Notes from West London

Holiday notes: London Southend Airport

Last night my son and I returned to the UK from our holiday in Spain. We landed at Southend Airport, or “London Southend Airport” as it is called. Like any airport within an hour of one of the capital’s mainline stations it has added the word London to its name. It took us an hour to get to Liverpool Street station and another hour to get home from there, much longer than it takes us from Heathrow, and a bit longer than from Gatwick or Stansted, but our plane had landed 20 minutes early. From the time we landed it only took us 25 minutes to get to the station platform. It would have taken slightly less time if we had only brought hand luggage, but even so the wait at the baggage reclaim was under five minutes.

At some of the larger airports the time taken from landing to clearing customs can easily stretch to 45 minutes or more, and it’s another 10-15 minutes to the station platform, and before all that there’s an increased possibility that your landing time will be delayed. That’s what happened to my wife and daughter two days ago, flying back from Israel. The plane missed its original landing slot and circled round West London for over 30 minutes before being allowed to land.

At some larger airports the walk from the gate to passport control is 10-15 minutes. At Southend the walk from the station platform to the gate, through check-in, passport control and security, is under 10 minutes, and you walk onto the plane from the tarmac, up a flight of stairs. Things used to be similar at Stansted. The first time I flew to Spain, in the early 1980s, the terminal at Stansted was a single building not much bigger than a church hall. There was free parking directly outside the terminal building. The walk from the car to the plane was under ten minutes.

We travelled from Southend this year for a number of reasons, including cost. Our nearest airport is Heathrow but the only flights for Alicante that were cheaper than the ones we took all required a change of planes in Madrid. The journey time would have been over 10 hours. I also wanted to visit Southend for the pier (the longest in the world) and the beach. When booking the flights I foolishly imagined that, before leaving the UK, we might be able to spend a few hours at the seaside in the afternoon (the town is one station further on from the airport). Our flight was at 5.25pm so I had vague plans for lunch by the sea and a 10-minute train ride back for our flight. As usual I was still doing pre-holiday things right up to the last minute, so that didn’t work out. Even if we’d had time to get to the beach it wouldn’t have been much fun; it was raining all afternnon.

The point of all of this travel-related information, apart from serving as some sort of extended diary entry, is to recommend the airport at Southend if it’s an option in your future travel plans. For people in the county of Essex (and I’d guess that 90% of the passengers on our flights hailed from there) it’s an obvious choice but for those of us further west it still seems worth the trek. The airport might grow to the size of Stansted or Luton but for now it’s appealingly small and if you’re more organized than me you might have an hour or two at the seaside before you fly.




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