The airports are catching the micropayment disease from the airlines. Luton Airport, just north of London, is about to start charging motorists £1 ($1.47) to allow them to drop off passengers at the departures terminal. That money buys up to 10 minutes at the front curb.
Luton is hardly the most crowded airport in Europe, but it's already one of the cheapest. Luton is the 99¢ store of airports. Two of its most notable carriers are easyJet and the "pay-to-pee" airline Ryanair, the two least frilled no-frills fliers on Earth. So if you're taking a flight from Luton, you already know you're in for a welter of dime charges for every little thing. The airport already charges £1 for a luggage cart (nothing unusual there), but also allows passengers to pay £3 ($4.40) to access a speedier lane through security.
If drivers don't want to pay the £1, they have to drop off or meet their parties at the mid-term parking lot, which is connected to the terminal by a free shuttle bus. Grandma's gonna love that.
I have flown through Luton myself, and it's not well run. If you're carrying an American passport, Luton rarely has enough passport control agents working to process you. EU passport holders speed through, but Yanks pile up in a never-ending line. I once almost missed the last bus of the night into London that way.
The airport authorities have a typically smarmy justification for the fee: "Making a small charge reminds drivers of the 10-minute time allocation and keeps the traffic flowing," according to an airport manager. Mind you, this is in Britain, where corporations and civic authorities alike have the perpetually patronizing mindset of keeping the masses in their place and telling them what's good for them. Brits, by and large, tend to roll with insipid charges like this rather than fight them. I don't think I'd like to be at the curb when an American airport tries this.
Update: The charge takes effect July 1.
Airport now charges a fee to drop passengers off for their flights