Easier roads to the Games

Sardine class ... lining up at Heathrow Airport.
Sardine class ... lining up at Heathrow Airport. Photo: AFP

Long queues at London airports are expected during the Olympics, but there are alternatives to flying into the capital.

Travelling to London for the Olympics? Hopefully it's not too late to consider flying into airports other than Heathrow.

Immigration queue delays at one of the world's busiest hubs reached epic proportions last month, forcing even airport administration to shoot a "please explain" to the government authority responsible. Plenty of Twitter action from @HeathrowAirport was dedicated to humble acknowledgments of the myriad complaints received from those caught up in the backlogs.

Gatwick, unfortunately, isn't faring much better.

The standard acceptable time for processing passengers at Heathrow is set for non-Europeans at 45 minutes and 25 minutes for those with EU passports. But there have been reports of waits of up to three hours, even for Olympic officials.

At the root of the issue is strenuous security checking after a lighter "risk assessment" approach led to a political furore late last year. Given security agencies are likely to be on high alert during the Olympic period, the chance of those delays being reduced would seem minimal - though the Home Office is promising an overhaul and improvement in time for the big event. Whether you trust that to actually happen is up to you.

But there are good alternatives to entering England via Heathrow, which even on a good day is busy.

However, do the mathematics first. Three hours in a passport queue (worst-case scenario) may be less time than it takes to transfer from another airport. But if there are kids in tow, hypertension issues or you're just prone to queue rage, a lateral approach may be the answer.

Plus, you may be able to tack another destination on to your Olympic odyssey.

Here are Sky Report's top alternatives to London.

1. Charles de Gaulle, Paris It's a merry train ride from Paris to London via the Channel Tunnel Eurostar and you arrive right in the middle of London, at St Pancras. The train goes every hour or so and adds two hours and 15 minutes' actual travel time, with transfer times to factor in as well. The RER B train connects Charles de Gaulle airport to central Paris.

2. Birmingham Emirates flies to Birmingham from Dubai. Birmingham is just more than two hours by car from London and linked by rail, including the funky Virgin Trains that glide into Euston station.

3. Manchester Etihad flies into Manchester, as does Singapore Airlines. Manchester is 315 kilometres from London and accessible by train and car.

4. Europe — other There are 15 major airports in Britain (and about 40 all up), with low-cost carriers flying in from various destinations in Europe. Ryanair flies from places such as Barcelona and heads into British airports Bristol, Doncaster-Sheffield and East Midlands, to name just a few.

For a slower way, but with a bigger luggage allowance, Ireland, France, Spain and Holland also offer ferry access to England.

 

Bags of success

Italy isn't known for its efficiency (and isn't that why we love it?). However, Rome's Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport is bucking the stereotype.

Since installing new baggage-handling technology two years ago, mishandling rates for airlines using the airport have been reduced 70 per cent, with 360,000 fewer bags going astray in 2011 than in 2009.

The new system uses sophisticated tagging to track the movement of baggage from check-in, through arrivals and transfers to flight departure. It electronically provides baggage handlers with real-time information on baggage status, meaning they can, in theory, see exactly where a bag is at any given time, helping them resolve any issues, especially during transfer.

SITA, the company that provides the baggage-handling technology, says in its 2012 Baggage Report that the transfer of bags between flights is the single greatest cause of delayed luggage, accounting for 53 per cent during 2011.

But the good news is, according to the report, 99.1 per cent of checked bags were delivered on time to passengers in 2011, when 25.8 million bags were mishandled, compared with 32.3 million the previous year.

 

Seven four heaven

Qantas is nearly halfway through its Boeing 747 upgrade program, aiming to have six of the aircraft with sparkling new interiors commissioned by the end of June and nine by the end of the year.

The airline welcomed its fourth newly fitted Boeing 747-400 at the beginning of last month.

The new cabins, designed to Qantas's A380 specs, include larger personal screens with more than 1500 content selections.

In business class, there will be more soothing lighting and the Marc Newson-designed Skybed, which - joy, oh joy - has a new, fully flat setting.

Economy is fitted with new seats featuring a "unique footrest net", which is apparently a net under the seat in front for your feet.

This is obviously in response to the habit of the likes of Sky Report, who put their feet in the magazine holder while trying to sleep in economy class.

The remaining three 747s will be introduced across the long-haul Pacific routes and Brisbane-Singapore by the end of October.

 

Route watch

Etihad is now flying daily from Abu Dhabi to Washington Dulles. The service flies Airbus A340-500 aircraft.

Thai Airways will introduce an A380 aircraft to its fleet at the end of October. The plane will fly Bangkok to Hong Kong and Singapore for six weeks, then Bangkok to Frankfurt, Tokyo Narita and Paris Charles de Gaulle ongoing.

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