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Money & Rights

Take the stress out of your airport experience

The 'airport experience' is usually the last hurdle between you and your holiday. Sue Hayward advises hot to make your trip to the gate as smooth as possible

Choosing your airport

You may not get a big choice of airports, as your destination and the airline that fly there will affect your options. When it comes to budget flights, however,  you often have more choice or, if you live in an area where you can fly from both Manchester and Liverpool, it's worth checking the services and facilities on offer.

Big airports like Gatwick and Heathrow may have a larger choice of shops, restaurants and facilities but small regional airports will often have cheaper parking, faster security queues and a shorter walk to the gate.

According to travel deals website Cheapflights, Newcastle, London City, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Bristol come out tops for facilities and customer service whereas London Luton is bottom of the head followed by Stansted.

once you know which airport you're flying from, go online and check its layout, including shops and restaurants in your terminal, which will save you time later.

Check case sizes

Check luggage limits for both 'hold' and 'cabin' luggage when booking your tickets and make a note in your diary along with the flight details.

Cabin bags are the classic stage of the trip where travellers come unstuck as there's no 'one size fits all', so do check the size and weight limit with your airline and stick to it.

You may get away with a case that's slightly bigger on 90 percent of trips, but if you're asked to pop your bag or case in the size gauge at the gate, you can face a £50 fine with some airline, or a desperate scramble to repack.

"Cabin bags are the classic stage of the trip where travellers come unstuck as there's no 'one size fits all', so so check the size and weight limit with your airline and stick to it."

Check in online

Depending on who you fly with, you usually have three options.

You can check in and print your boarding pass at home, and in some cases if you don't, you can get charged £50 each with airlines like Ryanair.

If there's an app option, as with easyJet, download it and your mobile boarding pass is saved direct to your phone.

Or for long haul, you may be given a booking reference that you enter into a mobile 'check-in' kiosk at the airport and print off your passes on the day.

If you have hold luggage, you'll need to head for the 'bag drop' desks and, if you're only taking a cabin bag, head straight for departures.

Some airlines will charge hefty fees if you want to pre-book seats in advance rather than 'take a chance' that you'll be seated together at the check-in stage. Obviously this is up to you, but if you're stumping up, check the small print as you could still be separated by an aisle depending on the size of your party.

Get security savvy

We've all been stuck in hideously long queues and it can be stressful if you see the time ticking away and are worried about getting to the gate, so here are some tips: 

1) Make sure you've got plenty of time, and when you arrive at the airport, head straight through securty, so save any shopping until you're 'airside'.

2) Dress for the occasion. You'll probably have to take off your shoes, belts and any jewellery, so it makes sense to wear slip-on shoes (if you can) and keep jewellery to a minimum.

3) Stick to the rules. If you're carrying liquids in hand luggage (like toiletries), containers must hold no more than 100ml and be placed in a clear re-sealable plastic bag that's no bigger than 20cm x 20cm. A cheap solution is to stock up on freezer bags, as some airports charge for 'flight-friendly' plastic bags.

Some airports now offer a 'fast-track service through security, but you'll pay from £3 to £7 for the privilege. In most cases you'll need to pre-book, so you can't just bowl up on the day, check out the queue and pay up to jump it.

And watch for extra charges, too. Gatwick charges £5 for its 'Premium Security' service but you'll pay another £2 on top for credit card payment. Personally, I've never been in any danger of missing the plane, so I'd arrive early and save your money...

Duty free

If you want to stock up but don't want an extra bag to carry, make the most of the airport's free 'Shop and Collect' service. It's available for 'World Duty Free' shoppers who are flying within the EU and means you can 'buy before you fly' but pick up your shopping on your return. It's also a great option for large or fragile items. 

"Once you know which airport you're flying from, go online and check its layout, as this can save time looking for places to eat or finding somewhere to buy a forgotten travel plug"

Lounges

Airports can be crowded places and there's nothing worse than struggling to find a seat while balancing your coffee and sandwich. So you may want to consider treating yourself to the airport lounge.

You don't have to fly first class or rack up air miles to relax in the airport lounges. Anyone can book a pass as they're run by independent operators such as LoungePass or Holidayextras, with prices from £13.50. Or for a more luxurious lounge expect to pay from £26 with (www.no1lounges.com), which has lounges at Birmingham, Edinburgh, Heathrow and Gatwick. 

You do get what you pay for with airport lounges as some of the more expensive ones offer a peaceful, tranquil; haven with a bar service, made-to-order hot food, showers and complimentary glossy magazines, while others may be limited to snacks and a 'help yourself' bar option. WiFi is usually standard.

I've used the airport lounge at Heathrow which is great, but was hugely disappointed recently at Dubai, where I found its airport lounge crowded, cramped and with no cups when I arrived in need of a coffee after an overnight flight. So it's worth doing your homework first on the lounge options, what you get for your money, and check reviews on independent travellers' sites.

If you have a long flight ahead of you, want a hot meal, or to treat yourself, a ticket for the airport lounge can be worth it, especially when you work out the cost of a meal and a couple of drinks.

However, if you're only going to be there for half an hour and have a cup of coffee, it's not worth it. Some 'packaged bank accounts or premium credit cards offer lounge visits as one of their perks, so check if you're eligible before you pay up.

Leave extra time

It goes without saying, but leaving lots of extra time can save stress if you end up on a delayed train, caught in a traffic jam or can't find your way round the airport.

Miss your flight and you'll usually have to fork out for another ticket. While travel insurance will pay up for medical emergencies, it won't cover you for oversleeping or spending so long in duty free that you're late to the gate. Most flag up approximate walking times to the different gates, so don't stay in duty free or in the bar until the last minute. If you try to be clever and cut it too fine, and end up being late to the gate you could risk being refused in board and your bags taken off.

And if you need extra help- for example, wheelchair assistance or you are travelling alone for the first time- do make your airline aware of this and arrange any special assistance in advance to avoid waiting on the day.

What do you think of this? Do you have any of your own tips to share? 

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