On a Budget
When you start flying on your own you will realise that the compulsory 'arrive 3 hours early' to the airport is not actually required and there is no need to stress your way through the terminal. Follow this step-by-step guide on how to have a stress-free start to your trip:
Step 1 - Getting to the Airport
Before you even book your holiday ensure you know how you are getting to the airport, which of course all depends on where you live and what airport you are travelling from. As well as taking into consideration whether you are bring hand luggage only (I recommend arriving 2 hours before your flight) or if you are taking hold luggage as well (I recommend arriving when bag drop opens to avoid the queues).
When travelling on a budget a taxi is really the last-resort option so your first thought should be public transport, but if you've got an early flight and/or lots of luggage, trains and buses may not be the most convenient option. Then you can look at whether you could drive there or if you could get a lift from a friend or family, if no one is available to take you don't stress as there is plenty of ways to take your car and avoid the airport parking charges.
Often UK airports won't hesitate to charge you £80 to leave your car on their concrete for 5 days (so annoying) but there are ways around it, often airport hotels will charge you the same amount for a room the night before you go, as the parking would cost. If you look into it properly you will find that you can park at many airport hotels (included in the price of the room) for your whole trip! This means you get to start your holiday a day earlier, get more sleep than if you were to drive to the airport and park that morning, and you don't have to pay extra!
Another option is to use the airport park and ride website (to the right) this enables you
to drive to the airport (Gatwick, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Luton Airport) without the issue
of large airport parking prices. Of course if you are not worried about money, a taxi is
the most convenient way of getting to and from the airport but it is definitely not the only option.
Step 2 - Customs
So you've just entered the UK airport and all you want is to be at your destination, but it's not quite that easy. You may be used to having a big folder of your travel documents while juggling your luggage but you're only making it harder for yourself. The first stop is either bag drop or scanning your boarding passes, if you are taking hold luggage ensure you have pre-booked it and weighed it as the airlines can charge you so much more on the day. Often you can avoid the queues two-ways, get to bag drop just before it opens (should tell you on your booking details and many airline apps also notify you) and if you hate the hustle and bustle of finding somewhere for you hand luggage on the plane, some airlines such as Easyjet let you put your hand-luggage in the hold for free!
Whether you are taking hold luggage or not your next stop will be scanning your boarding pass. You will find there is bagging stations just before you go through the scanners where you are to put your liquids ready for the hand-luggage check (remember if you are taking hold luggage put all of your liquids in there and you will be able to skip the next step).
The biggest way to save time when taking just hand luggage is this: the next time you are going away put your liquids (under 100ml) in a separate bag (and grab a couple extra and put them in your bag) so when you get to the packing stations can put them straight into the clear bags and you won't have to search through your whole case on the floor. Ensure you keep these bags the other end so when you are packing to come home you can put your liquids straight back into them and you will be ready for customs. Once you are home do not bin the plastic bags, if they have stretched or broken you can keep the extra ones you grabbed on the way out, then the next time you go away you can bag your liquids when you pack and completely skip the bagging station at the airport! It sounds like a lot of effort to go to but it really cuts down the amount of time you will spend faffing and stressing. Note: nine times out of ten security do not mind if you have more than one bag of liquids but you may get the odd one who will only let you bring one through per person and it has to do up so bear that in mind and consider dividing up your liquids between who you are travelling with.
The next step is the boarding pass scanners, make sure you have either the app for the airline you're flying with or have your boarding pass as a screenshot; the machines can still scan the QR Code if it is on your phone and it means it is easily accessible without taking up space in your bag/pockets. Note: Some airports have screens that open and close as you scan your boarding pass and walk through so ensure everyone travelling with you had a copy of their pass on their phones as you may not be able to pass your phone over to them once you are through.
After that you will be pointed into which queue to join for the hand luggage check. In order to save time at this stage you should take off any belts and watches you have on, empty your pockets and have your electronics and liquid bag in your hand ready to put in the trays. Once through the body scanner you can collect your luggage (if they are not manually checking it) and head into duty-free for your perfume induced headache to start!
Step 3 - The Terminal
Once you have checked out duty-free you need to be in full avoid-boredom mode, while keeping to your budget. Personally, I allow myself £15 for the airport and flight for short-haul and £30 for long-haul, which may sound very minimal but the less you spend means the more you have for your next trip! (It's a mindset.) Avoid the overpriced magazines like the plague, go to your local newsagents/supermarket the night before your flight and bring them with you to save time and money. The only thing you need to worry about buying in the airport is food and drink, a good way to prepare is before you leave your house is to check which shops and restaurants are in your terminal so you can plan.
An example of how I save money for a short-haul flight from Gatwick's North Terminal is: grab a meal deal for the flight from WHSmith's (not Boots) and choose a large bottle of water as my drink choice, then add another large bottle of water too. If I have an early morning flight I will buy another meal deal so I will have one in the terminal and one for if I get hungry on the flight, if not then I will eat at home/the hotel just before I leave so I will only need to buy one meal deal in the terminal. If I am going on a long-haul flight (for me I consider that to be more than 6 hours) I will buy 2 or 3 meal deals. It may sound like overkill but it is better to be prepared than having to part with money on the plane for no reason.
Something to bear in mind is that some airlines (usually the budget ones) state that you can only take 1 hand luggage bag on board with you, but this does not include a duty free carrier bag (unless stated otherwise). A good way to use this to your advantage is buy something for around £1 from a duty-free counter, for example a bottle of water and then pop your meal deal in this bag for when you board. Make sure you keep this as the next time you are in the airport you can whip out your duty-free bag and pop your meal deal straight in there without having to always buy something from the duty-free counters. Note: Boots and WHSmith's do not give you duty free carrier bags so ensure you grab one from the duty-free section just after customs.
Step 4 - The Gate
Finally you have reached your gate (if you have the airline's app you should have been notified on which gate you need to go to, if not you would have seen the boards) and you are now subject to the unspoken debate of whether you should queue as soon as you get there or take a seat. If you have speedy-boarding or have already dropped your hand-luggage off in the hold, you can relax and take a seat as you will be called first and many airlines also allow passengers with buggies or young children on first too. But if you have your hand-luggage with you and are wanting it to be above your head and easily accessible during the flight you want to queue up, this is because you will soon come across a 'type' of passenger who gets onto a plane, disregards their hand luggage in the first overhead locker they see and sits down in their seat at the other end. It may sound trivial but when you are the last to board and find that the only space to put your hand luggage in is 20 rows away from your seat, due to that 'type' of passenger, it is really frustrating. Not only this but some airlines, for example Easyjet often have more seats than they do overhead locker space so if you are one of the last passengers to board a busy flight, you may be required to give up your hand luggage for the hold (at no extra charge), which can be annoying as if this is the only luggage you are taking with you, instead of being able to skip the wait at the other end's hold luggage conveyor belts this now becomes unavoidable. Note: The only part of the airport you will need your passport is at the gate.
Step 5 - Enjoy Your Flight