Sitting in the brand new terminal building at Land’s End Airport, Gateway to the Scilly Isles, on 28 December makes one reflect on the poor service provided by the monopoly air and sea transport company, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company. There is no passenger sea ferry at this time of year, except for the Gry Maritha, which takes freight and up to 12 passengers ‘at the Captain’s discretion’; this relates to whether those unaccustomed to small ship travel would be at risk of hitting the ceiling when the ship went down a wave! Otherwise, you go by air – from the grass landing strip at Land’s End or Newquay International, famous for the most rigorous and unnecessary security checks in the country with a very long surfaced runway and miles from any public transport.
The lovely new terminal at Land’s End is certainly good for waiting for flights; perhaps that is why the Steamship Company built it rather than make do with the old terminal and build a surfaced runway so that planes could land and take off when it was wet. Last year (2012/3) Land’s End airport was closed for more than 50 days due to waterlogged ground, and also sometimes for fog. This year, it has been good up to Christmas, but the wet has now set in.
It has rained hard off and on all week, although with less severe weather than in the South East of England, so we arrive at Lands’ End airport for our flight to St Marys expecting a calm and peaceful 20 minute flight. No such luck!
The ground was declared waterlogged, so passengers for the first three flights are put in a bus to Newquay airport, a good hour away. We, booked on later flights, sit in the airport waiting, with no information about if and when we will fly, no Wi-Fi (why would one want Wi-Fi when one passes through the airport so quickly?) or information by public address system, and a good view of the Islander planes that could be taking us to Scilly – except it is too wet to take off!
Given the frequency of wet weather delays, one might suggest that the planes should be parked at a runway which was not so weather susceptible – for example St Mary’s or Newquay, so that, in the event of it being too wet to fly from Land’s End, one could at least have more planes to take passengers from Newquay to St Mary’s. There are people wanting to travel home, to Scilly for the New Year, in fact the general demand for travel that people elsewhere take for granted. Here, in addition to fares of £80 single by plane, one has the added benefit of sitting around looking at two or three stranded planes and a complete lack of passenger information that is taken for granted on other more normal air or rail services.
In the end, we got on the bus to Newquay and, after numerous delays, arrived at the beautifully lit up St Mary’s airport (sunset was thankfully postponed for us to land!), thankful that we had not shared the fate of all those families who had booked on afternoon flights who have been told to come back the next day.
Of course, Land’s End Runway was supposed to have been given a hard surface in November but the Isles of Scilly Council seems to have forgotten to sign a contract with a contractor. Even with a surfaced runway, there will be inevitable delays due to fog or high winds and better customer information and service is badly needed.
And ministers still say that the transport system to Scilly has not failed? They should try it!