"Quotation 50"
FLYING

It's rare for any passage thorugh any airport to be much of a pleasure these days, but some airports are better than others, and a little advance knowledge can perk up the experience no end. This is especially true in times of delay, when trying to kill time on a long transfer between flights, or if you have kids to try and keep entertained.

I've worked for airlines at Heathrow, Gatwick, and East Midlands, and so know my way around from the inside, but I generally arrive to an airport that I've not been to before in very good time so as to try and suss out if it's any good. And despite the majority of airport experiences being on the infuriating side, you can find an outdoor bar terrace at Barcelona, a playground by old planes at Munich, and butterfly and cactus gardens in Singapore...
















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London's inner city airport is it's best, and not only for bankers either...
posted by Richard Green on 07/03/2017
 

A CityJet Avro RJ85 taxiing with the O2 Arena and Canary Wharf financial district in the background. Photo My Bathroom Wall

London City Airport often gets overlooked, even by Londoners. But it's my favourite of London's six airports by far, and If you've never flown from or into it, then you've missed out on an airport with a 20-minute minimum check-in time, flights to 10 UK cities from £60 return, and 40 or so European destinations with returns from £79.

You may think that London City a purely pinstripe preserve, and it's true that two in three of its 4.3m yearly passengers are travelling for work. Yet businessmen tend to know when they're on to a good thing - and it's a good thing that can suit holidaymakers, too, especially as the list of destinations has long since broadened to include some great city break, skiing and beach destinations, like Amsterdam, Berlin, Faro, Florence, Geneva, Granada, Ibiza, Lisbon, Malaga, Mykonos, Palma, Prague, Reykjavik, Rome, Santorini, Skiathos and Venice.

Here's how to make the most of London's inner city airport...

Getting there
Canary Wharf is less than five kilometers away, as is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. And London City is just 13 kimoeters from Trafalgar Square and the West End (compared to 27 kilometers for Heathrow, 47 for Gatwick and Luton, and 68 for Southend), so it's the cheapest airport to get to from central London.

From Zone 1, a single to London City Airport, by Tube and Docklands Light Railway, starts at £2.60 with an Oyster card (£4.30 without): use the maps at tfl.gov.uk to plan your route. Taxi fares start at about £30.

In contrast, a single Tube ride from Zone 1 to Heathrow costs £2.90/£5.30, while the Heathrow Express from Paddington is generally £34 return - though lookout for special offers from £5.50 one-way. The Gatwick Express is £27.90, the Stansted Express from £29.50 and the train to Luton or Southend is from £25. Taxi fares to any will be upwards of £40.

A BA Embraer and on the runway, a TAP Embraer inbound from Lisbon. Photo My Bathroom Wall

At the airport
There's no traipsing along endless corridors to the departure lounge here either. The escalator to security is right by the check-in desks, and spare security channels are opened if passengers queue for more than four minutes. They also use time-saving mini x-ray machines for shoes, keys, belts, watches and wallets.

All of which means that London City can get away with a minimum check-in time of just 20 minutes. If you only have cabin baggage, they can make that 15 minutes, depending on the airline. That's from airline desk to plane door, and is the lowest in the country.

It's quick on the arrivals side, too. The last time I landed at City, I emerged from the terminal blinking in the light and within 10 minutes of the plane's the wheels touching the tarmac I was on the DLR platform. Compared to Heathrow it can be delightfully discombobulating.

And, because London City is compact and efficient, delays are kept to a minimum and lost bags are a relative rarity. In fact it's the most punctual airport in Britain, with the latest figures showing that 87% of flights were on time in the first quarter of 2012. On average, five bags are misplaced a week - and like other airports and airlines, they are usually redelivered within 24 hours.

A British Airways A318 landing from New York. Photo My Bathroom Wall

If you're not in a rush, the relatively bijou departure lounge has a duty-free shop, a Pret A Manger, Cafe Nero, a Panopolis pastry and sandwich shop, Pilots Bar & Kitchen, a Brick Lane Brews bar, and then there's the City Bar & Grill that overlooks the runway. There are far worse places to consume some smoked salmon and bubbly, and for anyone who likes an airport bar with a view - there are plenty of windows overlooking the runway. It doesn't take even 10 minutes to walk from the lounge to the furthest gate.

