Monday, August 28, 2006
As a small industrialised country on the periphery of Europe, as a trading nation with an established tourist industry, and with a long history of emigration creating a worldwide community, one might imagine the Scottish international transport network would be highly developed.
Geographically we lie on an intercontinental crossroads between North America and Europe. On a clear day, the sky is criss crossed with vapour trails from jets cruising overhead at 35,000 feet as they arrow west and east across the Atlantic.
Yet precious few of them descend into the three central Scottish airports - Prestwick, Glasgow, and Edinburgh - that serve the majority of the population.
It was not always so. There was a time Scotland was well served by a combination of US and UK operators, before changing economic conditions and political influences triggered a retreat from the Scottish market.
The UK flag carrier, the oh so inappropriately named British Airways, now flies almost exclusively from it's London hubs, meaning any trip to the USA on BA involves a 90 minute journey south, only to retrace the steps a few hours later on one of those jets we see soaring above us.
Similarly trips eastwards to the Middle East, Asia, and beyond almost all commence with a short hop to Amsterdam, Heathrow, Frankfurt, or Paris to connect with the services of another flag carrier.
Over recent years, the situation has gradually improved.
The European short haul market has been subjected to an earthquake over the last few years by the explosion of low cost airlines.
These airlines predominantly focus on point-to-point routes, which removes the dependency on hubs.
The biggest source of new routes has been Ryanair, flying from their base at Prestwick to a wide array of European airports. The Ryanair model favours secondary airports of varying utility - some being somewhat remote, whilst others are better located than Ryanair critics would have you believe.
Mrs Div and I made use of a Ryanair flight to Bergamo airport to facilitate a very nice weekend spent in Milan and the Italian lakes.
The other mega player in the European budget airline market is EasyJet - whose inaugural flight was to Glasgow. Since then, their rate of expansion in Scotland has been disappointing - though recently they have begun to enhance their range of European destinations from Glasgow.
EasyJet tends to give good domestic coverage, but there is scope for a lot more to come if they so desire.
The long haul market has not been so affected by the boom in budget travel.
On the positive side, a new service direct from Atlanta to Edinburgh was recently launched by Delta Airlines, and Continental Airlines have been expanding their flights direct from New York to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
On the negative side, American Airlines recently announced they were dropping their summer service direct from Chicago to Glasgow - another route which Mrs Div and I have used previously.
With that mixed picture of the long haul market, what a pleasant surprise it has been to discover innovation coming from a Scottish company - Flyglobespan - who are introducing a low cost ethos to longhaul routes.
Flyglobespan have not only been building up a network of European routes - primarily to holiday destinations - but have now introduced long haul scheduled services.
Their initial route from Glasgow to Orlando now gives Scottish and US travellers a direct scheduled flight from Florida to Scotland.
Next on the agenda is a direct scheduled flight from Boston to Glasgow - and rumours abound of a possible code-share with a US carrier to offer connections from Boston. JetBlue perhaps?
Obviously all good news for anyone wanting to travel between Scotland and the USA, and I'm all for seeing Scottish companies do well - especially when it boosts the broader economy - but why should I be getting so excited?
With a young baby, unfortunately the Div family travel options for the next few years are likely to be restricted.
Restricted, but not eliminated. Mrs Div is off to New York with her sister in a few weeks, for a long weekend - courtesy of those direct Continental flights from Glasgow to Newark.
My travel plans are less certain, but Flyglobespan have recently announced a very tempting new option - direct scheduled flights from Glasgow to Las Vegas!
Yes, the entertainment capital of the world is now directly accessible from Las Vegas. I jest!
To be fair, there may be a few Nevadans booking flights eastwards to sample the delights of the Scottish whisky industry, or compare the relative merits of the finely manicured Vegas golf courses with the unruly Scottish links courses.
Realistically, the majority of passengers will be, well, people like me! Heading westwards for some serious gambling, drinking, and maybe a bit of sun. I am SO up for that!
A direct flight might be slightly pricier than the cheapest connection options, but if I've got the chance to stagger onto a plane at McCarran, and not stir until touchdown in Glasgow, then that's got to be money well spent.
That next Vegas trip just took a step closer...