Travelling through Gatwick on Monday provided an insight into the modest and apparently inexplicable fall in the load factor (how full they are) of the UK’s low-cost airlines. Easyjet’s load factor fell in April by 3.3% (c0mpared to April 2007); Ryanair and BA have also reported falls.
Different explanations have been canvassed, from increasing criticism of the low-cost flight industry by environmentalists to the impact of the modest increase (from £5 to £10) on airport passenger duty. No-one’s mentioned the physical experience of going through security at UK airports these days.
I’ve flown a few times in the past six months, and my impression is that although the UK security measured have been in place for a while, the airports aren’r getting better at managing them. The experience is both slow and stressful, as you process the various notices: disposing of liquids in large containers, putting small-containered liquids into see-through bags, jackets are taken off, electricals are unpacked from luggage and put through separately, remebering to take your shows off at the screen, and so on. (“Why do we have to take our shoes off?” asked a passenger near me. “It’s to make sure that we don’t hang ourselves before we get to the plane”, came the reply.)
The point is that the data (from memory) suggests that low cost flying is an add-on for people who already tend to fly quite a lot. The security experience doesn’t really tally with the experience people are looking for when they travel. Added to a twinge of green guilt, and a small increase in cost, it could esily cause the small falls we’ve seen in passenger loads.