On the plane

And flying from London City gives you a chance to try a smaller plane than you might be used to. BA uses new Brazilian-made Embraer twinjets that can carry up 98 passengers, and a 50-seater turboprop for trips to the Isle of Man. In fact, only BA flights to New York and CityJet flights to Dublin have a seat confguration of three-aisle-three - all the other flights are two-aisle-two or less, so that everyone gets an aisle or a window seat.

It means that boarding and disembarking is far quicker, and like the other airlines operating from the airport, BA offers a complimentary drink (including beer) and snack in economy, online check-in with seat free selection up to 24 hours before departure, and frequent-flyer points.

A Flybe Dash 400 boarding at London City Airport. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Take off and landing
The runway experience is memorable too. There's just the one, which incidentally less than half the length of those at Heathrow or Gatwick. And it's squeezed between two old docks and has water on three sides. And the final approach can be very scenic.

If the wind is blowing from the west, you'll get a low-level fly-by of the Thames Barrier. But if it's coming from the east, you'll skim over central London at an altitude of just 2,000ft - making a sharp right turn by the London Eye before overflying the Embankment, the Shard and the City.

To avoid the tower of Canary Wharf, planes descend at a steep-feeling six degrees from the horizontal, rather than the usual three degrees. It doesn't sound much of a difference, but it is noticable and means that last-moment pull-up can be a little unnerving.

Skimming over the UK's second tallest building (236m) on final approach to London City Airport. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Where can you fly to?
British Airway is the largest operator at London City, and flies to Amsterdam, Bergerac, Berlin, Billund, Chambery, Dublin, Dusseldorf, Edinburgh, Faro, Florence, Frankfurt, Geneva, Glasgow, Granada, Ibiza, Isle of Man, Menorca, Malaga, Manchester, Milan Linate, Mykonos, Nice, Palma, Prague, Quimper, Reykjavik, Rotterdam, Santorini, Skiathos, Venice, with one-way fares from £45. It also offers all-business-class services to New York, daily to JFK; return fares start at about £2,935. See British Airways

A couple of Alitalia Embraer's at London City, with nifty two-aisle-two cabins. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The other airlines currently serving London City areAlitalia to Milan Linate and Rome; Flybe to Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Belfast, Dusseldorf, Edinburgh, Exeter and Jersey; KLM to Amsterdam; Lufthansa to Frankfurt; Luxair to Luxembourg; Skywork Airlines to Bern; and Swiss International Airlines to Geneva and Zurich, TAP to Lisbon and Porto, and VLM to Antwerp.

From airports such as Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Lisbon, Rome and Zurich, you can connect to hundreds more onward destinations - often already checked in for your next flight, with your luggage on its way to your final arrival airport.

The downsides
It isn't all Lilliputian loveliness. Because the planes are small and yes the primary market is still business people, if you miss out on the cheap fares, prices after that rocket up quickly. And it's no good for snagging a cheap flight to New York either, as the BA flights only offer Business Class on board.

The airport has no boarding jetties either, so passengers have to make the (admitedly extremely short) walk out to the aircraft in all weathers. And while the car park is a three-minute walk from the terminal, but all 800 spaces are short-term, and cost £35 for 12-24 hours.

Plus there are no flights from 1pm on Saturday until 1pm on Sunday, which is great - and maybe even unique for local residents to be given a break from aircraft noise in this way by an airport - but it can stymie plans for a weekend getaway.

Finally, at peak times the departure lounge can resemble a sharp suit conference, and some of the seating areas in the departure lounge at times feature scrums of city boys, which isn't to everyon's taste.

For more information, see London City Airport


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What's it like to be on an inaugural flight? EasyJet's first ever flight To Varna...
posted by Richard Green on 08/06/2017
 

EasyJet's first flight arrives from Gatwick and is given a 'water salute' by two of the airport's fire engines. Photo easyJet

What is an inaugural flight? An inaugural flight is the first flight for an airline to a new destination, or the first flight an airline makes using a completely new aircraft type that it doesn't currently have in its fleet, or it can be the first ever flight of a particular new type of plane. 

