My parents used to love taking me to Heathrow Airport to watch the planes land. Or to watch people walking through arrivals in the hope of spotting somebody famous. I was too young to remember, but I am told I managed to run into Dustin Hoffman as he was minding his own business walking through the terminal.
My first experience travelling in an airport was in 1994. I was 11 years old and flying from London Gatwick to Orlando. Childhood memories can be selective, but those of the airport and the airport experience are ones of excitement and anticipation.
Over 20 years later and I still enjoy the airport, most of the time.
The recommendations are to arrive at the airport three hours before departure for a long haul flight and two hours before departure for a European flight. This works for some people, but not for me.
This is my airport routine.
The night before
Regardless of my flight time, I will always try and stay in a airport hotel the night before. I live less than half an hour away from Heathrow and Luton and just over an hour away from Stanstead and Gatwick, so this may seem strange. But bare with me.
Within walking distance of the terminal is a must, as is a bar and restaurant. If travelling alone, I’ll sit myself in the bar for the evening with my Kindle. If travelling with friends or family, the same minus the Kindle. It is usually only an extra evening, but I far prefer starting my holiday relaxing in a bar than travelling to the airport hoping for no unexpected delays.
The day of
I prefer early morning flights, although not everybody I have traveled with enjoys arriving at the terminal at 5am. That said, I cannot recall the last time I flew after midday.
I generally like to arrive in the terminal around three and a half hours (yes, that is right) before my flight time. Not for fear of missing my flight, but to enjoy my time in the departure lounge and my airport routine.
Arriving this early has backfired on occasion when needing to check in luggage. It turns out that airport staff aren’t always as keen to open check-in desks as early as I am to check in my luggage. I do try and keep my packing to carry-on luggage, but sometimes this just isn’t possible.
The Departure Lounge
Luggage checked-in, security cleared.
The airport departure lounge is one of the few places where is it universally acceptable to have a pint of beer at any hour of the day, or night if that be the case. This suits me just fine.
The beauty of solo-travel means I can do the next bit exactly how I want:-
- Find a bar that serves beer and an all-day English breakfast. This has more than once been a Whetherspoons pub, depending on the airport and what else happens to be open at the time of day.
- Order an all-day English breakfast. Sausage, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, baked beans and toast. Sometimes chips or hash browns.
- With this, two pints of lager. Not one, not three, but two. I usually have ample time to drink more than one, but three would likely mean needing the toilet all the way until takeoff and beyond.
- Enjoy my breakfast and two pints of lager while reading my Kindle.
Leaving the bar, the next stop is usually a book shop. Despite religiously carrying my Kindle with me, I always buy a book. As sure as the sun will rise, I just keep to my Kindle and as a result have shelves of unread books.
The final stop before sitting and waiting for my gate to be called, is to buy a bottle of water.
Traveling with friends or family of course means compromise, but it also usually means finding a bar. Sometimes I just have to drink a little quicker.
Ironically perhaps, I actually find flying really quite boring. But the airport wouldn’t be the same without my airport routine.