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Posts tagged with: London Heathrow

My top, erm, coolest airports…

I was posed a challenge on Twitter by @airport_one if I could pen a similar post to the one about rail stations about airports instead. This is a bit of a challenge as I don’t travel as often by air as I do by rail, and one of the reasons is because I find airports awful and poorly designed places. But anyway, undaunted, here is how an ultimate airport would be.

It would have the architecture of Heathrow Terminal 5. It would have the fast security checks of London City. The general ambience of Stockholm Arlanda. The modern art of Oslo Gardemoen. The shopping and connections to the city of Copenhagen Kastrup. The short walk to the gates of Berlin Tegel. The cleanliness of the toilets of Singapore. The rundown bizarreness of Altenburg. The order, peace and quiet of München. The onward rail connections of Frankfurt/Main. The flight approach of Rijeka.

When new public management meets security – security star ratings for airports?

Airport security - CC / Flickr

Airport security - CC / Flickr

The British are used to star ratings for all kinds of stuff, and I don’t mean just on Amazon or TripAdvisor. Local councils are awarded star ratings for their performance, stats are given about doctors’ surgeries, and schools are rated in all kinds of ways. The population behaves according to compare and contrast, that health, council services or education are not absolutes.

So why therefore does the UK government talk as if airport security is an absolute?

It could of course be to do with the fact that the very distant notion of dying in a plane downed by a terrorist is a scary one, but security too is relative, surely evidenced by the fact that BAA has announced that full body scanners will be rolled out gradually, starting with Heathrow (7th paragraph here), the UK airport with the highest number of transatlantic flights.

So how about security star ratings for airports? A standard level of security guaranteed, but beyond that airports that offer additional levels for an additional cost to the airlines that chose to use a particular terminal or airport? “We’re London’s safest airport, we have full body scanners” on LHR adverts in the future? The idea came to me in discussions on a previous post.

And before anyone has a go at me for this: think of all the places you’ve flown from where security checks have been really quite poor. And I bet you still flew. Probably with a laptop in your hand luggage as well.

The ideal airport

Plane at Berlin Tegel - CC / Flickr

Plane at Berlin Tegel - CC / Flickr

There has been masses of discussion in the last few days in the UK media about airport security in light of a failed attempt to blow up a transatlantic airliner. The UK and US have been jumping to come up with more technological solutions to the problems of airport security. The US has tightened controls for travellers from certain countries and the UK promises full body scanners.

To be quite frank I am unimpressed. Technological security is not an absolute – if the focus is on scanning the body, then flaws will be found in other places in the security of airports. Plus in the UK security procedures are slow and cumbersome as it is, let alone with the addition of more complex technology. Half the people operating the tech at UK airports give the impression that they don’t have a clue how to operate it anyway!

I’m also fascinated by this story of how security operates at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. The Israelis are well aware of threats to security and – notably – most of the security at Tel Aviv is due to personal interaction between security personnel and passengers, and not technological solutions. Could London Heathrow possibly find people it could recruit to make a system like that work? I’ve never flown through Ben Gurion so can’t vouch for it but it gets my vote for the best overall approach to security if it’s true.

All of this has led me to reflect on overall airport design, something I always think about when I’m hanging around waiting for planes to depart or for idiots in front of me at security to realise they have coins in my pocket… so here’s my very subjective guide to how to build the perfect airport! Apart from Ben Gurion all of this comes from my personal experience.

I wanted to include an airport with good and clear signs to get you to the gates easily but cannot actually manage to think of one! Any ideas…?

Why does the UK have 10x more swine flu cases than any other EU country?

I came across this map at The Guardian’s website about worldwide numbers of swine flu cases. I write this post from Belgium, currently at less than 200 cases, and more or less free of the swine flu paranoia seen in the UK. But why has the UK been so hard hit? The UK currently has 10000 cases, 10x the next largest number of cases in an EU country – 1000 cases in Spain.

This map from the BBC details the worldwide spread, while the one at the bottom of the page shows the spread across the UK.

So what’s causing this? On Twitter, in discussion with @euromarianne, @markpack, @helenavelikaja and @itnorris, there are the following theories:

  1. The ‘London Heathrow’ effect – that the UK is a hub for international travel, also shown through the Youtube video above. However the regional spread of the disease – i.e. right across the UK would seem to disprove this, as would the fact that Spain started to have cases before the UK did, but developed far slower. Germany in total would also have the same sort of numbers of transatlantic flights as the UK but has had only 700 cases.
  2. The UK does not screen people at its airports as effectively as other places do.
  3. The centralised nature of the NHS means the UK can more effectively total up the number of cases.
  4. That there’s something specific about the immune systems of the British population, having never been exposed to Spanish flu.
  5. That the British have bad personal hygiene…?

Anyway, whichever way it’s rather intriguing!

New iris technology and a delightfully old-fashioned airline

TAROM 737Seems quite rare, but I actually have some positive experiences to report when flying! I have just flown to and from Bucharest with TAROM, it was really quite passable. A cooked meal is served, even in economy, and it looks like a small company in Romania manufactured everything; no Gategourmet packaging here. The hostesses seem to not have been to some fake-smile training course. The plane was even a reasonably modern Boeing 737-700.

LHR was also quite reasonable – plenty of staff at security, so no long queues even with the new ludicrous security procedures. Then after check in I have finally managed to register for the Iris-Scanning system; this allows an automated check upon return to the UK, rather that queuing at passport check. Basically you walk into a booth, stare at the machine, and on you go. Upon returning to Heathrow, you walk into a booth, stare at the screen, your eyes are checked and on you go. Perfect. No queues!