An airline's first ever flight to a destination: e.g. easyJet from Gatwick to Varna. Being on an inaugural flight is not a thing that you would plan for of course - or even notice until you got onto the plane - but you might accidentally find yourself on one. And this is what happened to around 180 passengers who flew with easyJet from London Gatwick to Varna in Bulgaria 6th of June 2017. And I tagged along as part of a small press and PR group that was also on the flight.  

A captain, a Bulgarian flag and an easyJet A320. Photo easyJet  

Before we got under way, the captain stood on the passenger side of the cockpit door and made a cheery address about it being the first flight, and what to expect on landing. I don't mean the thud of the undercarriage locking in the down position or the roar of the thrust reversers pushing air backwards to act as a brake, but instead the surreal prospect of being flanked by fire engines and sprayed at close range with around 3,000 litres of water from their cannon. 

Cheerleading in easyJet's colours (that's pantone orange 021c and white) at Varna Airport. Photo My Bathroom Wall 

As the whole point of the fire truck and cannon are for emergencies, it's not the sort of thing you'd normally be wanting to see outside the window of your plane. In fact though, this is a harmless tradition that always happens to inaugural flights called a 'water salute'. Perhaps it harks back to the days when ocean liners were sprayed with water jets on entering or leaving ports, but the tradition of soaking first flights is well-established in the aviation industry. 

Big wigs from the airport and the city stand for a photocall by the steps of the plane. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The buzz of the welcome arch over, the plane taxied to its parking space as normal, and instead of the trudge or short bus ride to the arrivals area, we disembarked into an energetic melee of people and activity that had more the air of a village fete. Cue orange and white balloons tied to the steps, a troop of dancing girls, and loud music from portable speakers. Everyone was given a blue kiss-me-quick Panama hat bearing the slogan, 'I love Varna airport', and a family booked on the first returning flight to Gatwick received a return ticket to a city of their choice on the easyJet European network of 130 cities.  

Balloons, banner, and a berk in a 'I love Varna' hat. Photo My Bathroom Wall

While the rest of the passengers trooped hapilly through immigration and customs - most still wearing their blue Panama hats - the official welcoming comittee walked into the departure lounge. Here we were greeted by more balloons, a large three-tier wedding style cake (complete with taxi and telephone box motifs), cup cakes, cocktails, and speeches. 

Cocktails, cake, and more cake, in the departure lounge welcoming ceremony. Photos My Bathroom Wall

I've been on several inaugural flights, and usually on landing - except for the traditiona water salute - it's just a case of getting off the plane and through immigration as normal. Not in Bulgaria though, where Varna Airport and EasyJet laid on by far the best welcoming ceremony that I've yet to experience.  

The second type of inaugural flights is where an airline uses a new aircraft type on a route: e.g. the Ethiopian Airlines Airbus A350. The airline has been flying to London for decades, so it wasn't a new route, but the airline was celebrating when its first passenger flight using a new type of plane. For example, I flew on the inaugural flight of the Ethiopian Airlines Airbus A350 from Heathrow to its capital city and hub airport of Addis Ababa, in August 2016. All passengers received gifts on boarding the plane in London then on board the crew served a celebratory cake and bubbly.  

I wrote this piece for the Telegraph to accompany news of the flight: Five reasons to visit Ethiopia - on the world's newest passenger plane

 

The crew with cake and champagne, and the A350 at Heathrow. Photos My Bathroom Wall and Ethiopian Airlines 

The first passenger flight of a new aircraft type: e.g. ANA's first Dreamliner flight. There is another excuse for razzmatazz when a new plane type makes its first or last passenger flight. Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is a revolutionary aircraft that first flew passengers commercially on the 26th of October 2011 - it was operated by launch customer All Nippon Airways of Japan (ANA), it flew from Tokyo to Hong Kong, and I was invited on board to write a piece for the Sunday Times.  

The 787 landed in Hong Kong and was met by a Chinese Dragon and a mob of media. Photo My Bathroom Wall

This flight was rather special in that the aircraft represented a big leap forward in terms of fuel efficiency and quietness, thanks to the use of so much composite materials. There was a huge press conference at Tokyo airport, then a saki ceremony at the boarding gate. On board though there were more journalists, cameramen and Boeing reps than 'real' passengers.

