Edinburgh buried beneath early snow

The falling snow is causing the usual problems for the UK – closed schools numbering in the hundreds, an outpouring of ‘wintry scene’ photographs on news websites, chiefly involving family pets standing jaw-deep in snow, and the temporary closure of Britain’s many airports.

Perhaps the first airport to succumb to the weather was Jersey, which was closed for several hours at the weekend, after a lightning strike put radar equipment out of commission on Saturday, and then heavy snow blanketed the Channel Island on Sunday.

Newcastle, Cardiff, Durham, Leeds, Doncaster, and Luton airports have also reported problems, with the latter hub braced for increasingly severe weather from late on Tuesday evening.

However, Edinburgh Airport appears to have been hit the hardest by the falling snow. Bosses pulled the plug on flights on Monday evening for the second time in 24 hours, prompting tens of delays, and forcing many travellers to sleep on the cold terminal floor.

Edinburgh reopened at 0330 on Tuesday morning, before being closed once again at 0600. The airport has not reported any further problems since 1200, when snowploughs scrubbed the runway clean of snow.

The BBC News website reports that only a few planes were able to take off or land at Edinburgh Airport on Sunday and Monday, which goes someway to demonstrating the severity of recent wintry weather in Scotland.

All passengers are advised to contact their airline before leaving their homes, especially if more snow is falling.

Speaking earlier, a passenger at Edinburgh Airport noted serious disruption to normal services – “there were passengers asking taxi drivers if they would take them all the way to London,” the unfortunate flyer, whose flight to Orkney had been cancelled, said. “It was chaos.” The same passenger also observed “hundreds of people” queuing for buses at the airport.

WDF opens three new stores

Passengers at Edinburgh Airport can enjoy a series of new stores, courtesy of UK travel retailer, World Duty Free (WDF). The three shops, eyewear purveyor, Sunglasses, and a two in one store selling MAC and Jo Malone cosmetic products, are located in the airport’s departure area, beyond the security gates.

The two beauty outlets, MAC and Jo Malone, share the same space, dubbed a ‘dual concept’ shop by WDF. The store’s design, which is essentially an ordinary high street shop, albeit with two sides removed, was created in collaboration with US cosmetics giant, Estée Lauder, the owner of the two brands.

Sunglasses, rather unsurprisingly, sells non-prescription eyewear. Products from Ray-Ban, Tiffany, and D&G, among others, are arranged according to style or range, and left unboxed, allowing passengers to try them on, sadly with the result that greasy fingerprints are often left all over the lenses.

Jo O’Connor, Commercial Director at WDF, called the dual concept a “real first,” and a “huge draw for customers.” Kevin Brown, chief at Edinburgh Airport, echoed Jo’s sentiments, by saying that developments in the hub’s departure lounge, including the new WDF stores, have been welcomed by passengers.

Edinburgh Airport, much like Heathrow, East Midlands, and most other UK hubs, has always moonlighted as a shopping mall. The hub’s departure lounge is currently host to high street pharmacist, Boots, and US bookshop, Borders, as well as a number of specialist stores, such as a liquorice shop and even an art gallery.

Last year, the European duty-free market brought in around £2.5bn. Tax-free discounts at airport stores helped travellers save around £168m, when compared to high street prices. However, online retailer, Kelkoo, in a news item that upset the British Airports Authority earlier this year, maintains that online shopping still offers greater discounts than stores at UK airports.

£1 parking fee arrives at Edinburgh

Despite overwhelming opposition from local travellers and Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), Edinburgh Airport has implemented a controversial ‘kiss and fly’ levy, forcing drivers to pay £1 for the use of airport drop-off zones. The announcement was made in July this year, but the need to build a suitable parking area pushed the scheme’s introduction back until the end of October.

Edinburgh joins East Midlands, London Luton, and Newcastle airports, and in Ireland, Belfast International, as pioneers of ‘pay as you stay’ drop-off zones.

