Have you ever arrived at an airport and it’s touch and go whether you’ll make it onto the plane? That’s me, most of the time. It is not my husband, who leaves for the airport three days before our flight is scheduled to leave. We often travel separately to the airport.
Anyway, to combat my slight tendency to run things to the wire (I love the pressure!), there are various airport fast track services that virtually guarantee the time it will take me to get through the airport, meaning I get to allocate even less buffer time!
Why Choose Fast Track Services at the Airport?
If just reading this is making you feel slightly (or very) anxious, I know my travel methods aren’t for everyone, but there is another reason you may want to investigate some fast track airport services for your next trip.
Most of us get very limited annual leave and travelling anywhere abroad takes at least a good chunk of the day. Therefore, why not make sure you enjoy the journey as well?
Every now and again I treat Danny and agree to depart for the airport light years before our scheduled flight. I will then go about planning my time at the airport as if I was already on holiday; where to shop, where to eat, where can I get a cocktail with a good view of the runway and so on. Planning to enjoy your airport experience is a lot better than dreading it.
Don’t worry, when we do this, Danny promises me at least one near miss with a tour or something when we get to our destination so I get my adrenaline hit. Not quite the same as almost missing a plane, but they say marriage is all about compromise.
Holidays are a treat and the actual travel experience itself is part of that, so try approaching it as such. If travel stresses you out or you just want a little sprinkle of luxury adding to your trip, try one (or all) of the suggestions below.
Consider Your Flight Class
If you are flying business class, bear in mind that dependant on which airline you are travelling with, some of the options mentioned below should be included in your ticket already. You also may well find that as you are already paying for a luxury travel experience, it actually makes very little difference to you anyway.
However, I find that flying in economy, particularly long haul and even more so with kids (I used to be a nanny), thinking about adding some of these extras to your trip will pay dividends to keeping your sanity.
While I generally choose to fly business class for long haul flights, I personally have yet to find a carrier where their short haul business class is good enough value for me to warrant paying the cost increase on a standard ticket.
You don’t get lie flat beds and quite amazingly (as I discovered on a recent trip to Turkey with British Airways), sometimes the seats are exactly the same as the ones in economy with no extra leg room, only with a pillow, blanket and some free food thrown in.
I therefore find that for me it is just not worth it and it is much better value to buy an economy ticket and pay separately for the airport extras so that I still enjoy my flight experience as much as possible.
While we are on flight classes; fun fact, I have never paid full price for a business class ticket and actually sometimes pay less than an economy ticket on the same flight. This is a story for another day, but to get you started, here is a great guide on point hacking.
The most obvious and probably the most well known airport service is parking. However, not all airport parking is created equal.
Let me tell you a little story. All of my purchasing decisions are a very precarious balancing act between luxury and value for money. I get it right more often than not, but recently I got it wrong. We flew from Birmingham Airport and booked the cheapest parking package they offered, which apparently involved a short walk or complimentary shuttle.
I saw no sign of said shuttle bus when we dropped the car off or picked it up. That “short five to ten minute walk” stated on the website was also a mirage. I genuinely do not think there are any circumstances that walk can be done in five minutes. Ten I think would be possible if you have no luggage. My bag weighed in at 28 kg on check in. Danny’s wasn’t much lighter AND he had a golf bag. Oh, and the car park was on a hill and it started raining on our way to the terminal. I was sweating before we got there. This is not enjoying the journey. I had to have two glasses of wine, a wardrobe change and half an hour of pouting to recover from that. Lesson learned!
The point is, when booking your parking, think about how much luggage you have, how many kids, how likely is it to rain, the temperature, the maximum amount of time you need to allow (I have seen some shuttles taking up to 30 minutes plus travel time to the terminal), what time your flight takes off and lands and crucially, how much patience you have.
I now only book through Purple Parking or Heathrow Parking. Both provide a slick operation that consistently does what it says it will in the time frames advertised and offer different levels of service depending on what you are after.
