So I was back at Gatwick today for the next Passenger Panel Meeting. As you probably remember, I’m a member of the panel and I’m there to represent families.
We’re a funny bunch, us families. The trouble is, we need so many different things to make us happy… we’d like our journey through the airport to ‘flow’ (this is a word that crops up a lot), and we’d really rather not cause a big fuss (nothing guaranteed to get you worked into a tizz faster than someone standing behind you rolling their eyes and tutting as you struggle with a toddler and a pushchair). We’d like a bit of help on occasions, yes, BUT we don’t want to be seen to be making ‘a fuss’ or to be singled out for ‘special’ treatment exactly… it’s a tough one.
Before the meeting, I asked around my friends and on Twitter about what parents really want when travelling, and how Gatwick (and the other airports – this panel is designed to help everyone, really) can help. Several things came up, so let’s deal with them one by one:
Getting through security
This can be a nightmare (see aforementioned struggling and tutting). It was mentioned in our last meeting and happily, Gatwick listened and did something about it. Something brilliant.
They’ve now introduced a new ‘Assistance/Family’ security area, where families, disabled travellers and others needing a bit of help will get one to one service, friendly help and, in conjunction with a local school, they’ve even designed a special body X-ray machine that looks like a castle! The scanner thingies are extra large to accommodate buggies (no more levering your buggy through one-handed while clutching a child with the other) and at busy times, Gatwick provide extra people to help. The area has been open since December, so make sure you look for the signs. Spot on, I reckon.
Something for children to do while waiting in the departure lounge
Lots of people asked about soft play areas/toys, etc, to keep children occupied while you’re waiting to go. Few people know that there are already ‘kids zones’ in both terminals with a separate area for the children to have a play, and watch TV and plenty of seating for parents too.
In the South Terminal, the play areas are upstairs in the departure lounge opposite Café Rouge, and in the North Terminal they’re behind Boots. Seek them out!
We also talked about the possibility of providing children’s entertainers and other special events during busy times like the school holidays, something that Gatwick have done before with great results.
Returning home – buggies and Immigration
Picture the scene: you’ve just dragged yourself off a night flight. You’ve got a grumpy toddler (or two) and an older one that’s tired and irritable. You get off the plane with your hand luggage and have to carry the toddler all the way to the baggage area to collect your buggy. This is made worse by the fact that the baggage reclaim is packed and you daren’t put them down in case they disappear in the crowd. Sound familiar? Thought so. One of my friends, Catherine, said: ‘it can be a very long walk from gate to arrivals, especially when carrying a toddler and with the long queues seen recently’. Also, someone else pointed out that, annoyingly, they’re often the very last things to come through.
The problem, apparently, is that once something is in the hold, protocol says that it can only be unloaded with the other baggage and picked up on the belts. This is obviously too late for parents, who need a buggy when they get off the plane. Gatwick are working hard with the airlines to provide a solution for this. One idea, which I quite like, is to provide free ‘airline buggies’ for parents to borrow that they can then give back at the terminal once they’re reunited with their own buggy.
And that dreadful queue at Immigration? Well this isn’t directly managed by Gatwick Airport, but they do work in conjunction with Immigration and have already implemented assistance lanes to help families get through faster. And obviously new technology being introduced (the new ‘chip’ passports in particular), will also help to speed up transition through Immigration too.
Next time you’re at the South terminal check out their new toilets. Gatwick have spent loads of time and effort (and a good few quid too) making the toilets absolutely blingy and fabulous. Each cubicle has tons of room, plus its own sink and hand dryer too, so you don’t even have to share tap space with anyone. Awesome.
If there’s anything you’d like me to bring up at the next meeting, do let me know. And do check out Gatwick’s information about flying with children on their website. You’ll even find a few little hints and tips from yours truly!
I must add here that it’s REALLY important when travelling with your loved ones that you make sure you have really good travel insurance. We use Endsleigh, who’ve never let us down.