Opinion: Planes, strain and automobiles

EasyJet is among the airlines to have axed routes from Robin Hood in recent years. Picture: Liz Mockler D6244LM

EasyJet is among the airlines to have axed routes from Robin Hood in recent years. Picture: Liz Mockler D6244LM

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If there’s a worse way to spend a Friday night than stuck in an airport departure lounge waiting to fly home, I’ve yet to encounter it.

Booked on the last flight of the evening out of Shannon Airport, in the west of Ireland - a study in faded glory that isn’t particularly busy at the best of times - I was already bemoaning my lot before the announcement that my flight was delayed for an hour.

Once, John F Kennedy landed at Shannon in Air Force One. Now his portrait watches over a cavernous, yellowing departure lounge built for ten times the number of people who pass through these days.

To make matters worse, the practically-deserted bar was generously stocked with Guinness - which really does taste better over there - but I couldn’t drink it because I had a 150-mile drive back to Donny to look forward to once I’d landed at Stansted.

As I finally trudged through my front door at gone 2am, I began to wonder if I’d just imagined that there was an international airport on my own doorstep.

Passenger numbers at Robin Hood Airport have been steadily declining ever since their early peak in 2007, when over a million people used the airport. Last year that was down to under 700,000.

This isn’t down to a lack of people wanting to fly. I’d always prefer to fly from Finningley given the choice, as would most Doncastrians I know. But the routes just aren’t there.

Take my Irish odyssey. In 2010, flights to Dublin through Aer Lingus were one of Robin Hood’s star attractions - but the route was dropped after less than a year.

In 2008, my wife and I were looking forward to making history, booked on the first direct flight from Doncaster to New York City. That one was axed months before it ever took off.

Other places you used to be able to fly to from Finningley include Barcelona, Prague, Amsterdam and Orlando.

When we have been able to fly from Doncaster, the experience has been first-rate.

But Shannon - a once-thriving ‘ghost airport’ whose 147 departure gates now serve just 20-odd flights a day - provides a reminder that just having a great facility isn’t enough.

Virtually every voice you hear on a plane into or out of Robin Hood has a South Yorkshire accent, and that’s the problem.

The airport needs to attract passengers from far and wide to make flights commercially viable for airlines.

But the long delay to the FARRRS link road scheme, which will link the terminal to the M18, means there is no clear and easy route into the airport from outside the borough.

Hopefully now that work is finally underway on the road, Robin Hood will be able to take off once again.