Gatwick’s Image Problem

I have to admit I find landing at Gatwick Airport a miserable experience. There are plenty of reasons to dislike Gatwick but what really depresses me is the almost traditional announcement from the cabin crew welcoming passengers to “London Ga’wick”.

Can you imagine French airline staff mispronouncing the name of a French airport? Listen to a Greek steward or stewardess rapidly enunciate every syllable of Athens Eleftherios Venizelos as a sort of macho challenge to foreign passengers to do better. And no German airline employee would dare mispronounce any German airport name.

The fact that airlines operating at Gatwick tolerate their staff calling it “Ga’wick” is as much a throwback to the lazy, couldn’t-care-less culture of 1960′s Britain as the brutal architecture of the South Terminal and the unlovely railway station. Britain has moved on but Gatwick feels stuck in a rut of mediocrity.

The best chance you have of landing at Gatwick and being welcomed to the airport correctly is if you arrive on a foreign airline.

Sadly, the lack of care starts at the top. Stewart Wingate, the CEO of Gatwick, was interviewed on BBC Breakfast last week. He gave out the usual story that Gatwick is increasing its longhaul flights and is a real rival to Heathrow, carefully ignoring the fact that the growth is actually coming from shorthaul budget flights, and he kept referring to the airport as “Ga’wick”.

No company will let a CEO near a television camera without media training. Whoever trained Mr Wingate clearly neglected to persuade him to pronounce the name of his airport correctly. How can a company have someone as its CEO who does not know there is a “t” in his company’s name? Aviation is an international business. If we do not use English correctly, who will? 

Major airports do not always welcome foreign passengers in the best possible way but most of them at least know what their name is.

Gatwick’s campaign to build a second runway and be treated as an equal of Heathrow is probably doomed to failure anyway but it cannot be taken seriously until customer-facing staff, and its executives, have been taught to pronounce its name correctly.

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