By definition, everyone in an airport wishes they were somewhere else. Any visit to one, therefore, should be approached as an exercise in damage control, with two primary aims: minimising the time wasted and hassle endured, and maximising whatever meagre enjoyment might be wrung from the experience. Here’s some advice:
1 Choose wisely
Think small, think local. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, the UK airports with the best record for getting scheduled flights airborne within 15 minutes of advertised departure time are Newcastle, Birmingham and Glasgow, with respective percentages of 79, 77 and 76. The quickest London airport is Stansted, which gets 75% of scheduled flights away on time.
The slowest are Heathrow and, surprisingly, London City, both with 62%. In terms of punctuality, the five most reliable airlines departing British airports are UK domestic carrier Eastern Airways, followed by Air Berlin, BMI Regional, Brussels Airlines, and BMI Baby.
2 Know where to park
The ingenious website www.airport-parking-shop.co.uk will tell you which are the cheapest and closest places to leave your vehicle. On one sample weekend away in September 2008 run through their database, it coughed up options from £28.95 for a spot with a 10-minute transfer at Economy Parking, to Star Parking’s meet and greet service at £55.23, where they meet you on arrival, park your car for you, and have it waiting upon your return.
3 Beat the queues
If you’re checking in to economy, keep half an eye on the dedicated business class counter – if they’re not busy, they may well respond to a winning smile and a polite request to board you. When you reach security, it can be worth trying to charm the custodians of the Fast Track queue – Esquire has often benefited from that fact that, on a slow day, if you’re well-dressed and give the impression you’re unlikely to snarl things up, they may well wave you through.
If you’ve no choice but to join one of the lines, look for the one with the fewest old folk and people under the age of 20 - all of whom are preternaturally incapable of doing anything quickly. On disembarking, don’t amble; instead, walk as fast as you can towards passport control. Not only is it your only chance to make up ground on the other passengers, it’s also good for reinvigorating the circulation.
4 Eat while you wait
The days of imitation pubs and pastries that might have been better employed as chocks on the runways are slowly disappearing. “Nutrition is very important,” counsels James Mitchell, personal trainer at One Aldwych. “When you start eating poor food, you’re draining your defence systems.”
If you’re determined to eat properly, fly from Heathrow Terminal 5, and dine at Gordon Ramsay’s (not unreasonably priced) Plane Food. The governing idea here is that all dishes are delivered within 20 minutes. (The organic salmon ceviche (starter, £8.50) and the gratinated macaroni (main, £12.50) are the absolute quickest.)
5 Keep in shape
“Obviously,” says James Mitchell, “it’s a restricted environment, and you can’t do aerobics in a check-in queue. But don’t sit around doing nothing – keep moving, walk around, window-shop, it’ll make you feel better.” Mitchell also notes that weight-training, of a sort, is built into the experience.
“Unless your bags are really heavy,” he advises, “carry them instead of putting them on trolleys. Just make sure you give any shoulder-bags equal time on both shoulders, or you’ll end up with scoliosis.” Esquire also recommends getting onto the balls of your feet in the check in queue to keep blood pumping and exercise those calf muscles before they spend the next few hours dormant and DVT prone.