In order to gather some of the passengers thoughts on the experience I asked one big-haired woman how she was enjoying the first flight of the 787. She choked up and said "it's like when your first child leaves home, so I am feeling rather emotional to be honest". Before she became any more upset, I asked for her name and where she was from all the same. It turned out she was from the Boeing plant in Seattle, where the aeroplane is made - and had been working on the project for six years, so I let her off.    

One more thing...the water cannon salute takes place hundreds of times a year without incident, but this wasn't the case on the 30th of March 2015 when a Virgin Atlantic A330 was about to leave on it's inaugural flight from Manchester to Atlanta. On this occasion the hapless fire engine crew accidentally performed a 'water salute' with foam. Used to put out fires, the foam made a pretty good job of putting out the engines too, and clogged the sensitive turbine blades with gunk. The 252 passengers on board were initially delayed for five hours and then had their flight cancelled.   

Virgin's A330 flight was delayed and then cancelled after a foam party style mishap at Manchester Airport

 

35

Easyjet's Gatwick-Varna route is operated thrice weekly throughout the summer season with one-way fares from £12.99, and a new summer season twice-weekly flights from Berlin Schoenefeld start on the 28th of June. See easyJet, Varna AirportVisit Varna, and Visit Bulgaria

Anna Aero pushes the aviation niche envelope to its limits by celebrating new airline routes through an Arch of Triumph of the week section, and even with pictures of the best new route cakes - in Cake of the week.  


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All you need to know about connecting flights...
posted by Richard Green on 06/04/2017
 

Glancing hurriedly at the departure's board can eat up a few minutes at the world's biggest airport hubs

Making a transfer between two flights can be a great way of getting somewhere cheaply, but it can prove stressful too, and especially so if the first flight is delayed, or if the connection is tight.

Happily, every airport has an MCT (minimum connecting time), which is a semi-scientific calculation of the time needed to change planes there. It takes into account the amount or walking involved for passengers to get from one gate to another, and how quickly the airport is able to move hold luggage from one plane to another.

The MCT is different for each airport. Vienna airport’s MCT is just 30 minutes, but Heathrow - between terminals 1 and 4 say – is an hour and a half.  

The good news is that airlines, web booking sites, and travel agents, will only book connecting flights that are equal to or more than the MCT for the transit airport on your journey.  

However, things don't always go to plan, so here are some tips on how to make a smooth connection...

When booking: save stress and book flights that are a decent time apart - 90 minutes is a sensible blanket minimum. It makes sense to have some leeway, just in case, plus I prefer to stretch my legs, browse of the shops, and as likely as not have a beer in the bar. 

If you are worried at the booking stage, choose an aisle seat towards the front of the aircraft - it could save you a good 10 minutes when you are trying to disembark from a packed flight.

When packing: it's vital to know what's happening with you hold luggage. If you are transiting an airport like Dubai or Singapore on the way to your final destination, then you won't need to collect your luggage as it will be checked all the way through. However the rule is that you need to clear customs at your first point of entry to a country, so if you are flying from London to Baton Rouge via Atlanta, then you will need to collect your luggage in Atlanta, check in and make your way to the next flight's gate.

Try to keep your hand luggage to a minimum as you will have to lug this between gates when you change planes.

Airport signage can resemble a challenge from the Crystal Maze. An airport map can save time

In flight: the departure gate of your connecting flight may be printed on your boarding pass, but if your flights are long haul it is unlikely the airline will know so many hours in advance.

some airlines have real time flight connections information on the in-flight entertainment menu, or sometimes this is shown on the overhead screens just before landing. You can save valuable time if you already know the gate number your next flight leaves from before you land. To stay ahead of the game you should download a flight status app onto your smart phone or tablet - handy for airlines with in-flight wi-fi.

Once you know the gate number of your next flight, you'll probably find a gate map of the airline's hub airport in the in-flight magazine. If not, look for one on the airport's website using wi-fi, or look at the airport map that you printed out before you left home.

