Air travel still a stressful and disjointed experience - Alastair Dalton

Air passengers face a multi-stage journey just to reach their plane. Picture: Jane Barlow
Air passengers face a multi-stage journey just to reach their plane. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Flying is rarely the stress-free travel option and usually it’s the opposite, as those about to make their annual festive trips to visit friends and family will no doubt testify.

Take away any added hassle caused by disruption and you still face a disjointed experience, which often starts with standing in a series of queues at the airport while worrying if you’ll get to your plane on time.

That’s quite a different prospect to boarding a train or coach, or getting into your car.

Air travel has a clear time advantage on many trips, but factor in the multiple hoops you have to jump through before you can take off and shorter journeys by other means, such as to England, start looking just as, if not more, attractive.

I pondered this while taking flights between Glasgow and Southampton this week, as a guest of Flybe to try the “experience”. A slogan on some of its planes reads “Faster than road or rail” - to which TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp tweeted: “I should bloody well hope it is, it’s an airplane for God’s sake. #logofail”.

A big part of travellers’ satisfaction with their journey is determined by the interactions with staff and officials they encounter, and when travelling by air, there can be many.

Things didn’t start terribly well for me when I realised you can’t check in on Flybe’s mobile app, and after checking in on its website instead, it wasn’t clear how to retrieve the electronic boarding pass to show at security and the boarding gate.

I asked at the Flybe check-in desk at Glasgow airport and was told I should have taken a screen shot of it. The staff couldn’t explain why the process hadn’t been easier - they didn’t work for Flybe, but its ground handling agents, Menzies Aviation. Flybe told me later it was introducing new check-in which that would include a new app.

Things were far easier on the way back, when I was able to check in a bag myself, with the tag easy to attach without the need to peel off any backing.

Next, security took longer than usual - 12 minutes to reach the front of the queue, when the airport’s customer charter says it would ensure it is the “fastest in the UK”, and it should have been no more than ten. Officials were patient, though, with travellers like me who forget to take laptops out of their bags.

You then have no option but to battle through the duty free shop, now a near ubiquitous hurdle but none the less irritating.

To finally reach my plane involved walking through the pouring rain, always a reality check on the supposed sophistication of air travel, but at least provides a gasp of fresh air for the first time since entering the terminal.

The flight itself was fine, if noisy since the aircraft had propellers rather than jet engines. The view, especially on take off and landing, is always fascinating, and we arrived ahead of schedule, both there and back.

The cabin crew were friendly and cheerful, despite uncertainty over the future of the airline, which put itself up for sale last month.

But I was surprised to find the return flight on Wednesday afternoon little more than half full. For the struggling airline to have failed to fill more seats, at whatever price, amid increasing concerns about the environmental impact of aviation, is perhaps a reflection of its predicament. But Flybe said that that off-peak service was not “in any way indicative” of the route’s overall performance.