Taxi drivers have been vocal in their criticism of the plan. Murray Flemming, a member of the Scottish Taxi Federation, referred to the move as a “wage cut” for drivers, as many will have to make multiple trips to the airport on any given day. Murray noted that councils had not yet decided whether local taxi ranks should increase their tariffs to compensate for the drop-off fee, which means that the parking charge is currently coming out of drivers’ pockets.

A solitary pound might not seem like a lot of money for the privilege of using a car park close to the terminal, but overstaying the initial ten-minute limit will add a further £5 on top of the original levy.

Edinburgh bosses note that a free parking area still exists in the long-stay parking zone. However, holidaymakers wishing to skip the £1 charge by using it will need to take one of two new buses to the airport.

It is interesting to note that 68 MSPs (roughly half of the Scottish Parliament, and 100% of those who contacted Edinburgh Airport) did not want to see the parking scheme implemented, yet the hub pressed ahead with the project anyway.

Edinburgh has spent £1m on upgrading the airport forecourt to support the new drop-off zone, which will “reduce congestion” and increase the popularity of public transport, according to the airport’s chief, Kevin Brown. However, drivers at East Midlands Airport might find amusing the idea that the parking fee will reduce traffic jams. Back in July, Eddie Strachan, a taxi driver from Narborough in the Midlands, said – “Early in the morning, the queue for the new drop-off zone reaches back out of the airport. It can take you 15 minutes to get in.”

Disabled customers with a Blue Badge can use Edinburgh’s new drop-off zone free for up to 15 minutes. Other customers will find the short-stay car park has a more agreeable tariff for stays of longer than 10 minutes.

Edinburgh-Budapest flight unveiled

Yorkshire-based airline, Jet2, is to begin operating a thrice-weekly service from Edinburgh Airport to the city of Budapest in Hungary.

The new route, which begins on 21 April 2011, is expected to cost around £29.99 for a one-way journey, taxes included, and stands as the only route to the Hungarian capital from Scotland.

Edinburgh is one of the most successful airports in the UK at present, adding 25 new routes in just eight months.

Additions by European airlines, such as Blue1, Spanair, Star1, and the comparatively local, Ryanair, have helped Edinburgh achieve a 1.6% increase in the number of people choosing to fly from the airport.

The Scottish hub now has more customers per annum than Birmingham and Glasgow airports, and almost twice as many per year as Liverpool John Lennon.

Kevin Brown, Edinburgh’s managing director, has stated that the airport wanted to connect with as many European capitals as possible.

The cities of Vilnius in Lithuania, and Helsinki in Finland, joined the airport’s schedules in February and September, respectively.

Other important destinations to appear on Edinburgh’s books include Barcelona in Spain, Marrakesh in Morocco, and Geneva in Switzerland. Kevin Brown noted that Budapest had been a “target for a long time.”

“The city is a leading destination and I’m sure it will prove extremely popular with Scottish travellers."

Jet2 will also boost the frequency of flights between Edinburgh and the Balearic island of Majorca, from just two at present, to five flights a week from summer 2011. The Majorcan route is priced at £35, one-way.

Philip Meeson, the airline’s chief, claimed to be “delighted” with the selection of Jet2 routes available from Edinburgh.

Blue1 arrives in Edinburgh

Scandinavian carrier, Blue1, has expanded its schedules to include a new flight between Edinburgh and Helsinki in Finland. The airline, which is housed at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, will operate the route twice a week from April 2011.

Kevin Brown, Edinburgh’s Managing Director, referred to the addition as a “significant development” for the Scottish airport.

Blue1 is relatively unknown outside Scandinavia, but with the addition of the Edinburgh route next year, it will become one of just two Finnish airlines to offer flights to the UK. The second flag-carrier, Finnair, makes regular trips between Helsinki and three British airports: Edinburgh, Manchester, and Heathrow.

Edinburgh now has 125 flights on its books, including eight destinations in Scandinavia, more than any other airport outside London. The Scottish hub has added an impressive 25 new routes in the last nine months alone.

Despite Finland’s potential as a holiday destination for intrepid Scots, Edinburgh expects Blue1’s latest offering to benefit Scotland’s tourist industry rather than Finland’s. Kevin Brown intimated that the route would be “predominantly inbound”, bringing Finns to Edinburgh and then taking them home again.