Some terminals are vast and have bewilderingly complicated signage - especially confusing if you are in a hurry with little time to spare - as you can't always afford to make a mistake. If you don't know the gate, look at the first departure screen you see, or ask a member of airport staff so they can point you in the right direction.

If your first flight is delayed: the airline will help out – possibly by delaying the second flight, or by escorting you to the next plane. And if you miss the second flight altogether, and through no fault of your own, the airline will book you onto the next available option, at no extra cost.

Don't suffer in silence; the sooner you let the airline staff know, the better. Tell the cabin crew, as they can help with terminal directions, seat you towards the front on landing so you can get off quicker, or if you are very late, get someone to escort you to your next gate, or even drive you across the tarmac to your next flight.

Low cost airline connections: none of the above applies if your flights are on two different bookings, even if they are with the same airline. If so you are on your own.

The same goes for connecting on low cost airlines like Wizz and EasyJet etc. Though Ryanair has just announced that it plans to introduce the ability to book connecting flights through its website. The company is trailing the idea in Rome and plans to roll the concept out 'pretty quickly'. You'll have to leave a minimum of three hours between flights, and then bags will be automatically checked through to your final destination. 

Air Baltic is a low cost carrier based in Riga, Latvia, which already operates a booking and baggage system that handles connecting flights, so that passengers flying from London to Tbilisi say, will have their bags checked through.

As airports grow ever larger, walking distances between gates balloon too

Cities with multiple airports: like Paris, New York, Tokyo or Buenos Aeries, can be tricky. Only book flights that connect through the one airport. London has six airports, and schlepping from one to another is a big hassles. You'll have to cart all of your luggage (including any checked into the hold) to the next airport, plus the extra expense of taxis and traffic.

At first glance you might think that using the Underground or Metro system is the best option, but you'll have your hold luggage with you. Best to book a direct bus between the two airports.

Do you need a transit visa? Travel agents should tell you if you need a transit visa to make a connection in another country, but this won't be the case for online bookings.


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Charles de Gaulle, Bob Hope and Indira Gandhi are to be joined by Cristiano Ronaldo, as Madeira Airport has a new name...
posted by Richard Green on 25/03/2017
 

Cristiano Ronaldo already has his CR7 museum dedicated to him in his home town of Funchal, Madeira, and he's opened two hotels as well, one in Madeira CR7 Funchal and the other in CR7 Lisbon, and now his home island is renaming its international airport in his honour too - soon to be known as the Madeira Cristiano Ronaldo Airport.

A sign has been added to the airport frontage showing the face of Ronaldo, and it's though the official naming ceremony will take place ahead of Portugal's friendly game against Sweden on the 29th of March.

Most of us at a pub quiz might be able to conjure up half a dozen or so airports that are named after famous people, but in fact there are hundreds of them. Mexico has a thing about naming its airports after generals, Malaysia plumps for Sultans, but it's former statesmen and leaders that are the mainstay.

There's Charles de Gaulle in Paris, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and Indira Gandhi International in Delhi of course. But did you know that there is the Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje (Macedonia); the Franjo Tuđman Airport in Zagreb (Croatia); Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad (Pakistan); Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi (Kenya); Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport in Poland; and Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, Hyderabad (India). Yasser Arafat has an airport named after him, but it was abandoned after an Israeli attack knocked out the radar station and control tower during the Second Intifada.

Simon Bolivar even gets two airports to his name - the Simon Bolivar International Airport, Santa Marta (Columbia), and the Simon Bolivar International Airport, Bolívar International Airport, Maiquetia (Venezuela). And there is an airport named after a political couple would you believe - at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas. Incidentally there is one other shared name that I can think - at the Tenzing-Hillary Airport at Lukla, Nepal, which commemorates Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, who together where the first climbers to reach the summit of Mt Everest, on the 29th of May 1953.

Naturally enough, aviators feature heavily too - with people like test pilot Chuck Yaeger commemorated at Yaeger Airport, Charleston, West Virginia (USA); pioneer aviator Traian Vuia Airport, at Timisoara (Romania); the Sikorsky Memorial Airport at Stratford, Connecticut (USA); and the Turkish female aviator at Sabiha Gökçen International Airport in Istanbul.

