I do not know why I even bother. But my trails around Europe has taken me to London's most conflicted destination. Lonon Stansted Airport. A fantastic airport, really, one of London's best gateways, but with one major flaw. It is miles away from London itself, lying 30 miles north east to the centre of the city. But it is modern and pretty, and so here is my not-too-long guide about the airport. How to get there, what to do and how to do it.
Getting there and away by Road:
London Stansted Airport lies off the M11, one of Britain's finest motorways, traversing through the not too crowded Essex Countryside to Loughton in London.
The problem is that the M11 remains one of the hardest motorways to get to. Once you are on the M11, you are unlikely to have any problems. But to get there you have the following options. The M25 (help) the North Circular (ugh), approaching from the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach Road (why?) or a range of back streets via Camden, Finsbury Park and the Tottenham Gyratory to the River Lea (start crying).
The Motorway should make Stansted easy to get to but, it is the approach that makes it a pain. Two hours should be more than ample from any part of London, but be warned...
Getting there and away by Train:
The Stansted Express. Fast (45 mins into Central London), expensive and runs for about 20 hours a day. Bog standard railway carts leave from under the terminal building and whisk you to either Tottenham Hale tube (surprisingly good for South London and the West End if the Victoria Line is running) or to Liverpool Street.
And that is your problem, the Stansted Express does not take you anywhere or really close to any place that you actually want to head to.
As glorious as Liverpool Street actually is, do you really want to be wandering around the Gherkin with a suitcase? And to be honest, while the interchange is handy, come on, it is Tottenham that you're transiting through...
Oh, and I got to mention the price. At the moment, the fares (single, 2nd class) is a whopping £21! Book online for a whole £2 discount! Yey! Fine if you are by yourself, but for a family, you could be looking at-
Getting there and away by Taxi:
Two hours (give or take), £80-£100.
Getting there and away by Bus:
The reality is that if you are heading to and from London Stansted Airport, you probably have not paid that much for your flight. It is the bastion of low cost airlines in London, with Ryanair being the biggest tenant at Stansted airport. And so you will not want to be paying much for your transfer, hence you will be heading by bus. There are three options. Easybus, Terravision and National Express. All offer differing levels of service to different parts of London round the clock.
Unlike Luton, there really is competition between the bus operators and a plethora of destinations which you can reach by bus, at fares which do not bleed the wallet dry. If you are feeling lucky with the internet, then head onto easybus. There fares are the cheapest, but it is the usual catch. You lock yourself into a particular bus time, got to print out the ticket etc...plus there is not a lot of space on these vehicles as they are glorified minivans.
The flipside is that they are nippy and can easily head on diversion if there is an accident on route (as there was when I returned from STN today) and the drivers will let you onto another bus up to 60 minutes either side of your allotted time, if there is room. Now that is really cool! The buses pick up and drop-off in Baker Street. Not the most obvious place to get a bus to STN but it works, just.
The other operators however can give easybus a run for their money. Terravision goes to Liverpool Street, in direct competition with the Stansted Express and is only half the price of the train. Of course, being a coach, you do get stuck in traffic, but it has the potential to be fast.
Likewise, there is a direct coach (National Express) from Stratford in East London for those living in the east end, and at £8, it is the cheapest 'turn up and go' options from Stansted Airport into the city. However, the hike from Stratford can be painful.
There are also National Express Coaches which take a long time to get into Victoria as they call at a huge number of points in North London. A pound more expensive than the Terravision Coaches, but if you are heading to North London, than this is the option for you.
Basically from Central, North or East London, Stansted is an incredibly easy airport to get to by bus, just look out for the time, However from South or West London, the journey is a pain.
The Airlines that use Stansted Airport:
Cheap. Not too cheerful, but the price is right. Like Luton, there is only one reason why I am putting myself out this far and that is because the flights are pretty good value. Like all budget airlines, be careful of the boarding pass game (print the damn things!), pack light (if you pack a suitcase in the hold, the amount you spend on the ticket becomes ridiculous) and just enjoy the ride. It is only a couple of hours, so hold your breath, go to sleep and wake up in another European country sometime soon...
London Stansted Airport itself:
STN is really a contradiction. It is a new, modern terminal that on the face of it, seems to cope quite well with the crowds. Before security, there is plenty of space. and as a result, it seems to have become an unofficial camp. London Stansted has become one of the cheapest spots to crash on your final night in London and many people spend a few hours here before heading out of the city. Click here for a great guide to crashing for the night in STN.
Surprisingly, the airport authorities have accepted with good humour the situation at Stansted, and the atmosphere is one that I have experienced at airports myself round the world. A bunch of people who just want a few hours of rest before the flight out.
The usual eateries exist and you can get by fairly well.
Once you go airside, the story becomes very different. Stansted Airport is cramped and simply cannot cope with the numbers. Departing from London Stasnted is a complete fail, with far to many shops cluttering up the departure area. You have to hunt for a seat and then nab it for as long as your bladder holds out. The departure lounge feels like an overpriced mall that just happens to have aeroplanes leaving from out back. Add to this the fact that the budget airlines leave it to the last moment for the gate to be called out and it is a mad scramble to the plane along newly partitioned corridors.
Arriving at London Stansted Airport is pitiful, and I truly pity the fool who decides to enter the UK via STN.
It took me 30 minutes to get through the queues at passport control.
That is half an hour.
The flight took one and a half hours.
Let me repeat that the equivalent of one third of my plane flight was spent queuing up to eventually advance a distance of 30 yards.
As an EU Passport holder I should be whisked straight through. But of curse, I am British, and so the UK Border Agency will scruitinise my passport more than some flimsy ID card from Italy. Because that is fair.
To out it simply, Schengen or no, why the hell does anyone put up with the UK Border Agency. Formed from the instinctive fear of Daily Mail voters, coming to the UK is a torture only matched by entering the USA. It is almost humiliating to see the long queues of the drained and the bewildered standing in line, while border guards push bits of digitised information from one computer screen to the next.
In true British Fashion there are so many warning signs on the long walk from the gate to the hell hole known as the arrivals hole. You know what I dread most when I land in the U. It is those border guards. Arrogant, waste of space pen pushers. But you know, ultimately, they are just doing a job. Who I hate even more are those self-serving politicians who have convinced themselves that Fortress Britain is the way forward. We may not have ID cards, but the UK Government knows every movement that I make. Big Brother definitely watches me, and the worst thing is that I am paying for all of this through my taxes as it has been sold as beneficial to society's safety.
The whole process of entering the UK makes me sick to the back teeth.
It is humiliating to have to stand in line and be scruitinised like a common criminal just because I choose to travel.
It is disgusting that after the hellish ups and downs of flying that involve rigorous security, plastic seats and lousy air, the final slap in the face is the UK government splashing my tax money all over the place.
And the worst thing is that this idiotic policy of a UK Border still is a political football that can be played over and over again!
You know what, there is no point in fast trains or planes that arrive on time if you then spend 30 minutes or maybe more waiting in a queue to show your ID.
It is s**t.
And to be honest, when I arrived in the country today, I actually factored in one hour over my arrival time, because I knew passport control was going to be an a**ehole.
Charles Michel Duke is a not-so-well known film maker who travels an awful lot by plane, as there is no other practical way to leave the UK. Sometimes called Frisky Boy, he absolutely resents having to wait a ridiculous amount of time to enter the UK, so he can pay his taxes to pay for the Agency and politicians that make him queue up to enter the UK.
Occaisionally he writes scripts about fun and not-so-fun things, usually in London, but today, he just had to write this blog post because he spent far too long waiting in line at the UK Border. What a farce!