Southend to become commuter link between Northern Ireland and London
It has the longest pleasure pier in the world and seven miles of unspoiled beaches.
And its diminutive airport in the middle of a field is currently used mainly by private jets - although it does run commercial flights to exotic locations such as Galway, Waterford and Jersey.
But all that is about to change as unfashionable Southend is about to provide the latest commuter link between Northern Ireland and London.
Best known as a picture postcard seaside resort 40 miles from London, Southend-on-Sea is about to be transformed by the arrival of budget airline easyJet.
Under a 10-year partnership with the airport's owners, Stobart Group, easyJet is to start flights at Southend from April next year. A multi-million-pound terminal is due to open at the airport this autumn and the runway will be extended.
And as part of its expansion plans the airline will be running two flights between Belfast International and the Essex location on weekdays and one flight on Saturday, as well as two flights on Sunday. Tickets for the new route went on sale yesterday.
Although Southend may not seem like an obvious holiday location it could prove to be a smart move for commuters wishing to travel to London but who are put off by the chaos and waiting times of major airports Heathrow and Gatwick.
Southend airport bosses have claimed passengers would never wait more than four minutes to clear security, and trains from a new station nearby will get them to central London in an hour.
The also claim flights will be 20 minutes shorter than from the other big London airports because Southend is clear of the air traffic congestion over much of London. It also has the advantage of being the closest airport to the venues for the London 2012 Olympics.
Once easyJet moves into the Essex airport, offering routes to Barcelona, Faro, Ibiza, Madrid, Milan, Amsterdam and Berlin, it will carry almost as many passengers each year as London City Airport.
Uel Hoey, Belfast International Airport business development director, welcomed the local link and said London is a key market for Northern Ireland.
"We are delighted that easyJet is adding another gateway to its already extensive London area services," he said.
"The addition of the Southend route to easyJet's network will be greatly appreciated by the many Northern Ireland people who go to London on business or for a leisure break."
Ali Gayward, easyJet UK commercial manager, said the new service would be of benefit to the business world and holidaymakers alike.
"The airport is in a fantastic location just outside London and the fast rail links to London Liverpool Street and Stratford stations, up to eight times hourly, will be appreciated by both business and leisure travellers.
Earlier this year, the airline bmibaby announced seven new routes departing from George Best Belfast City Airport. Flights to the holiday hotspots of Malaga, Alicante, Palma, Faro and Ibiza will run from March 2012.
A year-round service to Amsterdam will also operate from October 2011, along with winter flights to Geneva for 2011.
London's six airport hubs and the number of flights they can handle each year:
- Heathrow, 454,823 flights
- Gatwick, 240,500 flights
- Stansted, 155,140 flights
- Luton, 94,574 flights
- London City, 68,640 flights
- Southend, 27,320 flights