Tuesday 21 November 2017

Stress-free flying: Tips to start your holiday with a smile

Airports are quietest during the week
Airports are quietest during the week

Nick Trend

If you're flying abroad for your holiday this year, you face one major obstacle before you get there: the airport. Most people will find it expensive to get to, slow to use and unpleasantly crowded.

But there are ways of improving the experience: here are 10 ideas that may help.

1 Go local: Last week, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar vowed to pull the plug on funding for Galway and Sligo airports next year, but almost €6m of taxpayer's money will be put into our four other regional airports in Donegal, Knock, Kerry and Waterford.

Smaller airports, the ones Ryanair tend to fly to, often have more convenient (and cheaper) parking, shorter check-in times and fewer queues, and you don't have to walk for miles to get from security to the departure gate.

You will probably get your luggage back more quickly when you return home, too.

2 Avoid weekends: Airports are generally at their quietest and most pleasant between about 11am and 4pm on weekdays. Book to fly at these times and you will probably find cheaper fares, too.

3 Book a convenient car park: If you have to drive to the airport, it's worth keeping an eye on parking offers by checking the airport and agency websites.

Often within a week or so of departure, deals start to appear offering reduced rates in the short-term car parks, or for valet parking services. The premium for these can fall from twice the price of a long-term space.

Try quickpark.ie, parksmart.ie , and dublinairport.com for tips.

4 Check in smoothly: Since most airlines now allow you to print out your boarding card at home, check-in is one part of the airport experience that has become more bearable in recent years. Where possible, make sure you print off both outward and return boarding cards.

If you travel with checked baggage, however, you won't be able to avoid a queue for the 'fast' baggage drop; all you can do is reduce your stress levels by arriving with plenty of time in hand.

Much better: travel with hand baggage only.

If you are travelling with small children and are carrying bottles and infant feed, visit babytravelshop.ie, which has handy tips for getting little people through security with as little fuss as possible.

5 Fast-track through security: Now that check-in queues have shortened, the biggest hold-up is likely to be at security. Controversially, several airports -- none in Ireland -- have started to offer a fast track through the checks to those who pay a fee -- usually between €4 and €6.

Manchester airport, for example, charges £3.50 (¤3.93) plus a £1.50 (¤1.69) online booking fee for each transaction, though you do get it free if you book valet parking through the airport website (manchesterairport.co.uk).

An important way to reduce hold-ups is to make sure your cabin baggage complies with size restrictions (which vary from airline to airline), and the latest security regulations, especially with regard to the number of bags you are allowed, and the amount of liquids you can take into departures.

6 Consider a lounge: In most airports, if you know you are likely to have a long wait, you can escape the throng by buying access to an executive lounge in advance through agents such as Lounge Pass (loungepass.com).

Fees are usually about €25 a head and include snacks, drinks, newspapers, and showers.

Many lounges, including the Aer Lingus Gold Circle (€25) in Dublin's T2, allow you to pay for entry at the door -- worth bearing in mind if your flight is subject to a long delay.

7Shop and collect: Now most of us are trying to keep our hand luggage to a minimum, shopping at the airport has lost much of its appeal.

If you are going through Dublin or Cork airports or a BAA airport (Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen), however, you can ask to use a 'shop and collect' service. This allows those who are travelling within the EU to pay for the goods, have them stored at the airport and collect them on return. In case you forget, they will send you a text as soon as you land, reminding you to pick up your goodies.

8 Board last: If you have an allocated seat, it is clearly best to board among the last passengers: you will spend less time stuck in your seat waiting for take-off. If you are flying with an airline such as Ryanair that doesn't offer allocated seats, that strategy doesn't work unless you are happy to sit anywhere.

Priority boarding means you don't have to spend all your time in the airport queuing. It's expensive, but might be worth considering if your are flying at peak times.

9 Disembark first: Sit as close to the front of the plane as you can. The first to disembark are first in the queue at immigration.

This isn't an issue at smaller airports, but can save a lot of time at peak times or in destinations such as the United States, where queues at immigration can last an hour or more.

10 Skip immigration queues: The same tactic applies when coming home, but at some airports such as Gatwick, Stansted or Heathrow you can still face long queues at immigration desks.

One way round this is to register for the British Home Office IRIS recognition system. Instead of queuing at the desks, you enter a glass booth and get automatic clearance based on a scan of your iris that confirms your identity and nationality.

The process takes about 20 seconds and the system is in operation at Heathrow (terminals 1,3,4,5), Manchester (1 and 2), Birmingham (1) and Gatwick (north).

You have to enrol (a process that takes about 10 minutes) on your way out Britain, using one of the IRIS centres in the departure lounges of the above airports (though these are currently not available at Heathrow terminal 3, and Manchester terminal 2). See bit.ly/acgrln. Irish nationals can apply. Iris recognition security has yet to come to Irish airports.

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