Flights of fancy
There’s one thing you can guarantee in the wake of the attempted plane bombing above Detroit in December: we’re all going to spend a lot longer at airports. CD-Traveller profiles the capital’s four main airports to see how they measure up.
Opened in 1958, Gatwick is the UK’s second largest airport (and the eighth largest in Europe) so if you’re heading off on your hols, there’s a good chance you will be jetting out from good old Gatwick.
It’s a decision that makes sense: Heathrow may have hogged the headlines in recent years but it’s Gatwick that won – for the twelfth time – the best airport award at the prestigious 2009 Travel Weekly Globe Awards.
On the food front, there’s Apostrophe, Eat, Frankie and Benny’s, Garfunkels (don’t knock it – this one is pretty cool), the ubiquitous McDonalds and many more but why not start your holiday in style at swanky seafood bar Caviar House? Good retail therapy is another of Gatwick’s draws. Along with the usuals (that’s you Boots, Books etc and The Body Shop), there’s a Harrods, a Goldsmiths and – our favourite – an All Saints which sells some of the coolest clobber around for both guys and gals.
Heathrow is the daddy of airports boasting no fewer than five terminals. It’s the world’s busiest airport – more than 66.9 million people pass through the place every year – so the likelihood is that you’ll be starting your holiday at Heathrow.
Your destination will determine which terminal you depart from. In the past Terminal 1 has typically catered for domestic flights while Terminal 2 has been dedicated to European destinations, Terminal 3 for long-haul passengers with most BA flights departing from Terminal 4. But it’s all change with the arrival of Terminal 5.
Designed by British ‘starchitect’ Richard Rogers, Heathrow’s new addition cost £4.3bn and took 18 years to design and 20,000 workers to build. We reckon ‘T5’ was worth the wait though…the 130ft high building is not only drop dead gorgeous (all marble floors and panoramic windows), but is home to 112 shops and restaurants – Gordan Ramsay Plane Food anyone? Much like Tom Hanks’ character in The Terminal, we could happily hole up in this airport.
Luton (or Luton airport to give it its official name) has long been thought of as cheap and cheerful – not that this seems to bother the 10 million passengers who take to the skies from Luton each year.
Functional rather than fabulous, shopping stalwarts such as WH Smith, Dixons and Tie Rack all feature while food-wise the chain gang (Pret, Costa, Cafe Nero, Starbucks and so on) have all taken up a tenancy.
Still, while the restaurant and shop selection might be lousy, there are plenty of other reasons to love Luton. First up, Luton is ridiculously easy to get to – a must for jet-setters – being close to both the M1 and M25. Furthermore on arrival passengers are able to drop off, pick up or park for free for up to 60 minutes – welcome news in these recessionary times. Finally, the 71 year old airport is the first in the country to introduce a car share scheme offering you the chance to meet fellow holidaymakers, do your bit for the environment and save money – meaning more moolah to spend on your hols.
Designed in 1991 by Norma Foster, London Stansted is – despite its name – actually in Essex. A sleek and stylish airport, Stansted sees some 22.3 million strangers pass through every year making it the fastest growing major airport in Europe. Stansted employs an entire army of staff (11,600 to be precise) to make your airport experience a pleasant one and there are plans to create a further 13,800 jobs by 2030.
Regardless of whether you want to fly from Stansted to see the pyramids in Egypt or simply want to flop on a beach in St Lucia or the Seychelles, be sure to arrive early at the airport to bag some bargains: make-up junkies will love the Estee Lauder, Clarins and Clinique counters that jostle for your credit cards.
Shopped till you’ve dropped? Time to head for the departure gate. Spain is Stansted’s most popular destination while further afield Florida is a good option for anyone looking to lie on a sun lounger; Florida is, after all, America’s sunniest state.