Aldergrove in danger of turning into Heathrow
I have travelled to and from Belfast International Airport for many years and used to regard it as one of the UK's better airports. Sadly that is longer the case.
As many other frequent air travellers know, many UK airports are geared to maximising profits through retail facilities, rather than making their facilities pleasant, comfortable and stress-free places for passengers.
Heathrow, a universally accepted national disgrace, is the most notorious example of this horridness, but Aldergrove now seems determined to follow its tacky example.
Recently, I passed through Aldergrove on a normal Sunday evening. The security screening may have been revamped, but the queues were longer than ever and several scanners were not operating. Things were worse in the airside departure area.
Just a few delayed flights made a fairly small space feel very crowded and unpleasant.
The old comfortable seats have been removed and, appropriately enough, replaced by hard seats more suited to a shopping mall. The seats have now been squeezed into a relatively small area, presumably to give more room for the shops. Nearly all of the seats were taken and any family that had just passed security would not have been able to sit together.
But there were plenty of spare seats in the unremarkable catering areas that sold overpriced snacks and fried food. A cynic might even conclude that the airport wanted to compel its customers to buy something before getting a seat, thus effectively charging people to sit in its own departure lounge.
It was obvious that few travellers wanted to do any shopping. The retail outlets were largely shunned and most people chose to sit while they waited for their flight.
As for the shabby toilets, there was no indication that they had been inspected for cleanliness in the recent past or that they were due to be inspected in the near future. Also, the business lounge wasn't even open on a busy day after 3pm.
Aldergrove seems happy to boost its profits by confining its travellers to a cramped shopping mall that few people want. In my experience, most people find travelling tiring and stressful and want nothing more than a comfortable place to wait and rest.
I remember the International Airport for its calm and pleasant travelling experience in the days of BA and British Midland shuttles. Sadly, it seems that cut-price air fares have been accompanied by cut-price service on the ground. I hope that members of the Assembly start taking a keen interest in both local airports as both are important gateways to Northern Ireland.