Airports are up there with estate agents as one of the Things We Love to Hate. Following the terrorist attack at Glasgow airport in June, ever-tighter security measures and parking restrictions have increased the strain of flying from the UK.
Add to that this summer's freak bad weather and the familiar peak-season complaints of overcrowding and baggage mishandling, and hardly a day goes by without another horror story from Heathrow, Gatwick or the rest.
But business travellers are a remarkably resilient bunch, judging from the many ways they've found to minimise the angst that grips most of us the moment we enter Departures. "In many respects flying has never been so easy," says publisher Roisin Taylor. "With website check-in, e-tickets and boarding passes, and fast-drop desks for the bags, you can be on your way through security in minutes."
Of course, it helps if you're flying business class and have the time to make such arrangements in advance. But even if you're not, there are ways of skipping the queues – or some of them, at least. "I fly economy," says Deirdre Treanor, a freelance designer, "but if I'm using Gatwick I buy a first-class ticket on the train which acts as a fast-track pass through check-in." A first class single from Victoria on the Gatwick Express (0845 850 1530; www.gatwickexpress.com) costs £22.50, Express Class (economy) costs £14.90.
"The simple way of taking the tension out of flying is to give yourself plenty of time. Far more than you really need." That's the advice of Malcolm Thorburn, an oil company executive, who aims to arrive at the airport three hours ahead of departure time, if possible. "That way, I never look at the clock, or get irritated with the delays, because I know I'm going to be OK. But I do always ask how long it's going to take me to walk to the gate. Once, in Singapore, it took me fully 20 minutes, and I nearly missed the plane."
For early morning departures, booking into an airport hotel is widely favoured. "They're not the most atmospheric places in the world," says Roisin Taylor, "but you can get all the hassle out of the way before you go to sleep, including checking in your bags in some places." BA is among several airlines offering this facility at Gatwick North Terminal.
But what happens if everything goes smoothly on the day and your two spare hours become four when the flight's delayed? Retail therapy seems to cure any frayed nerves. "Airports are not the joyless places they used to be, " says management trainer Nicole Wehden. "The shops at the main airports rank with most high streets these days. For me, having time to kill is just a licence to shop."
And eat. Paul Easton, a telecoms manager, is mindful of his waistline: " Too often I kill time by ordering food I don't need. There's a great seafood bar at Stansted, and an Italian place at Gatwick I find hard to resist." Perhaps Britain should follow the example of fitness-conscious America, where a handful of airports have installed gyms for waiting passengers and crew. Jim Gulliford tried one when he was stranded for several hours at Las Vegas. "It was great, and not expensive. You can buy the basics for working out, and they supply the towels for the shower and sauna."
Many business travellers, of course, are able to seek sanctuary in their airline's business or first-class lounge once they've passed through security, but economy class passengers need not be excluded from the peace and quiet, the newspapers and nibbles – and the free drinks. Nick Ashley, an audio-visual manager, says: "I'm amazed more people don't know about them. There's an independently-run travellers' lounge in almost every airport I've been to, and it's usually less than £20 to get in." In fact, 18 UK airports offer this facility, mostly operated by Servisair, and entry charges start at £12. Details are available from Lounge Pass (020-8253 5146; www.loungepass.com).
And if all else fails, there's one last facility offered at almost every airport where spiritual calm and contentment is assured. "Try the airport chapel," says counsellor Ann Masterson. "No noise, no PA announcements and no crush because so few people seem to use the ones I've visited. Within a few seconds of closing your eyes you really could be anywhere."
Just remember to keep half an eye on the clock ...Reuse content