ALTHOUGH they might seem like the mini-cities that never sleep, airports do in fact often close for the night, especially those which are not huge inter-continental terminals – something that can cause logistical problems for airlines and passengers alike.
Five years ago, travellers on a Valencia-Stansted flight which was delayed reacted in horror when their captain announced they were due to land in Luton shortly – and it was not a slip of the tongue on his part; London Stansted closed at midnight, and landing was going to miss the deadline by minutes, meaning tired passengers had to travel by coach from Luton, Bedfordshire to their original destination in Essex.
A similar problem has cropped up with a regular Ryanair route between Barcelona and Santander (Cantabria) – the hour-long flight leaves Spain’s second-largest city at 06.10 in the morning but has to spend 20 minutes circling round in the sky before Santander airport opens at 07.30.
Landing on time is impossible because there is nobody in air-traffic control, nor ground staff, at 07.10.
The Irish-based airline has tried hard to cut its carbon footprint over Cantabria – four days ago, according to the Parayas Association on Twitter, the pilot opted to slow the plane speed from its usual 690 kilometres per hour (429mph) to 620 kilometres per hour (385mph), meaning he only had to circle the region once before landing at 07.31.
A poor environmental example…but is it still ‘cleaner’ than driving?
As well as scuppering Ryanair’s chances of playing its ‘on-time flight’ jingle upon landing, the constant circling means it consumes another thousand litres of kerosene and spits out over two tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – a situation that would make Greta Thunberg see red.
One could argue that this is still less in emissions than if all the passengers on board were to drive from Barcelona to Santander – most recent figures, from 2015, show that the average newly-registered car churns out 122.1 grams of CO2 per kilometre, or 0.09 tonnes for the 709-kilometre journey from Barcelona to Santander, which means all 200 passengers on a typical Ryanair flight would generate 17.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions if they drove between the two cities instead.
So even the two tonnes dumped over Santander in addition to Ryanair’s reported 67 grams of CO2 per kilometre – 0.05 of a tonne for the 709 kilometres of the hour-long journey – is around eight times less than the emissions would be if everyone made the journey by road instead.
Or, taking the fact that 20 minutes of circling produces two tonnes of carbon dioxide to mean that this in addition to the hour-long flight creates eight tonnes of emissions, this is still less than half the car journey, or about half a tonne less than if all 200 passengers travelled two to a car.
The debate over whether air travel is really more conducive to climate change than other forms of transport has not truly started as yet, but with Greta’s very public boycott of planes due to their emissions levels – and Spanish authorities’ have pointed out to her that there is no real feasible alternative for journeys of 1,500 kilometres or more – it is very likely this will become a hot topic in 2020.
However, some of the environmental problems with Ryanair’s being unable to land until 20 minutes after arrival is that these two tonnes of CO2 are all pumped outright over the heads of the 172,044 people living in one small city.
Santander is not one of Spain’s air-pollution hotspots, but urban areas, in general, tend to suffer from less-clean air than is healthy, meaning the airport’s not opening until 07.30 could be increasing this risk for residents – and it is a well-documented fact that one person per 1,000 on earth dies every year as a direct result of air pollution, which is as harmful to human health as smoking over a packet of cigarettes a day.
The Parayas Airport Association looked into whether the issue was just poor planning on Ryanair’s part, and found out that the airline’s tight schedule made it hard to coincide with Santander airport opening times.
After making the return flight between Santander and Barcelona and back again, the same aircraft then takes off for Milan-Bergamo, heads back to Barcelona with a planeful of passengers, fills up with travellers bound for the Castilla y León city of Valladolid, transports another 200 from Valladolid to Barcelona, and then operates its final return flight of the day, to Sevilla and back.
As a result, putting back take-off time from Barcelona until 06.35 to give the flight a clear five minutes after opening time to land could involve rescheduling an additional seven flights a day.
Although one could also argue that these seven flights are already delayed before the day even starts, due to the 20-minute wait to land in Cantabria.
Even if you have to wait 20 minutes to land, this is why you should fly to Santander
Ryanair’s Santander routes are particularly popular since this is one of only six airlines serving the single-terminal airport, along with Vueling, Wizzair, Volotea, Iberia, and the regional connection Air Nostrum.
With flights of little over an hour from practically anywhere on the mainland and around two hours from most UK airports, Santander is quick and easy to visit – and an essential bucket-list destination.
If you thought Spain was all about sipping sangría on palm-fringed beaches, Santander – and Cantabria as a whole – will change your view: popular with the English aristocracy in the 19th century for relaxing winter breaks in a better climate, the influence of Victorian architecture in seafront properties is very prominent; in fact, many British visitors have compared it favourably with the equally-fashionable Victorian seaside resort city of Brighton on the UK’s southern coast.
Spectacular views from the lighthouse, excellent shopping and a compact city centre make Santander ‘manageable’ and pleasant for what is termed ‘urban tourism’, and it is easy to find organised trips to the region’s highlights.
These include Cabárceno Park, a massive safari complex in an eerily-prehistoric Steppe-like landscape where animals have so much open space and such little human interference that they are unlikely to notice they are not out in the wild; the Altamira caves – if you can get in; Picos de Europa mountains, where the view from the top, reached by cable car, is breathtaking; pretty, ornamental-looking villages and towns that time forgot, including Santillana del Mar, Comillas – with its Gaudí-designed green-and-red restaurant, and the ‘hanging village’ of Potes, sliced in two by a river.
Stunning, emerald-green countryside and wood-finished chalets reminiscent of central France, a bracing nip in the air in winter and a sunny, mild climate in summer and September, cattle grazing, rolling hills, dramatic cliffs, idyllic beaches – English-style, but with more sun and without the pebbles – some of the best surfing waves north of Madrid, and delectable food make Cantabria an essential entry on anyone’s Spain travel list.
Bean stews known as fabadas, white bonito tuna, sticky spongey sobaos, egg-custard Quesada tarts and sweet, thickly-iced pastry strips known as corbatas are among the delectable fare that Cantabria’s most famous living sporting native, Olympic high-jumper Ruth Beitia, takes with her on every international journey so as not to have to abstain from them even for a few days.
Cantabria’s even more famous sporting native – although sadly, not now living – is world-class golfer Severiano Ballesteros, who has designed top courses in Spain including the prestigious 18-hole green at Oliva Nova (southern Valencia province).
Santander’s Parayas airport was renamed as the Aeropuerto Seve Ballesteros after his death in May 2011.