One of the many things to recommend airports to modern civilization is that they are like gigantic corner shops. The sort of places you may be lucky enough to have near your doorstep that are open all the time – even on Christmas Day – when you have run out of batteries, milk or tooth picks and have a desperate need to buy goods and services.
Airports are just like that except on a gigantic scale. Where else in the world can you get a dry martini at six in the morning or bacon and eggs in the middle of the night? Or hire a car, change money, buy some perfume or simply re-charge your phone? All this and you can literally leap off the continental shelf to escape boredom, creditors or your nearest-and-not-so dearest by simply putting as many air miles between you and them as quickly as possible. It is not called critical national infrastructure for nothing.
Insider was sharply reminded of these virtues this summer just gone on a business trip to Cuba. This communist state is starting to open itself up to more varied forms of tourism, but its closed currency, poor roads and limited internal transport infrastructure means that most visitors still stay in the major resorts on all-inclusive package deals.
I tagged on an extra few days at the end of my business trip to explore the place but somehow ended up, without a hire car, on a blighted archipelago with one road in and one road out but no taxis, trains or buses and an ATM that hadn’t worked since the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Needing to leave fast I noticed that there was a small and fairly new-looking airport at the end of the island and used my last cash reserves to persuade a local driver to take me there. There was a terminal building, a control tower and a runway with a pink windsock fluttering in the sea breeze. But not a single plane, baggage truck or disembarking passenger. Pressing my nose against the glass frontage of the terminal it became clear that this too was bereft of any human life or activity. I turned to the driver and asked in schoolboy Spanish if it was closed. He simply shrugged his shoulders. So what happened to this vital getaway terminus? Nobody had a clue.
Here in Europe, of course, we have similar places with more familiar back stories.
Ciudad Real airport, south of Madrid, for example has not opened its doors to a single commercial flight since it went bankrupt in 2012.
At one stage it looked like the site would be bought at auction for a paltry €10,000 (£7,000) offer – 100,000 times less than it cost to build.
The bid was disqualified by a Spanish Court for being too low. The airport was finally sold in a Court Action on April 17, 2016 and there are now moves to have the Airport’s license fully reinstated.
Controversy had surrounded the airport since before its completion, when local authorities announced it would be known as “Madrid South airport” despite being 125 miles from the Spanish capital.
Initially, Ryanair was the only carrier to use it, before abandoning the facility. The regional government then subsidised three flights a week by low-budget airline Vueling before it too pulled out.
Insider sincerely hopes that Spain’s ghost airport reopens for business soon. Because some poor soul without, cash, batteries or tooth picks is going to find themselves there needing to leave town in a hurry.