If the prospect of heading to the airport with a car packed full of kids and suitcases is enough to make you tear up your passport and run screaming to the nearest campsite, then our guide to a stress-free family holiday from Gatwick Airport is just for you.
It’s not just a cliché – negotiating your family through a busy airport really can be a traumatic experience. One survey from 2007 revealed a quarter of travellers considered that flying from a busy airport was akin to the stress involved in moving house.
Thankfully, airports such as Gatwick have changed beyond recognition since the mid-noughties. Reacting to the needs of both business and pleasure travellers, a high-tech facility such as Gatwick Airport – along with its many passenger support services – provides a joined-up approach to air travel that ensures your holiday really can start as you shut your front door and punch the airport’s postcode into your sat-nav.
As with any stressful situation, taking control of your airport visit will help you remain relaxed and refreshed as your family heads off on a well-earned break. A little preparation and inside knowledge of Gatwick’s many amenities should be all that’s needed to keep you and your kids happy.
Before Leaving Home
The first part of your stress-busting airport strategy is beating the departure hall queues by checking in online before you even leave home. Many airlines offer this service –get a full list of participating airlines at Gatwick Airport here – allowing you to check-in up to 24 hours before you fly.
This online service lets you book seats that suit your family’s needs, print out your boarding cards and, more importantly, slash the time you’ll spend in queues. When you do arrive at Gatwick Airport, simply deposit your bags at the drop off facility. Make sure you email yourself a copy of all boarding passes, so you can access them on your smartphone should they get mislaid.
Other queue-busting check-in services include ‘day-before check-in’ and ‘self-service check-in’. Check the links for more details and to see if they’re offered by your airline.
Another oft-ignored source of air travel-based stress is hand luggage. While most families will have packed their suitcases with weeks to spare, issues often arise from incorrectly packed hand luggage. Don’t fall victim to fast-changing security restrictions – especially if you’re travelling with children. Get the latest controls on items such as baby milk, drinks and medicines by checking up-to-the-minute security guidelines, here
Getting to Gatwick Airport
Next, you’ll need a strong strategy for getting to Gatwick Airport. Waking your kids and driving them to the airport for an early morning flight is an unenviable task, so why not avoid potential stress by starting the holiday early with a pre-flight night at one of the many child-friendly hotels that surround Gatwick Airport. APH offer a great selection of Gatwick Airport hotels with parking which offer great accommodation alongside parking for your trip and free transfers to and from the airport.
If a pre-flight stop-over isn’t possible for your family, another option to get your trip off to the perfect start is using a Gatwick Airport meet and greet parking service. No hunting for off-airport car parks, or waiting for transfer buses – simply drive straight to the airport, have your car parked for you, then return to find it waiting and ready to take you home.
Finally, make sure you download a good travel app to your smartphone. Getting delayed on a motorway is sure to increase the stress levels for everyone. An app such as RAC Traffic will ensure you’re always one step ahead of potential hold ups – allowing you to adjust your route and make it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. You can also follow the Highways Agency’s excellent Twitter account for instant updates of traffic hotspots. Follow @HAtraffic_seast for traffic news affecting Gatwick Airport and its major routes of approach.
At Gatwick Airport
By now, you should have checked in, enjoyed a stress-free journey and have your car safely parked away, so here’s how to make sure that everyone keeps smiling between entering the airport and taking your seat on the plane.
Providing you’ve already checked-in online, your first job is to drop off your bags and get airside as soon as possible. Don’t be tempted to delay passing through security – the queues will only get bigger – and once you’ve cleared customs you’ll be greeted by far superior amenities.
To make this even easier, Gatwick Airport has created special assistance security lanes for families with young children. The security scanners are extra large to accommodate buggies, so you can simply wheel it straight through with your little one in place. Follow the signs for these lanes and you’ll get extra help passing through security checks and cut the time spent queuing to an absolute minimum. These lanes operate for both departures and arrivals.
Once airside, it really is time to start enjoying your holiday. It’s more than likely that your brood will be in need of refreshment by this time, so heading to one of the many restaurants or fast food outlets will boost everyone’s spirits – try our list of top places to eat at Gatwick Airport for some great ideas. With family favourites such as Café Rouge, Frankie and Benny’s, Garfunkel’s, Jamie’s Italian, Pret A Manger, McDonald’s and Shake-A-Hula on offer across the North and South Terminals, there’s something for diners of all ages and tastes. Many of the restaurants have amazing views across the runway, so the kids won’t be left fidgeting while they wait for their food.
If you and your family really want to make the most of your time at Gatwick Airport, then heading to one of the on-site airport lounges will provide a great environment for both adults and kids. The Servisair and No.1 lounges can be found in both the North and South terminals, and offer designated areas just for families. With services such as free Wi-Fi, TV, video games and complimentary refreshments available throughout the day, the lounges provide an engaging base for children and a welcome refuge for parents. Prices range from £9.99 for children aged 2-11 to £22.50 for adults. However, check for discounts available on advance bookings.
If a lounge isn’t for you, your family won’t be left to fend for itself – simply head to one of Gatwick Airport’s all-new ‘kids zones’. These provide a separate, safe and free area for your children to play and watch TV. There’s plenty of seating for the adults, too. The play areas are located upstairs in the South Terminal departure lounge opposite Café Rouge and behind Boots in North Terminal departure lounge.
The large and varied range of airside shops will also be enough to sooth the most stressed of parents. Any last-minute/forgotten items can purchased from the plethora of airside shops that cover clothing, technology, beauty, travel essentials, food, duty free, and books and magazines.
Go on – enjoy yourself…
So, by now your flight number should be flashing on the information screens – calling you and yours to that holiday-bound airliner of dreams. Take a look at your family and with a bit of luck, we reckon they’ll still have a great big grin on their face. Not bad for an airport that hosted more than 32 million passengers in 2012.
Quick tips to beat airport stress
One study found that travelling through a busy airport can raise your heart rate to levels experienced during intense exercise. Drinking lots of coffee will only increase your heart rate – and stress levels.
Stress can be triggered by feeling out of control, and airports certainly breed this with last minute alterations, delays and unexpected problems all contributing. Fight back by following our guide and creating an itinerary that covers getting to the airport, planning meals and periods of relaxation.
Turning up at an airport without your parking planned could plunge your trip into a pit of despair. However, booking a reputable airport car park will ensure you know where you’ll be parking, how much it will cost – and that your car will be safe in your absence. Book your Gatwick Airport parking in advance with APH to ensure you get a space.
Return to sender
Create PDFs of all your relevant travel documents and send them to your smartphone. Even if you don’t need them, the warm glow of knowing you’re covered will avoid panicked palpitations as your scrabble through your hand luggage looking for you’re your tickets etc.
Save some cash
If you’re looking to ease the stress on your bank account, register here for some airside shopping and eating vouchers at Gatwick Airport – you could save up to £400.
Should anything go wrong either at the airport or while on your way, make sure you have pre-loaded your airline’s number to you mobile phone – along with all relevant reference numbers.
Download Tripit app
This app turns your smartphone into PA. Simply enter your flight number and other reservations, and let Tripit create a digital itinerary for your trip.
Anyone heading to Gatwick Airport is likely to encounter that ring of Tarmac-based terror known as the M25. This handy smartphone app – available for Android only – provides a searchable selection of 150 live video feeds from around the motorway. Spot the hold up before it’s too late. Make sure you have a sat-nav on board, too, for those unplanned deviations from the motorway.