Have a happy, hassle free festive flight
AH, CHRISTMAS – ‘tis the season to travel far and wide and catch up with family and friends across the globe. Unlike Santa on his sleigh, we are forced to take more regular modes of transport and, for many of us, the worst part of travelling is getting through the airport – more so now than ever before, given the problems caused by extra security.
Long check-in times, queues and walks to the plane combine with over-priced parking, expensive hotels and noisy, overcrowded waiting areas to make Christmas travel a potentially miserable experience.
But it doesn’t have to be like that, particularly if you’re planning a trip back to the UK.
Here at PDM we know that there are several companies – including the airport operators themselves – which offer good deals on services, such as parking, rail link fares and access to executive lounges. If you know how to make the most of the technology, there are also ways to make checking-in much quicker and to ensure you get a decent seat on the plane.
Like most things in life, you will nearly always save money if you book your parking in advance. For example, two weeks in December at the Gatwick South long-stay car park booked through the BAA website, is currently on offer at almost half price compared to the rate you would pay at the gate.
However, be aware that you might not always want to go for the cheapest price – convenience is sometimes more important. Car parks, such as the mid-term at Stansted or the Pink Elephant for Heathrow terminals One, Two and Three are much nearer the terminals than others. Of course this means that they have more expensive gate rates, but if you book in advance they can be quite reasonable.
For special occasions, you might also want to consider valet parking – a service whereby a driver collects your car when you pull up at the terminal and returns it to you as you walk out of arrivals. If booked in advance, this can also be reasonably affordable, and certainly makes travelling more of an occasion and less of a grind.
Booking ahead can also save you money if you are able to get to your chosen airport by rail, rather than by car, ABC was quoting 50 per cent reductions from London Victoria for two adults on the Gatwick Express this month (www.gatwickexpress.com). You can also buy advance rail link tickets on most easyJet flights for a lower rate than you’ll get at the station.
To really enjoy that last half-an-hour in bed before an early morning flight, why not consider a night in a hotel. It might seem expensive, but most airport hotels offer deals that include parking – usually in the hotel’s own car park. However, as with parking, price may not be everything. Think too about the location.
Many airports – including Heathrow – have no hotels within walking distance of the terminals. This means you have the extra hassle of having to wait for a shuttle bus, or call a taxi, to get you to the airport.
The Radisson SAS at Stansted, the Sofitel at Gatwick North and the Hilton at Manchester airport are all adjacent to the terminals and allow you to set your alarm at least half-an-hour later than you would have to if you came by shuttle bus.
Forget the traditional Christmas pastime of queuing to check in for hours this year – online check-in is starting to make a big difference to savvy travellers. British Airways led the way with a system that allows you to log on to its website, choose your seat, check-in and print out your boarding card up to 24 hours before departure. At the airport you then take your luggage straight to the ‘fast bag drop’ desk and go through security. Alternatively, you can use automatic check-in machines at the airport, which also cuts out the queue.
Other airlines, such as KLM, now offer a similar service, though not necessarily at all airports. Meanwhile, online check in with easyJet and Ryanair applies only to passengers travelling without hold luggage. The cost ranges from 2.50 to 7.50 pounds sterling depending on the length of the flight. Bmibaby is the latest to charge for checking in luggage: 2.50 pounds sterling online or five pounds sterling at check-in.
A sure-fire way to speed your progress through airports is to travel only with hand baggage, although security restrictions can make this difficult. If you can afford it, First Luggage (08452 700 670), will pick up your luggage from your UK address two or three days before you leave and deliver it to your destination ready for your arrival. It costs from about 60 pounds sterling one-way in Europe for an average suitcase.
Book a lounge
Finally, even if you are not travelling in business class, you can escape the crowds in the waiting areas by going into an airport executive lounge. As well as peace and quiet, you normally get free soft drinks, snacks, newspapers and free internet access. Entrance (for up to three hours) usually costs 30 and 40 euros per person. You can sometimes just pay on the door, but it’s best to book in case the lounge is full.
At Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, the airport operator BAA (+ 44 (0)870 850 2825, www.baa.com) offers most services, while the following agents also cover BAA and most other airports:
• APH: 0870 733 0809, www.aph.com.
• BCP: + 44 (0) 870 013 4600, www.parkbcp.co.uk.
• Holidayextras: + 44 (0) 870 844 2677, www.holidayextras.co.uk.
For parking, try also Purple Parking: + 44 (0) 208 813 8130, www.purpleparking.com and, for valet parking, CPS: +44 (0)188 334 0089, www.parkwithcps.com at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and also Newcastle.
Finally, many tour operators offer deals on airport services – just look in the back of the holiday brochure, or ask us.
Happy stress-free travelling!