Travellers get a look in too, with the Ibn Battouta Airport, Tangier (Morocco); and Venice Marco Polo Airport, and mathematician and astronomer Copernicus is venerated at the Wrocław Nicolaus Copernicus Airport (Poland).

The writer roll call incudes the Ian Fleming International Airport, Boscobel (Jamaica), and the Václav Havel Airport Prague (Czech Republic); and the Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport, France (though he was a pioneer aviator too). There's an actor, at the Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City (USA); a Cosmonaut at the Yuri Gagarin Orenburg Tsentralny Airport, Orenburg (Russia), a breakfast cereal innovator at the W. K. Kellogg Airport, Battle Creek, Michigan (USA), and scientist and inventor Tesla is honoured at the Nikola Tesla Belgrade Airport in Serbia.

Less august figures get a look in too, with entertainers such as Burbank Bob Hope Airport (USA); musicians and composers such as the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport in Hungary; the W.A. Mozart Airport (Austria); Warsaw Chopin Airport (Poland); the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (USA); the Liverpool John Lennon Airport in the UK. Actor John Wayne gets a swaggering statue at the John Wayne Airport, Orange County (USA) and one director even makes the cut - at the Frederico Fellini Airport in Rimini (Italy).

Naming an airport after a footballer isn't new either - since 2006 Belfast's City Airport has been known as the George Best Belfast City Airport after local hero who is dubbed the greatest dribbler in history.

I suppose the names lend opportunities to honour someone important to the local culture, to put up a statue outside and sell some souvenirs, but if left to their own town name some unlucky airports just sound a bit silly in someone else's language. There's a Batman Airport in Turkey Batman Airport for example, a Mafia airport in Tanzania, a Moron airport in Mongolia, an Ogle airport in Guyana, and a Deadhorse Airport in Alaska (USA).

Most airports are just named after the city they serve, like Manchester, Miami, and Mangalore. Or they use a less defined geographical name like the UK's East Midlands Airport or Marseilles-Provence. East Midlands Airport sounds awfully dull no, but it does tell you at least something about where it might be, even if you know just a little of UK geography. In fact it's run jointly by the councils of Derby, Nottingham, and Leicester. I worked there for a time and the coaches that took disembarking passenger from the aircraft to the entrance to passport control and immigration were emblazoned with 'Serving Derby, Nottingham and Leicester'. This led to one family on my shift to climb the steps of the bus and ask for "two adults and two children to Leicester please", forgetting they had yet to leave the airport.

The hot topic while I was there in the mid 80's was how to find a better name for the airport. It was thought dreary and ill-defined, and research showed that few people in the UK knew quite where it was, and even fewer people abroad. So an expensive several-month-long study was commissioned in order to find a better, sexier, more memorable name. I seem to remember that the fee was £80,000. Excitement mounted until the report was published and recommended - wait for it - keeping the name as....'East Midlands Airport'.

At least East Midlands means something. Consider Heathrow and Gatwick; the largest international airport in the world and the busiest single runway airport in the world. You might think they would merit something special from the moniker drawer, but not at all. Supplanting small villages that were there before the runway was laid down, Heathrow just means a row or hedge on a heath - which in the UK means open land left wild rather than a formal park. And a 'wick' in old English is a pen for livestock, and 'gat' is a term for a goat, giving us 'goat pen'. They are as far away from naming after some famous figure as it is possible to get.

All airports have three letter IATA (International Air Transport Association) codes used to designate airports and apart from being somewhat confusing to the layman, these can can raise an smile too. Sure LHR, SIN and SYD are fine, but how about LOL (Derby Field airport in Nevada, USA), OMG (Omega Airport, Namibia), and SUX (Sioux City, Iowa, USA).

Incidentally if you want to know how your local airport got its name take a look at Airport Codes, which lists all of the IATA three letter codes and gives a brief explanation of where its full name came from.

In an age of irreverence for politicians, and indeed the elite in general, it's hard to imagine new airports being named after famous people. That said, with nationalism on the rise it isn't entirely beyond the imagination to envisage populist people rallying for a change. Heathrow to become the Sir Winston Churchill International perhaps?

***

For more information on Madeira see Visit Madeira


 
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