Alexander McCall Smith: Edinburgh Airport should charge people to sit down

Dropping off passengers at Edinburgh Airport could be free if the car just slows down without actually stopping with wardens on hand to charge drivers who failed to maintain sufficient speed, suggest Alexander McCall Smith.

Edinburgh Airport is a very popular and important place. If you live in the east of Scotland, it is the obvious place to go in order to fly to all sorts of destinations. In fact, if you want to fly, you have to go to an airport – an observation so obvious that it hardly needs to be made. But it is worth bearing in mind when considering the responsibilities that the people who run airports have. They have a captive market, and they have to act accordingly.

Edinburgh Airport has been consistently criticised for its astonishingly expensive parking charges. Obviously the airport has to weigh considerations of encouraging the use of public transport, which is environmentally so much better, against the desire of people to use their cars. If parking were to be prohibitively expensive, then people would be forced to use buses and trams. But if you do allow it, which they do, then it should only be charged at a rate that is considered fair and not exorbitant. Otherwise it looks like taking advantage. And we might remind ourselves here that the dividend paid to the owners of Edinburgh Airport this year was considerably higher than the previous year. Edinburgh Airport, in other words, makes lots and lots of money.

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But with that, it has a responsibility to avoid antagonising its users too much. It can antagonise them a bit, but not too much. It should not make them wait for ages and ages in a taxi queue – which seems to happen frequently – and it should also listen to the concerns of Edinburgh’s splendid, long-suffering taxi drivers. They, as a body, seem to have their issues, and they, as a body, are always right. Taxi drivers rarely present a finely nuanced view of the world as they see it.

Surely a moderate charge for a seat of perhaps £1 for ten minutes is a commercial opportunity not to be missed by Edinburgh Airport (Picture: Greg Macvean)

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But we should not spend too much time criticising the equally splendid body of people who run Edinburgh Airport. This is a well-managed airport and they obviously run it very efficiently, even if people tend to moan a little bit (people really are such moaners). It is not easy to run an airport, particularly when the airport has also become a large shopping centre, or, more accurately, an eastern souk. It is quite a business combining the job of running a grand souk and a place where people are able to catch a flight and find enough seats to sit down while they wait for their flight.

One solution, of course, would be to charge people to sit down at the airport. This is not currently done, but I feel that it will not be long before that commercial opportunity is recognised and acted upon. These charges should be moderate – say, one pound for ten minutes, rising to five pounds payable by those who clearly have come to the airport with the intention of sitting around for a long time. These people should be discouraged from sitting on private seats and redirected to public benches outside. I have also noticed that the airport currently does not charge for the use of its toilets. This is something that must have escaped their notice and should be acted upon. Making the charge realistically high – say two pounds per visit – would discourage people from using the facilities, or even reading in the loo.

But lest this sounds like a series of complaints, I would like to make some positive suggestions for the airport, in its undoubted wisdom, to consider. The first of these is for a fast track facility to allow passengers who do not wish to follow a deliberately winding and circuitous path through their fantoosh duty free shop. This would enable you to get from security to gate without being forced to endure the efforts of salespeople to get one to sample whisky, buy sunglasses, or try perfumes. People can tell when they are the victims of intense sales pressure, you know. And some people, mirabile dictu, like to walk straight, rather than wander through a shop.

As far as drop-off charges are concerned, it is about time that the airport recognised public resentment over these and introduced a new, conciliatory system whereby those who drop people off from their car are not charged, as long as they don’t stop the car. This would mean that drivers could slow down while their passengers leaped out of the car, tossing their suitcases ahead of them. Wardens could be on hand to impose charges on those who did not maintain sufficient speed in that manoeuvre.

And finally, in this constructive spirit, how about introducing an emotional baggage desk in the departure hall? Many of us travel with excessive emotional baggage, and it would be a great innovation if we could declare this at the airport before the flight. This would mean that you would drop off your physical baggage at check-in, and then move on to declare your emotional baggage to an understanding and sympathetic agent at another desk. Things like unresolved issues. Doubts. Unfulfilled desires. There’s so much to talk about at airports.

Use of the emotional baggage counter could attract a small charge.