You might think that an airport hotel is just a convenient place to get your head down for an early-morning departure or a late-night arrival. After all, that is its main purpose. But the promise of a steady flow of airport users doesn't mean that the surrounding hotels can take too relaxed an approach.
Competition for the airport guest is intense, as illustrated by deals that roll up accommodation with everything from parking to free child meals. And there's pressure to keep the guest rooms and facilities up to scratch, too. Hence, the ongoing refurbishment of this 825-room on-airport hotel.
One of the latest improvements is the £800,000 makeover of the lobby, which now has more seating yet feels less cluttered than its rather dowdy predecessor, and the revamp of the adjacent bistro, Amy's. Bedrooms are also being spruced up on a rolling programme of refurbishment. Even the weariest traveller is likely to notice the difference.
There are five types to choose from, the newest of which have been refreshed in contemporary style using a clean yet cosy palette of white and warm shades of brown and maroon with modish furnishings and luxurious throws and cushions. Two styles of good-value family rooms (one type is the same price as an ordinary double) provide a comfortable bed for the adults and a mixture of bunks or single beds for the kids, depending on whether you need to accommodate two or three children. (Cots and rollaway beds are also available.)
For extra comfort, the executive rooms and suites include access to a special lounge with computer terminals, and reading and TV areas, where free snacks and drinks are laid on through the day. All rooms have cable TV, with pay-per-view options and video games, high-speed internet access, and that all-important automatic telephone alarm clock service. Bathrooms are spotless, though facilities vary with the price of the room, from walk-in showers to extra spa baths.
The food and drink
The Garden Restaurant is the main dining room, offering à la carte choices and a large buffet of filling meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus the advantage of free food for children if accompanied by an adult. I ate in the hotel's smarter bistro, Amy's, and enjoyed a steak from the à la carte menu that was sourced, cooked and presented to a high standard, far surpassing my previous experiences of airport hotel restaurants (about £35 per head for two courses without wine). There's a branch of Costa Coffee near the main reception with a small seating area – this is also the area where you can pick up Wi-Fi – and two bars, one at Amy's and Charlie Fry's Sports Bar. The room-service menu includes dishes for children designed by parents' favourite, Annabel Karmel.
Unfortunately for leisure guests – the majority of people who use this hotel – the swimming pool and sauna were ditched several years ago in favour of a conference centre. There is a small gym next to the main lobby, open 24 hours, and an equally petite gift shop. The helpful concierge desk can offer ideas for local sightseeing and trips into London if you've more time to while away.
All areas of the hotel are wheelchair accessible. There are eight specially modified rooms, suitable for guests with disabilities and an induction loop has been fitted at reception. Pets weighing less than 75lb are admitted, two per guest room, at a £30 charge.
Rooms are available from £105 a night during October half-term. Park and Fly packages cost from £149 for an eight-day stay and £189 for 15 days.
Hilton London Gatwick Airport, South Terminal, London Gatwick Airport, Crawley RH6 0LL (01293 518080; hilton.co.uk/Gatwick).