Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The joys of airport parking in the south of France

An unlikely title I know.

A friend has just invited me to her flat-warming party in Edinburgh in January 2011. After a divorce and a few testing years, she's just started living with her much-loved new boyfriend in a wonderful new flat they've rented overlooking the Firth of Forth.

Hmm. Leave Provence, which is cold enough in January, for Scotland - which will be freezing? I weighed the pros and cons. I'd certainly like to celebrate with them. I'd quite like to visit Scotland again as I lived there for 20 mostly very happy years. On the other hand, travelling can be a pain. Airports, security, delays...

However, the pros beat the cons so I'll look for a flight to book today.

One of the things I won't have to worry about is airport parking. I'm based near Avignon and can fly from Avignon airport, Marseille or Nimes. Even Nice airport is fairly reachable when necessary, though it's a three hour drive.

In all the years I've flown back and forth from these 4 airports I've never had to worry about leaving the car at the airport (touch wood.)

Nimes and Avignon are tiny airports with very few flights per day. You can just breeze up and find a car parking space any time, which is great. At Nimes there's an underground storey and a 'first floor'. The top parking level is open and even when the 'basement' is pretty full, there's always plenty of space on the level above.

The carpark at Avignon airport, as at Nimes, is right outside the small airport building. I like both airports because they're so easily negotiated. You walk in half a minute from your car to check-in and you walk across the tarmac to your plane in half a minute too. So much nicer than the mammoth airports like JFK, Heathrow or Schipol in Amsterdam where you can walk for miles to get to your flight.

Parking charges are reasonable too. The last time I used Avignon it was, I think, around 4 euros a day. Nimes was the same. If you're picking someone up, you get 40 minutes free parking which is civilised, as it should be. And you don't have to pre-book a space, giving your life history, in order to park when you take a flight.

Marseille is a larger airport. Marseille is France's second city - after the beautiful capital, Paris, naturally - and serves destinations in Europe, north Africa and beyond. The parking is still very reasonable and, again, the numerous large car parks are in easy walking distance of check-in or Arrivals.

Last January I went to Amsterdam from Marseille. The return flight got in after midnight and I was horrified to find my car wouldn't start. It wasn't very cold but it was very dark and I was an hour away from home in an almost deserted airport carpark. (The car was a Peugeot. To be fair, it was the only time in four years I had a problem with it.) Having not the slightest idea what to do, and not even sure if my car lease deal had breakdown cover, I wondered over to the intercom at the pay station and pressed the button hopeful I'd be able to speak to a human. Yep. Even after midnight, someone was there on duty. (I love France.) I started to explain that my car wouldn't start and I'd have to call a breakdown service and asked if I'd have to pay if the car was stuck in the carpark all night and the next day?

"No problem" he said cheerily. In French, obviously. It just sounds like a flat battery. Happens all the time. I'll come out with the leads and I'll get the car going for you." (I love men.)

Two minutes later he raced up in his van, had a chit-chat, opened the bonnet, did something technical with leads and the battery, and the car started. I was so pleased I gave him a huge hug which I think startled him. He said re-starting cars with flat batteries was "all in the service." To me it was heroic, frankly.

He drove off back to the airport terminal and I went to the caisse to pay for my few days' parking.

Like Nimes, Avignon and Nice, Marseille airport's pretty reasonably-priced but I thought it was darned good, as I paid my euros, that - however they set the prices at Marseille - they build a basic breakdown service into the cost. Even at New Year, even in the cold, even after midnight.