Last month, I hopped on flight BE6032 with Flybe, operated by Stobart Air, travelling from London’s Southend Airport – which at 64km distance is furthest of London’s six airport from the centre of the city (though at 63km distance, Stansted isn’t far removed) – to Groningen in the Netherlands.
The airport is so far from the city’s centre, in fact, that you can’t use the Oyster (London Underground’s transport card) to get you there. You can only use the Oyster as far as Shenfield and then it’s an eight pound service from there (though it may be cheaper if you book in advance). I didn’t realise this until after I’d boarded the train, but it wasn’t a problem jumping on my phone and booking the Shenfield to Southend train service while on the very train. And the train takes you directly to the door of the airport.
It’s a lengthy journey (as most airport journeys are in London), but due to the size of the airport, and the lack of passengers that the airport processes (just over 1 million a year), it may actually save you time. There’s just no waiting for anything once you get there. And with just the one terminal, and no more than three commercial passenger airlines currently operating, it’s quiet. A welcome respite from the usual madness of London Airports.
At the time of publishing, only easyJet, Flybe and Air Malta have regular flights out the Southend. Ryanair will start flying out of the airport from 2nd April 2019, and Adria Airways will start flying a route between Southend and Büren (Paderborn Lippstadt) in Germany on 28th Ocober 2018.
My flight was pretty early in the morning – about 8am – which meant I had to make the move to the airport around 5am. Though if I was going to Heathrow, that might have been cutting it a bit too close. Here though, it was more than enough time. The Southend train itself takes just over an hour from Liverpool Street Station, and about 8 services run at its peak. Once I arrived it took me about 20 minutes to check in my bag, get through security, and be sitting at the Lakers Restaurant/Bar past security, enjoying an 11 pound full English breakfast. Not cheap for the city, but it’s an airport… and it was literally the only option. And any other airport and I would have been lucky to have checked my bag in in the same amount of time, let alone be sitting down having breakfast.
With small planes operating to reasonably close destinations, you walk onto the tarmac to access your flight – my Flybe plane was an ATR 72, a twin-engine turboprop, with some 20 rows in a 2-2 layout. In the air for about 50 minutes, and arriving at the equally small Groningen Airport, with a drink served en route, it was a quick and easy flight, with great customer service. On the other end, I was through security and had my bag in hand in about 15 minutes. Two hours from Amsterdam, it too is a worthy entry or exit point if you’re looking for an airport devoid of madness (not to mention Groningen is a great city).
As Ryanair get set to operating 55 flights per week to 13 destinations, from April next year, and the airline looks set on doubling their capacity by 2020, eventually this may be a much busier airport – though it will still be a fraction of London’s 5 other airports. But for now, in spite of its distance from London’s centre, its small size makes it the quick, easy and pain free experience that Gatwick and Heathrow are not. While the routes it offers are limited, do keep it in mind the next time you are travelling around the UK and Europe. It might just be your best option.
The author travelled at his own expense.