1. Get lounge access, without a business-class ticket
Escape Lounge, Manchester Airport
Lounges offer an oasis of calm amidst the frenetic swirl of an airport, and they’re not the exclusive preserve of premium-ticket travellers. For a £20-40 one-off fee you can buy access to several – and write off most of the cost against your savings on drinks and snacks, which are usually free.
Pay-per-visit lounges include Aspire Lounges at airports including Heathrow, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, or the No 1 Lounges at Edinburgh and Gatwick – where benefits include private resting areas, showers and beauty treatments. Visit the website of your nearest airport to find out what’s on offer.
Alternatively, buy cut-price lounge access by downloading the nifty LoungeBuddy app, which lets you browse and book hundreds of lounges on the day or up to two months in advance. Or you can give the gift of lounge access this Christmas in the form of vouchers for No 1 Lounges, with the added bonus of premium security access (see below).
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2. Sidestep the security queues
Economy travellers can give themselves a mini upgrade by investing in premium security access, which lets you whizz through a priority lane and bypass the long wait for security. It can now be purchased at many UK airports, including Manchester, Stansted, Luton and Newcastle, for £3 to £5. Because who wants to start off their holiday standing in a queue with their shoes off?
3. Eat – and drink – like a king
RubyBlue Potato Vodkas and Liqueurs
Heathrow, the UK’s biggest transport hub, is the highest flier when it comes to airside food, with opulent offerings in the form of The Perfectionists’ Café by Heston Blumenthal at Terminal 2, and Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food at Terminal 5. Pre-order with the Grab app to make your dining experience go without a hitch when you’re pressed for time.
Meanwhile, in 2015, Belfast International became the first to set up an airport farmers’ market, supporting Northern Irish producers by selling handmade food and drink such as Hughes Craft Distillery’s RubyBlue fruit liqueurs and potato vodkas, and Kearney Blue cheese by Farmview Dairies.
Hip London coffee and cocktail chain Grind has also recently announced its plans to launch a series of café bars in airports across the UK and Europe, so keep your smartphone on standby for some ‘grammable latte art.
4. Buy a gastronomic picnic for the plane
The Fortnum & Mason Hamperling. Photo: © Heathrow Airport
You’re either one of those people who adores airline food and its tiny compartmentalised trays, or you’re most definitely not. If you fall into the latter category, you can still dine like a king with a Fortnum & Mason “hamperling” (think smoked-salmon salad with capers and rye bread – cutlery included – for £15) at Heathrow Terminal 5. Meanwhile, Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food offers a “Grab and Go” option, so you can gleefully tuck into a butter-chicken curry hot pot with saffron rice (£10) at 40,000 feet.
Nowhere else can quite match T5’s slick flight-friendly picnics, but many airports in the Highlands and Islands Group (including Barra, Dundee, Inverness, Islay and Tiree) steer clear of the usual chains and have independent outlets packed with fresh, local produce. At Wick John O’Groats’ Airport Café, everything is made from scratch and passengers can treat themselves to a hot bacon sandwich or a homemade sausage roll to take on board an early morning flight.
5. Get some smart shuteye
Staying in an airport hotel doesn’t have to equal bland mega-chains. Even if you just need a few hours to relax and refresh, hi-tech micro-hotel Yotel in Gatwick’s South Terminal and Heathrow Terminal 4 was inspired by super-compact Japanese pod hotels and has been designed to remove the stress of early departures and long layovers, with super-speed WiFi, soundproofing and blackout blinds (from £37 for four hours). No 1 Lounges also offer stylish pod bedrooms with ensuite showers at Heathrow Terminal 3, starting at £20 an hour.
Pods not your thing? Look beyond the immediate area surrounding the airport for a spot of luxury. The meticulously restored vintage charm of the new Pilgrm hotel in Paddington (from £110) is a mere 15-minute Heathrow Express ride away from Heathrow, or the elegant Dakota Deluxe in Leeds (from £125) is on the right side of town for a 30-minute drive to Leeds Bradford.
Yotel Family Cabin
6. Enjoy a luggage-free transfer
One of the least glamorous aspects of air travel is lugging your luggage. Lug no more: the genius AirPortr is a baggage check-in and delivery service that picks up your bags from your home or hotel and whisks them to Gatwick or Heathrow airports – and vice versa – allowing you a hassle-free transfer, particularly if it involves public transport.
7. Effortlessly navigate airport parking
Ever wasted hours searching for your hatchback in the endless sea of cars? A real transfer transformer is Looking4.com’s Meet & Greet, in which a driver meets you at the terminal entrance, collects and parks your car, then later returns it to the terminal when you land. It’s available at most UK airports including Birmingham, Bristol, Doncaster, East Midlands, Exeter, Liverpool and Newcastle (prices vary, but they start from around £45 at Doncaster). Who needs a chauffeur?
8. Entertain yourself during delays
While we’re yet to open an airport cinema in the UK – Hong Kong wins with its 250-seater IMAX – or indeed anything to rival Singapore Changi Airport’s stunning rooftop pool, there’s a growing range of activities to keep you occupied should your flight be delayed. While you can relax with a manicure or massage at Cloud Spas in Manchester, Birmingham or East Midland airports, Heathrow comes out on top with its landside T5 art gallery, open 365 days a year; a Bradley Smith barbers; and its Be Relax spas. You can even flex your plastic with a spot of personal shopping, which you can collect on your return to the airport or have delivered to your home.
No1 Lounge, Gatwick Airport
Prices correct at the time of publication (December 2017).