One week to go!
Gatwick airport is my nearest airport, but it’s also known as the ‘tourist’ airport, hosting a lot of EasyJet flights for holiday makers off to enjoy some summer sun. As such, it’s extremely busy in the summer months.
I haven’t flown from here in a long time, but I used to use it for business travel many years ago. It’s interesting to see how it’s changed in all that time.
The first thing that has changed is the cost of parking. Years ago it was less than £50 to park your car for a couple of weeks. Now it’s more like £150 and that’s before you factor in the cost of petrol to get you to the airport. I decided on an alternative route. I took the train and stayed in a hotel the night prior to the flight. Not only does this cost rather a lot less, it’s far less stressful than an early morning run around the M25, which is, rightly, notorious for mucking up travel plans.
After kissing goodbye to my lovely wife and children I caught the train out of our grandly named ‘Ashford International’ station. To be fair, it’s a station which was completely rebuilt to host the Eurostar trains that run to Paris and Brussels, it’s all brushed steel and aluminium nowadays, a far cry from the old concrete monstrosity it used to be before. As stations go it’s quite smart.
The train route to Gatwick is a little convoluted. It takes two hours, with a stop and change at Tonbridge and Redhill. The later part is run by the much maligned ‘Southern’ railway, but they seemed to be on form yesterday. I got to Gatwick on time, with no interruptions or delays.
The train station deposits you at the South Terminal, so you have to take a monorail train to the North Terminal. Technically it’s not a monorail at all, but an “two-way automated people mover”. Everyone calls it the ‘monorail’ though. It’s a great way to transfer as it’s fast and frequent. The automated announcement on board quips that “We’ll be flying at a height of 35 ft and won’t be crossing any time zones.” 😉
Virgin’s check-in desks are on level 2 of the North Terminal, mercifully separate from the EasyJet queues on level 1. I was able to use their ‘Twilight’ check-in, dropping my hold baggage a night earlier. What a brilliant idea this is. There was no queue at all, in fact, I was the only person there, though there were two Virgin desk attendants on duty. A quick check of the documents and my bag was on its way to the plane. Managed to keep the weight within limits it would seem. No comments anyway. 🙂
I’d booked an overnight stay at the Premier Inn. Check in here was highly automated (looks to be very popular with Disney travellers – lots of excited children about) and a bit impersonal. It was efficient though. Room was pleasant enough. Nice to be able to have a shower before bed and one in the morning too.
Monday morning dawned bright and clear.
I’d set the alarm for 6. After a quick shower it was off to the security queues. I wasn’t looking forward to this bit to be honest. Security has been an unpleasant experience at airports ever since the 911 terrorists attacks. I recall flying in the early 90s when we would just turn up to the airport about half an hour before the flight was due to leave… those days are long gone. Nowadays it can take hours to clear security if you’re unlucky with the timing.
I did have an advantage though. Turns out that my Premium Economy seat on Virgin Atlantic gives me access the the Premium security lane. This is really just an separate queue with a posh sign, but it was significantly less busy than the main one. Apparently the process has recently been changed as the press reports in recent months have been horrific. However I was pleasantly surprised to see a pretty slick and efficient operation, with the various choke points (ticket checks, putting your luggage into the x-ray and repacking your bags) turned into separate mini-queues. Someone has clearly spent a bit of time optimising this. It’s still a pain, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I expected. I was through in 20 mins. I’m not complaining!
It was also interesting to see the number of people now using their phones to check in. I’m a bit of dinosaur still, I have all my docs on paper, but I did try the mobile app. It uses VR codes to store your info.
After a quick stop at Boots to buy a toothbrush (so far the only thing I’ve noticed I’ve forgotten) I was in the departure lounge.
This was very busy. There are lots of very early morning flights out, so even at before 7am the place was full. Some folks were already asleep on the chairs and the shops were heaving. Toothbrush safely stored, I fled the scene.
I made my way down towards gates 101-113, not because that’s where my flight was going from, but rather to see the fly bridge that has been built to reach these gates. It’s a reasonable walk, but it’s worth it to see it. It’s called “Pier 6” and is apparently the “largest air passenger bridge in the world”. It’s certainly impressive. It was opened in 2005 and gives access to 11 more gates. The bridge goes over a taxi-way and is high enough that even the biggest aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and the Airbus A380 can taxi underneath it.
Having seen that it was time for breakfast. Another perk of all the business flying that I did years ago was to have enough points to use the No. 1 Lounge at Gatwick. It gets you away from the crowds (mostly) and allows me time to sit down, have a coffee and a bacon sandwich and update the blog. Next stop is the gate itself and then the flight to Las Vegas. I’ll grab some photos throughout and do that one tomorrow. Today is going to be a long day.