The last leg home:
When checking in at Bern Airport, I was extremely impressed that SkyWork Airlines had a promotion offering passengers a free rail ticket from Southend Airport to London Liverpool Street, all I had to to was collect it on arrival in London. With the promise of a free rail ticket, I relaxed on the flight home knowing that I’d get the train back into London.
I have wanted to try Southend Airport for a few years, in part because of the focus put upon the short walk between terminal and station, in fact you can clearly see the station as you are taxiing from the runway.
The station is visible when you land!
In the arrivals area, a member of staff welcomed me and advised me to pick up my free rail ticket from the station ticket office – bonus! I passed through immigration and went to collect my bag. Then I sensed something was wrong when I looked up at the rail departure screen above the carousel – there was no mention of London Liverpool Street.
I was suddenly felt a lot further away from my bed, miles further. Pulling out my phone, I searched for the rail journey back to London, only to see the dreaded word – ‘BUS!’ This journey is supposed to take about 55 minutes but here I was facing a journey of double that time, with 2 changes and a bus: with 2 pieces of luggage to lug onto and off a train, then a bus, then another train, I was not impressed.
Suggested rail route from Southend Airport to London Liverpool Street. (thetrainline.com)
Now, this blog is about passenger experience and that just about ends as soon as you see the words ‘replacement bus’ anywhere but I had been offered a free rail ticket by SkyWork and I was still hoping to make use of the ticket so I made the short walk over to the station, still eager to get on a train home.
It’s true, it is a very short walk to the railway station but in my case, I was no closer to home: inside, I passed a poorly handwritten sign about disruption or engineering works but I was now anxious to leave the airport so I went straight to the desk to ask about my options. I was given my free ticket to London, then told that all tickets from Southend Airport to London are only valid on the ‘direct’ route to Liverpool Street. Therefore, I had no choice but to take the replacement bus, adding a significant delay to reaching my bed.
I wanted a comfortable rail journey, not a fake rail journey on and off a replacement bus – I knew that there was another rail route from Southend Central to London Fenchurch Street but was told that, despite the disruption, I would have to buy 2 additional tickets to travel on this route – so much for a free rail ticket!
Here is where I gave up on Southend Airport and Greater Anglia: I got in a taxi to Southend Central and got a train home in half the time.
I so wanted Southend Airport to impress me; however, forcing airport passengers to travel on one train, then change to a bus, then change again back onto a train is unacceptable. There was a perfectly acceptable rail route from a nearby station which should have been offered – even a bus all the way to London would have been better! It reflects poorly on the airport that nobody in the terminal even mentioned this disruption or suggested this alternative. Acknowledging the particular needs of airport passengers, with luggage and relative unfamiliarity with the rail network means that a 3 part journey will add considerably to their stress and fails to meet their expectations.
Thankfully, I knew of the route to Fenchurch Street and was able to buy my way out of a convoluted journey home but arriving international passengers were just abandoned to the replacement bus route expected to made do with transferring all their luggage twice along the way. I will attempt to use Southend Airport in future and it would be nice to experience a true airrail link there but I don’t think any of the other passengers from Bern will be relying on their free ticket in future.
Author: Liam Henderson
Update: I am pleased to append the following comment from Abellio Greater Anglia.
“Southend Airport station is owned and operated by Stobart Rail who built the station as part of their wider airport development. Abellio Greater Anglia operate trains that call at the station under a contract with Stobart and inform the operator 12 weeks in advance of any planned engineering works information. I’m really sorry you, and your fellow passengers experienced such poor service and I will raise this with Stobart Rail.“