One fairly reliable rule of thumb is ‘never buy anything at an airport if you can help it’. Something about the peculiar atmosphere of airports makes people act in strange ways. I used to find myself buying plug adapters simply because they were a slightly different colour from the ones I already had in my bag. Other people seem strangely eager to buy giant Toblerones.-Lufthansa once even asked scientists to investigate why in airport-lounges and on aircraft, people became far more disposed to drink tomato juice than anywhere else.
Finally, and most baffling of all, who the hell buys luggage airside? Buying a suitcase before you go through security might make sense (perhaps your bag has burst on the way to the airport, or you decide you want to repack before you check in). But why are there so many-luggage shops airside? Who uses them? You’ve got rid of your-luggage at the check-in desk, you’ve been through the X-ray machines and you are free at last to wander around unencumbered, and yet your first thought is ‘Ooh, I know, let’s buy a bloody great empty suitcase to carry 3,000 miles back home.’ It’s not quite as crazy as Geneva airport where, after you have been through security, there is a shop selling Swiss Army knives, but it is still a mystery. Luggage is patently the worst part of travelling: why would you want more of it?
Back in the day, there used to be a place in Paddington station where you could check in your bags for various airlines before boarding the Heathrow Express. This was marvellous. You could offload your heavy bags and head off to the Edgware Road for a cheeky shawarma before travelling light to the airport. After 9/11 it closed down to make way for more coffee shops (everything at a railway station eventually transmutes into a coffee shop — it’s a law of physics, like radioactive decay).
Now, 15 years on, there is finally a new service at airportr.com, which will collect your bags from a London home, hotel or office and deliver them to Heathrow, Gatwick or City — and the same in reverse. If you are flying out on BA, they will also check your bags in for you.
At £20–30 plus £10 per additional bag this seemed quite pricy to me, were it not for the fact that, with no luggage, I’d be perfectly happy travelling to the airport on the Underground. It certainly costs less than a taxi to the airport or parking for a few days. And for tourists it might mean an extra day’s sightseeing.
An alternative which is gaining in popularity, especially on short-haul airlines which charge for checked bags, is to ship your luggage from home all the way to your destination. Within a reasonable size limit, two-day shipping to most of mainland Europe (which is sent overland, not by air) costs no more for 20kg than for 2kg: around £18–20. Within the UK you can now send 20kg overnight for £7. If you don’t believe this, try-parcels2go.com or-upstoday.com. These useful websites effectively offer you contract–holders’ rates with large shipping companies, as distinct from the completely bonkers prices such companies will offer you as a simple member of the public.
There is, of course, one further solution to this problem — which is to buy a backpack or rucksack. I always resisted this, having spent the last 30 years despising anyone who wore these things on public transport. Last week, at the age of 50, I finally came to accept that my spine is probably more important than my self-respect.
Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.