The Gatwick Passenger Panel meeting: buggies, castles… and snazzy toilets

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.

And finally…

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.

13 replies
  1. Mary
    Mary says:

    We are travelling with easyjet in feb 2014 and I’m weighing up getting a babyzen yoyo which is supposedly ok as cabin baggage, do you know if easyjet at gatwick are ok with Yoyo’s being taken on as cabin baggage?

    Reply
  2. kilma
    kilma says:

    Hi the new ideas sound amazing. I am flying in september. Am very worried about my son as if he doesnt like the look of somewhere he will scream blue murder and not go in.

    Is there ways at Gatwick that you can visit with your toddler so can see it all before he flies

    Reply
    • English Mum
      English Mum says:

      Hi Kilma. Hmm I’m not sure – you might have to ask. You can certainly visit all the bits and bobs before security as they’re easily accessible. It’s easiest to contact them on Twitter, or otherwise you can get contact details on gatwickairport.com x

      Reply
  3. Ellie&Monkey
    Ellie&Monkey says:

    So glad I found this blog, has really put my mind at ease. Though one thing I was wondering as it was written a little while ago is does Gatwick Airport provide pushchairs/strollers that you can use just to get from the entrance to the plane and back? I am hoping to take a two year old toddler on holiday and I’d rather not have to check our pushchair in as we already have use of one once at our destination xxx

    Reply
    • English Mum
      English Mum says:

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your comment. I did double check with Gatwick and the current situation is that you can take your pram/pushchair all the way to the aircraft door (it will be tagged at check-in).

      Gatwick are currently trialling a free stroller service with Virgin and Thomas Cook, so if you’re with them you’re in luck as you’ll be able to borrow the stroller as you get off the plane until you pick your own up at baggage reclaim.

      If it’s successful the scheme will be rolled out across the other airlines. Hope this helps!

      Becky x

      Reply
  4. melissa w
    melissa w says:

    Traveling through Gatwick with a baby and toddler by myself. We traveled recently as a family and went through security quickly with the family assistance lanes. Didn’t have a chance to play in the play areas, but did notice them.
    We were in the south terminal last time and i noticed it was quite a walk to get to the bathrooms. Wish there were more around and a few on the way to the gates. Would help when time is of the essence. Anyhow, a little nervous flying on my own on easyjet, but praying for a smooth trip. Thanks for the blog!

    Reply
    • English Mum
      English Mum says:

      Hey Melissa

      Remember that all the staff (you’ll spot them easily with their teal lanyards on) will help you if you need anything – there’ll be loads about, just ask if you need any help. And good luck :)

      Reply
  5. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    Hi, I was directed here from the Gatwick website. We’re travelling to Orlando next month with our Autistic 6 year old son. The airline we’re travelling with were no help in regard to advice re getting through security without too much drama. What a relief to read about the family assistance lanes ~ one thing less to worry about ….

    Reply
    • English Mum
      English Mum says:

      Hi Ruth. The team are absolutely lovely and I’m pretty sure you’ll have no trouble at all through the special assistance lane. They’re such a nice bunch. Let me know how you get on xx

      Reply
  6. Carmen
    Carmen says:

    I haven’t been to Gatwick with a toddler yet, but I will be going with a baby soon. Would be nice to have an area after security where you can feed your baby and where they are not exposed to really bright lights… But I don’t want to make a fuss really :)

    Reply
    • English Mum
      English Mum says:

      Hi Carmen

      Hmm.. I know that there are certainly baby changing facilities after security but you’re right, not sure there’s a nice quiet place to feed. Will pass that on to the team. Thanks for your feedback xx

      Reply
  7. Sarah@Mum's gone 2 Aus
    Sarah@Mum's gone 2 Aus says:

    Hi, This all sounds great, it must be fun and very interesting being involved in these discussions. In my experience more and more airlines and airports are offering the option of borrowing a pushchair or stroller to get through the airport. Something else I’ve seen in Sydney which is great is play consoles attached to the wall \ pillars close to the checkin desks, this is where you typically have to queue for a while. If you’re travelling as a family, Dad can stand in the queue whilst Mum takes the kids to the closest play console. Guess is depends what wall space is available!

    Reply

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