I have flown from Gatwick back in the days when you checked-in at the West London Air Terminal on Cromwell Road. When your flight was called you were bused over twenty miles straight up to your plane, which was waiting on the tarmac. Southend, Cambridge, and the long-lost Ipswich Airport have all been used by members of my close family. My first flight was in a four-seater Cesna light aircraft from a grass field at Caister-on-Sea. My father’s first flight was thirty years earlier in the early 1930s, from a similar field on Mousehold Heath, the original Norwich airport. I have recently started to use today’s Norwich Airport; it is extremely convenient in being only a few miles away from my home, but it is very restricted in the destinations it offers. Stansted in Essex has been my airport of choice since the new terminal opened 25 years ago. Stansted is the nearest of the three London airports for us East Anglians. It has never had a long-term long- haul capacity; a few long-haul flights have been trialled from Stansted, but none of them have lasted very long. It is popular for European destinations and budget airlines.
I can remember the protests from the locals before it opened. “NO THIRD LONDON AIRPORT HERE’ shouted the posters as I drove down the old A11 towards London. This was around 1970, long before the M11 was built, although almost identical protests erupted much more recently when a second runway at Stansted was proposed. In fact there was nothing new about an airfield at Stansted; there had been one since 1943. It was called RAF Stansted Mountfichet, an American bomber base until the war ended. In August 1945 it reverted to RAF use as a maintenance airfield. It was transferred to Civilian use in 1949 and became the base for holiday charter flights. With the Cold War, in 1954 the Americans returned and upgraded the runway, but the airfield was not returned to military use. The third London airport at Stansted took its first regular flights and passengers in 1969.
Although the village of Stansted Mountfitchet has had a railway station since 1845, there was no rail link to Stansted airport until 1991, when the new terminal building opened. This short spur off the Cambridge line has connections both north and south. There is an hourly train service from Birmingham through Peterborough, and a frequent connection south to London Liverpool Street.
Our young family began going on European holidays in 2001 by going to Paris, not by air but by Eurostar. The following year we made our first journey from Stansted, flying out to Belgium by Ryanair. Stansted is the Ryanair hub in the UK. Since that first flight we have been from Stansted to France several times, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Poland, all by Ryanair. Flying has always been an unpleasant necessity as far as I am concerned, and I have never expected any luxury. You certainly don’t get it with Ryanair.
Apart from flying via Stansted, I have accompanied others who were either leaving or arriving at the airport. This has become much more difficult and expensive recently. At first you could drive right up to the terminal and let your passenger(s) out; there was no charge. Picking up people who had just arrived was a little more tricky – you had to park up – but this too was free for ten minutes. Things have deteriorated in recent years; now you must go to the short-term car park for both arrivals and departures. This now costs a king’s ransom for a few minutes. I have never used the train to Stansted, but with the new franchise there should be a direct service from Norwich to the airport. This would be better than driving, but I do not expect to be travelling from Stansted again. After my most recent experiences of flying as a disabled person, I would rather go by sea! There is a ferry port in Essex at Harwich, which is just as convenient to get to as Stanstead airport, and leads to a more relaxed way of travelling. Once in Rotterdam the whole of Europe is accessible by train.