Getting to the airport
Getting to the airport is a drag. There are not many conveniently located airports in cities because people don’t like planes flying low over their houses.
This means that in order to get to the airport you have to either have a car or become creative. Even with your own (rental) car it is not necessarily a walk in the park to get to the airport in time. San Francisco airport (the only one I normally get to via rental) for example has its rental car location a few train stops away from the main terminal which makes for another 15 minute delay before check-in. And these are the 15 minutes that might make you miss your plane or means you have to run through the terminal with a “priority check-in pass”.
Take public transport
In London, taking a car to Heathrow is pretty much painting a “I want to be fleeced with parking fees and I love to get stuck in traffic in Hammersmith” sign on your back. Unless my flight is very early in the day and there are no trains running yet I never bother with a car to get to Heathrow. Instead I bought a “carnet” which is a 12 pack of one way tickets for the Heathrow Express. This train takes 20 minutes from Terminal 5 to Paddington Station and from there I can either take a cab for 20 minutes or the Underground for 30 with one interchange to arrive home.
Nearly all airports have some sort of train connection to the centre of the city – most of the time a high speed one. A lot of airlines sell cheaper tickets for those on the plane so look out for that.
Public transport can be terribly annoying – try to avoid flights that coincide with the commuter rush hour of the place you are in – there is not much fun in trying to hold onto your luggage while a mad cow herd of people in cheap suits tries to flock past you. The same applies for planes that land late. Any business traveller coming back to London and getting on a past 11pm train can tell stories of woe of people singing badly and starting fights because instead of sitting in a small cabin breathing recycled air they’ve been in the pub getting utterly sh*t-faced.
That said, public transport has a few benefits over trying to reach the airport by car:
- You are not at the mercy of local traffic and roadworks
- It is better for the environment
- You can be part of a larger group
- You can read on the train or already write your slides
- You have a connect to the airport – when a train is late you are more likely to get a ticket for a later flight than when it was your own fault not arriving in time.
- When you get a ticket for public transport on the plane you already made yourself mobile in the place you will be arriving at – taxis are less common than you think
Give yourself time
I remember when the whole concept of being at the airport two hours in advance was a joke – it is not any longer. Security checks, airline strikes, ash in the air and many other problems will interfere with your journey from the airport door to the plane and being there 2 hours in advance for long haul flights and one hour for short trips gives you time to deal with all kind of nonsense and have a quick coffee before boarding without running through the airport and getting stressed.
Airports are magical places. As a kid (I grew up in a very small village) I thought motorway parking lots and restaurants rock as you could see people from all kind of European countries and large lorries but the first time I got to an airport I was just in heaven. Watch the beginning sequence of Dogma again if you wonder about this. Having spent a lot of time in airports the last few months – especially waiting for delays – my enthusiasm wavered a bit but all in all I think it is amazing just how many interesting things you see when you keep your eyes open at an airport.
So get there in time and you will be able to enjoy yourself. What to do at the airport and what to avoid is what I will talk about next time.