Cheap airlines, Heathrow and doing business in London

Ryanair, Wizzair and other no-frills airlines are for the rugged types. The ones who can live with the freezing cold of the tarmac that doubles as a waiting room, dubious scratch-card schemes, the 3 EUR water, the bright lights to keep you awake and buy more perfumes, the understaffed Luton airport which can take an hour to leave after you land.

The bottom line is — however — no-frills flights are direct, cheap and many times a day.

Most of us who’ve been business-flying to London from Poland’s mid-size cities (Wroclaw, Poznan or Krakow) regularly, know that cheap airlines are a blessing. You can fly out in the morning, have a couple meetings in London, and head back home for late supper.

Just ten years ago, the experience wast nightmarish. Flying with traditional airlines drained the wallet, and you had to change in one of the bigger hubs . The cheaper alternative, a coach, meant a whopping 24-hour bumpy ride with at least a handful of drunken passengers.

No frills carries have been revelation for a lot businesses dealing with the UK market. Booked in advance they allow to do a round trip quickly and for 100 EUR or less close the gap with the clients. For many of us the decision to go and talk to the customer face to face is much easier than ever. And despite the miracle of Skype and WebEx a real meeting is still the best option.

The Heathrow conundrum

The no frills-airlines naturally fly to no-frills airports, mostly Stansted and Luton. The obvious downsides are the time needed to get to central London and the travel experience.

To get to the Bank Station, in the City’s center, by train you need:
~65 mins from Luton
~60 mins from Stansted
~50 mins from Heathrow
~40 mins from Gatwick
~25 mins from City Airport

Getting from Central Europe’s regional airports directly to Heathrow, Gatwick or City Airport, would be a major quality improvement. It would shorten the time of travel, offer a better experience on arrival (like clean toilets) and a chance to be carried by more convenient airlines, such as BA or LOT.

But take a look at this map: flights to Heathrow, Gatwick or City airport from CE’s regional airports are almost non-existent.

Direct flights from London Heathrow to Central Europe
Direct flights from London Gatwick to Central Europe
Direct flights from London Gatwick to Central Europe

I think there are two major reasons for that unfilled niche: not enough passengers expected to pay more for a better flying experience from CE’s regional airports and the lack of capacity in London’s major airports. While the first obstacle should be gone soon as business in CE is booming, it still leaves us with the throughput problem. There are simply no more slots available — one flight leaves Heathrow every 45 seconds.

From the business perspective Heathrow and Gatwick expansions are very needed. The obvious downside is that it will further affect the people around it, and — arguably — make living in the vicinity impossible.

To be fair towards all the affected, I know what you feel and I would be horrified if the airport expanded in my neighborhood in Wroclaw. But please remember how important flying to London is to us, and why the whole thing is going on.