Stephen Jardine discovers an airport with no queues, nice cafes, a library, and air not filled with sick-making perfume. And, no, it’s not in the UK.
The taxi pulled up right outside the airport terminal building.
“Just go in that door and straight ahead,” said the driver. Inside was pretty deserted and there was only one person in the check-in queue in front of me.
At security, they didn’t make me take off my heavy winter boots and the person manning the scanner smiled and wished me a good day.
Next stop was the duty free shop with plenty of tills and no queues. After that, it was a few cute souvenir shops and some fashionable cafes plus two unusual things.
On one side of the departure area, there was a large free, children’s play area. On the other side, there was a cosy library with armchairs and free books to read or borrow.
The only demand was that you dropped the book back another time or replaced it with something else for travellers to read. After a few minutes there and a visit to the spotless toilets, it was time for a very calm boarding. As flying experiences go, it was one of the best I can remember.
However as you’ve probably guessed, it didn’t happen here.
The airport in question was Tallinn in Estonia and last week it gave me a surprising insight into what flying can still be. In this country, we’ve become so used to it being a traumatic nightmare that we can easily forget, it really doesn’t need to be.
For a start there is security. The systems necessary to foil terrorism require to be implemented but that can be done in different ways.
At the airport in Estonia the staff were apologetic and determined to make security as brief and pleasant as possible. Here you get the feeling some of those involved actually enjoy imposing inconvenience.
The online customer care reviews say it all. I can’t think of one other industry where the sheer level of customer disastisfaction would be allowed never mind tolerated.
Having survived security, your ordeal isn’t over yet. To minimise any chance you could miss it, you are now often forced to walk through duty free where the heady mix of booze sampling and expensive perfume is enough to make everybody air sick.
Then there is a long, long walk to the departure gate past endless shops competing to get you to part you from your holiday cash before you even begin your holiday. And what about the kids?
Well who cares because they don’t have much to spend and you don’t honestly think any space would be given to them for free when it could be a branch of a Russian caviar and champagne bar?
More than anything else, it was the free library area at Tallin Airport that stopped me in my tracks. Located in a prime site, it was funded by a local bookshop to simply help people spend their time without having to spend any cash. Can you imagine that here?
The next few weeks represents commercialism gone mad but our airports are like that every week of the year.
Tallinn has roughly the same population as Edinburgh so the demands of travellers can’t be that different but the flying experiences certainly are.
Remember when flying used to be fun? In some places it still is.