. Hence, one never hears one’s flight called, and only ever hears ‘Absolutely final call, get your arses down here now!’
- The staff who take one’s boarding card have an amazing knack of doing so without breaking off their discussion with their colleagues, and hence without realising that they entirely block one’s path to the aircraft.
- On one classic occasion, I emerged onto the tarmac to find no trace of the requisite Boeing. I’d walked a hundred yards across the airfield before discovering that they’d hidden the damned thing around a corner, in the opposite direction.
- The customer service desk opens after the early-morning rush, and closes before the end-of-day return flights land. Go, as they say, figure.
- The word ‘dead’ should not, I contend, ever appear in any slogan pertaining to the airline industry.
Given that even Cardiff manages a charmingly petite and stylish little number in the airport stakes, it’s hard to comprehend how Troon manages to cock the idea up quite so completely, but I do have a theory: I think Glasgow Prestwick (sic) Airport was bought lock, stock, and barrel from the Soviet Union, circa 1985.
That would explain the predilection for creative queue-optimisation techniques (ie. optimising queues for extreme length and sloth). It would explain the surly and disinterested staff, who merely ape the local accent (but seriously, given that the population of Troon is approximately 74 and eight goats, who’d know if they were way off the mark? Any old Scottish twang would suffice). It would explain the byzantine layout and passenger route planning, designed around the concept of trapping customers in duty-free and, at all costs, barring their onward progress to their flights, lest they realise that the aircraft are, in practice, painted outlines designed to fool American spy satellites. It would also explain why the Pisa flight boards down the end of an extremely long corridor that appears to stand zero chance of ever reaching an aircraft, given that it’s heading in entirely the wrong direction.
Troon International Airport is, I contend, a cold war-era throwback, communist mecca, and Stalinist trudge-fest. So there.
For those who’ve struggling this far, the good news: as of this month, Aer Lingus have restarted their 08:00 flight to Dublin, from Glasgow Airport. Oh, happy day.