However, Blue1 appears to be just as eager to lure tourists to Helsinki, or the “beauty of the Baltic Sea region”, to quote the airline’s Vice Commercial President, Juha Järvinen.

The city is a hodgepodge of new and old structures, from the Kiasma art gallery, a half-crescent of steel, and the glass walls of the Haaga-Helia University, to the redbrick of the Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral. Helsinki is also the Design Capital of 2012, making it an ideal destination for art and architecture buffs.

EasyJet adds 20th Edinburgh route

On November 3, budget airline, easyJet, will add a new route from Edinburgh Airport to the city of Paphos on Cyprus.

Three weeks later, on November 23, the carrier will also begin flying to Cologne, Germany. The two new routes complement a third to Basel in Switzerland, due to take off at the beginning of December.

EasyJet’s total out of Edinburgh now stands at 20 flights, all of which travel to destinations in Europe. The Paphos route will operate twice a week, whilst visitors to Cologne can choose from four separate weekly outings.

Paphos becomes easyJet’s most easterly destination by several hundred miles, ahead of Krakow in Poland, and Munich in Germany. The Cypriot city is revered for its subtropical climate and rich heritage, which incorporates elements of the Greek pantheon of gods; legend has it that the goddess of love, Aphrodite, was born on the island.

Cologne is perhaps the better-known destination, having been a major trading centre since the middle ages. Today, the city is one of the largest in Germany, known for its many museums and its Bundesliga side, 1. F.C. Köln. Cologne also holds an annual street carnival in November, which can last until March the following year.

Edinburgh’s new boss, Kevin Brown, referred to easyJet as a “key partner” in strengthening the capital’s link to “sun destinations and European cities.” The airport is also hoping that the new routes will bring tourists to Scotland. EasyJet called the additions a “testament to our continued commitment to Edinburgh.”

Thousands oppose ‘drop-off rip-off’

Edinburgh Airport’s new director has been inundated with requests to axe the hub’s £1 drop-off fee. New chief, Kevin Brown, will replace Gordon Dewar, the man behind the controversial levy, on Monday.

Local travellers will be hoping that Brown can adopt a service-orientated approach to airport business, rather than focusing on profitability.

Edinburgh officials previously claimed that the £1 charge was to stop people using ‘kiss and fly’ areas, but angry customers have accused the hub’s owner, the British Airports Authority (BAA), of profiteering.

The scheme’s critics, which include every political party in Scotland, according to the Scotsman newspaper, have collected thousands of signatures from people petitioning to have the parking fee removed.

“My constituents are extremely unhappy about the drop-off charge.” Lothians MP, Gavin Brown, explained in a letter to Edinburgh Airport. “I have received representations from every corner of the Lothians urging me to campaign vigorously against the levy.” The MP referred to the parking plan as a ‘drop-off rip-off.’

Glasgow and Aberdeen airports, also owned by the BAA, have refused to introduce a similar parking scheme, which has heaped pressure on Edinburgh bosses.

In England, Newcastle was the first UK airport to enforce drop-off fees when it axed its free parking zone in April. East Midlands Airport reconfigured its car parks earlier this month, and introduced a £1 drop-off fee of its own.

Edinburgh’s desire to remove traditional kiss and fly areas suggests that bosses want to ease congestion by forcing travellers to use public transport.

However, local Liberal Democrat MP, Alison McInnes, is concerned that the city’s bus routes are insufficient to support the plan, especially for those living in the outskirts of the Scottish capital.

EasyJet launch Edinburgh-Basel route

has launched a new route out of Edinburgh Airport, to the city of Basel in northwest Switzerland. The carrier, which recently celebrated a 9.5% boost in passenger numbers over those for June 2009, now operates 18 routes out of the Scottish capital, including flights to Krakow in Poland, and Munich in Germany.

The Basel flight will operate four times a week from December 3, making it EasyJet’s second Swiss route from Edinburgh, after the city of Geneva. Tickets for the route went on sale at the beginning of July, priced at £25.99 for a one-way trip. Paul Simmons, manager at EasyJet, called the addition ‘superb.’

