It might seem a little counter-intuitive for a travel company to talk about the difficulties of travelling, but you've been to an airport recently, right? No-one in their right mind could claim that the airport experience is a particularly pleasant one, what with convoluted security checks (yes, we know they're important) and the airports themselves determined to squeeze every last penny out of their customers with supermarket style marketing tactics and intentionally limited seating so you are forced to shop.
What we can do is collate our collective travel experience into a thoughtful list of 'do's' and 'don't even think about it's' that should make the airport/flight part of the holiday as pleasant as the holiday itself. OK, OK, maybe not that nice, but considerably better than before.
1. Valet Parking
The classic scene from 80s/90s Hollywood movies sees our hero throw his keys to the valet who dutifully parks the car, or - in the case of Ferris Bueller's Day Off - goes for the mother of all joy rides. Nowadays you can relive those glory days - without the risk of some reprobate razzing your Ferrari - by using one of a number of slick valet parking or meet & greet services at UK airports (even Norwich). We're particularly partial to Purple Parking, who can arrange for your car to be taken off your hands right outside the terminal building and returned to the same spot when you come through customs (even cleaned spotlessly if you pay a bit extra). All this for a small amount more than you'd have paid for long term car parking or a return cab fare from central London. Assuming you're not flying from Newcastle; that cab might cost a little more, obvs.
2. Wheel or No Wheel
Some airports have got so big you have to walk a marathon of miles to reach your gate. Make sure you travel light, or have a bag on wheels. It's OK, chaps - the macho social stigma of a pull bag has long since gone the way of wearing a helmet on the ski slopes; embrace the wheel - your shoulders will love you for it.
3. Go Hand Luggage Only
On the same theme, yes it IS possible to travel hand luggage only, Mrs Barber. We're going for two nights, you don't need 78 changes of clothing. Besides, airlines are increasingly rewarding passengers who travel light with better prices. Icing on the cake? You avoid the dreaded 'will they or won't they be there?' moment as the baggage carousel starts up at your destination as you slip serenely from the airport into your waiting cab/bus/limo/train.
4. Book an Airport Lounge
You don't have to spend four figures on club class flights to enjoy the space and calm of a dedicated lounge. Thanks to those clever types at Lounge Pass, you can spend as little as £13.50 for access to one of their 300 VIP lounges in airports across 70 countries. Enjoy a drink or snack, read the papers or just watch TV, but remember not to get so used to luxury that you turn left on the plane. Being turfed out of club class could be embarrassing. The good news is that we get discounted rates with Lounge Pass, so ask for a quote when you enquire with Original Travel.
5. Be a Canny Queuer
Psychologists are a busy bunch, coming up with endless observations and explanations for the human condition; sometimes even stuff that's relevant to day to day existence. Exhibit A? The psychology of queuing - something we Brits have a laudable six sense for, fortunately. That's not to say, though, that there isn't always room for improvement, so here are some top tips to pick the right queue at security. Needless to say it's best to avoid the lines containing harassed looking parents who will inevitably - despite their best intentions - faff for Britain as they decant metal items, children and the last vestiges of serenity and calm into the plastic bins. Likewise it might help to choose the left-hand queue of two, since we instinctively head right. Who knew? Those self-same psychologists presumably, but now you too, so make use of this critical information.
6. Stay at an Airport Hotel the night before
If you have a horrendously early flight it can pay to stay the night before in an airport hotel. As an excellent example, Easyjet Gatwick can take a bow for the clever initiative that means that if your flight leaves before 8.30am you can check your bags in between eight and midnight the night before and then enjoy a leisurely night at the Sofitel London Gatwick (at the North Terminal) or the Hilton London Gatwick (at the South Terminal). The Ritz they ain't, but it's better than your alarm clock going off at a time beginning with a four.
7. Avoid High Days and Holidays (and Half Terms)
Fairly obvious, this one, but unless you absolutely have to travel during school holidays (ie: you are in possession of some semi-house trained children who are climbing up the walls at home) avoid, avoid, avoid. If you are burdened with a brood, you could always consider sending them as unaccompanied minors on a separate flight from you and your spouse. Did I write that out loud?
8. Sharky & George to the Rescue!
On the subject of kids, have we mentioned our lovely partnership with Sharky & George, the muchloved children's party people? Probably, but if you'll indulge us for a minute here's the key consideration: we send you, the parent, and them, the children, a super user-friendly e-questionnaire asking for information on their likes and loathes, their personalities and any info that helps Sharky & George understand them better. Sharky &George then create individually tailor-made goodie bags full of fun goodies and games designed to keep the little ones entertained and engaged in those potential flashpoints such as the airport waiting lounge, the flight itself or the transfer to your eventual destination. We're extremely keen to add an educational element to the proceedings, so expect an informative quiz on the country in question and other fun facts on the region that will hopefully bring out your child's inner geography nerd. Thoughtful, no?
9. Chuck Money at the Problem
Terribly vulgar, we know, but some judiciously aimed readies can really ease the airport pain, be that, at one (very) extreme, shelling out for a private jet, through the slightly more realistic club class flights to enjoy fast track lanes and comfort on board, or the much more affordable option - buying speedy boarding or equivalent tickets on the euphemistically named 'low cost' airlines. In our humble opinion any expense would be worth avoiding the mass brawl that develops in the adjoining queue to speedy boarding about an hour before take-off. Sorry if that all sounds a bit Lord Grantham.
10. Dull the pain
Another minimal(ish) cost ploy - retire to the nearest Caviar House & Prunier bar (where applicable), order some Balik smoked salmon and a carafe of Chablis and dull your senses to the whole palaver of being a modern day flyer.
11. Avoid – if at all possible – transiting through the USA
The scene: Miami Airport. The Protagonists: An Officious US immigration officer and yours truly. Officious US immigration officer: 'Why do you travel to the Middle East so often, sir?' Me: 'because I own a travel company that sells the Middle East, so I go there on research trips.' Officious US immigration officer: 'Come with me, please, sir.' Me: 'Why? I'm not even travelling to the US. I'm in transit on to Costa Rica.' Cue two hours of charm-free questioning and an onward flight caught by a matter of minutes. Tedium.