Rebecca Armstrong: Airport retail overload is not everyone's idea of fun

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The Independent Online

I'm off on a belated summer break which will involve a trip to the airport. These transport hubs (or hells on earth, depending on whether you work in BAA's marketing department or not) do rather neatly tend to split the spendthrifts from the penny pinchers.

Of course, airports would rather that we lost our inhibitions at the automatic doors and see waiting to fly as another shopping opportunity. Gatwick has just announced its first head of retail, a role that will be performed by Spencer Sheen, a high-flying one-time Marks and Spencer executive. Sheen is "keen to create the very best shopping environment for our passengers". I should give him a call with my own top shopping idea – ditch the pathetic duty-free cupboards at arrivals that weary travellers have to trog past after the baggage carousel and instead set up vending machines for milk, bread and loo roll, the only things anyone wants to buy once they've landed. But I'm guessing he's more interested in cramming more high-street brands into the 250,000 square feet of retail space at Gatwick.

In my family, I have experienced both approaches to airport spending. My father, a regular business traveller, has the whole Up In The Air time-motion efficiencies down pat. He knows the right car park to pick for the cheapest stay, how to whisk his two youngest children through departures before they can attempt a last-ditch dash for Claire's Accessories or WH Smith. Ideally, a well-timed (and free!) breakfast has already been eaten at home to prevent Frankie & Benny's from parting him fromhis cash.

My husband, on the other hand, sees any holiday as starting from the second he crosses Gatwick's threshold. There are always more adapters to be bought, Bloody Marys to be sunk, gadgets to acquire and magazines to stock up on. Obviously his way is 100 per cent more fun, but it also means the holiday money does take a bit of a bashing before take-off. However, it also highlights another difference – the airport late-comers ("why waste time – and money – before we fly?") and those who like to arrive nice and early (to buy more things).

The beloved and I have never missed a flight yet, and can usually be spotted at the gate relaxed, if light of wallet and heavy of hand luggage. I've lost count of the family holidays, however, that involve white-knuckle runs along travellators and through crowded halls. My dad does save a fortune when he flies – but he might yet give me a heart attack.