‘Basel is a city full of culture, and we are delighted to offer our Scottish travellers the chance to visit this great destination,’ Mr Simmons said. The city’s unusual location, straddling a ‘tri-nation’ border with France and Germany, gives Basel a unique heritage that dates all the way back to 374AD, when it was founded on the banks of the Rhine.

EasyJet recommends the Altstadt and Münsterplatz areas of Basel, which are renowned for their ‘atmospheric streets and market squares,’ and the ancient gatehouse, Spalentor, in the city centre.

The airline will also put on extra routes from four other airports, including Liverpool and Manchester. EasyJet appears to be bolstering its winter schedules to take advantage of an ongoing strike by British Airways staff, and to capitalise on a cull of Ryanair flights at Stansted and Belfast.

EasyJet is still losing out to Ryanair, however; the Irish carrier posted a 15% rise in customer numbers over those for the year to June 2010, making it one of the largest commercial airlines in the world.

Jet2 adds summer 2011 routes

Budget airline, Jet2, has added six new routes out of Edinburgh Airport for the 2011 summer season. The routes, which include flights to the Croatian coast and the Czech Republic, among others, will begin in May.

Jet2 has made a name for itself over the past few months, for flying anything but regular travellers. The carrier rescued a pride of lions from Romania in February, becoming a budget ‘air-lion’ in the process, and a host of celebrities during the recent ash crisis, including Prince William and Damon Hill.

Biggles, a wounded racing pigeon, also found its way on to one of the carrier’s planes, after it landed in the back garden of Captain Mike Smith, a Jet2 pilot. The pigeon’s owner, Steve Girdwood, was ‘overjoyed’ to have his bird returned – ‘Biggles is one of my fastest birds. The wee fella did well to choose a pilot’s garden to land in.’

The good news is that Jet2 continues to cater for humans and ordinary mortals, and the airline’s new routes should help Edinburgh Airport make the most of the school holidays, which have already begun for Scottish schools.

Jet2’s latest flights begin at £29.99 for a one-way trip, taxes included. The routes are: Venice and Sardinia in Italy, La Rochelle and Toulouse, France, the historic city of Prague in the Czech Republic, and coastal Dubrovnik, Croatia. The airline now has twelve routes from the Scottish capital, all of which are to Europe.

Airport mulls £1 drop-off charge

Edinburgh is set to become the second airport in as many months to implement a mandatory £1 levy for all drivers who use the site’s drop-off zones.

The Scottish hub, which is owned by BAA, will continue to operate a free drop-off area, albeit at some distance from the main terminal.

Parking charges are never popular. The high cost of airport parking spaces has been the subject of a number of investigations, not least of which is a recent survey by Which? magazine. The consumer watchdog discovered that Heathrow’s on-site parking costs up to £89, almost three times the price of a space at Liverpool or Bristol.

Newcastle was one of the first UK airports to introduce the controversial £1 parking charge, but a lacklustre advertising campaign left many travellers unaware of the levy until they tried to exit the site. Local taxi drivers called the scheme ‘disgraceful’, noting ‘chaotic’ scenes around the airport’s terminal.

Edinburgh’s new parking tariff appears to be identical to the one unveiled at Newcastle in May. Neighbour and close rival Glasgow Airport is also considering a change to its parking charges, but the outcry from Scottish drivers could stop both schemes from getting off the ground.

The Edinburgh Taxi Association (ETA) has warned that cabbies might start dropping customers off outside the airport’s perimeter, in an effort to avoid paying £1 for a stay of just a few minutes. ‘This is grossly unfair’, Raymond Davidson, secretary for the ETA, explained. ‘Taxi drivers will be up in arms about this. This is, quite frankly, outrageous.’

Airport bosses claim that the plan is still under consideration, but alterations to Edinburgh’s forecourt and the roads surrounding the airport are expected in the coming months. The Scottish hub has promised to hold talks with customers and stakeholders before implementing any drastic changes.