If I am departing and/or arriving at odd times, or it is a long flight, I choose the Meet and Greet option. Add lots of luggage onto that or if I know I will be pushing it tight to get to the airport, I go with the Valet Service (at Heathrow, this is only provided by Heathrow Parking).
Don’t make your life even more difficult before you’ve even entered the airport. The cost can vary quite a bit, but I generally only pay £30 to £45 extra for Heathrow valet parking than I do for their cheapest offer.
I have even once even paid as little as £22 extra. The key is to book in advance, the cost for all kinds of parking goes up dramatically the closer you get to your departure date.
Running Late for a Flight?
If you have booked standard parking and you are delayed getting to the airport, give them a call and see if you can upgrade to meet & greet airport service or even valet. It will save you at least half an hour and these guys generally have all the tips to get through the airport quickly.
Fast Track Airport Security
Is there anything worse than realising you are going to be watching the world’s slowest people unpack their bags, put their toiletries in the plastic bags (because they haven’t had enough time to do it in the queue) which then don’t even fit, leave change in their pockets going through the scanners resulting in a full body search and then their luggage getting pulled and the agent revealing their laptop, hair straighteners, kindle and iPad they somehow forgot they packed.
Now imagine watching this same experience repeated 103 times. Honestly, I will never understand why airport security is so difficult for some.
Enter Fast Track Security. Unfortunately, it is not that only a super efficient breed of people are allowed in this queue, but the beauty is you should only have to see it happen once or twice, rather than said 103 times. I can just about cope with once or twice. Any more than that leaves me in real danger of hurling something at someone and screaming at them to move faster.
It is the most affordable fast track service ranging from about £5 to £12.50 per person, plus, under fives generally go free (airport dependent).
Top Tips: Airport Security
- If you are travelling in business or first or hold a high enough status with your preferred airline, this should be already included as part of your ticket, for the love of god, do yourself a favour and use it.
- If you book parking through the airport (e.g. Heathrow Parking) rather than a third party (e.g. Purple Parking), they generally offer fast track security tickets as an extra to your parking reservation. These tickets are also often cheaper than if you buy them separately or when you are at the airport.
- If you are running really late for your flight, let the person who checks your documentation prior to entering the queue know you’re having a bit of a nightmare. Ask them very nicely if it’s possible for you to go straight to the front of the queue. This generally only works if your chosen airport doesn’t have the fast track ticket machines on hand, in which case, you will understandably be directed to one of those to purchase a ticket.
Airport Luggage Delivery Service
This only really comes into it’s own if you have so much luggage you can’t manage it yourself, or if you are using public transport to get to the airport. Living in Leicester, we generally drive, so don’t really need to send luggage to the airport separately.
When I worked in London a lot though, I once had a day of running between meetings all over the city before my evening flight from Heathrow, so I had a concierge take my luggage to the airport.
I used Airportr baggage delivery service purely as I had seen them mentioned on my flight reservation from British Airways. It was dead easy: I booked a one hour collection slot, they come and collect it and then you don’t worry about your bags until you pick them up on the baggage carousel at your arrival destination.
One word of warning; all people having luggage collected need to be present, with their passports and be checked in with your airline in order for them to take your baggage (I suspect this is a security measure). It was only a very minor inconvenience, they start at 6:00am so they came and collected before work.
The thought of having to contend with my monster suitcase on the Underground and then the Heathrow Express after a manic week of work before a 12 hour flight made me want to cry, so I’m so glad I did this. I swanned into Terminal 5 all bouncy and light and massaged hand cream into my very relaxed hands.
Information: Airport Luggage Delivery Service
Airportr will take your bags from London and surrounding areas with prices starting from £30. Be aware that they don’t work with all airlines.
Bonus Tip: Heathrow Rewards Card
Heathrow is the only UK airport that has its own loyalty programme. It is free to sign up and you earn one Heathrow Reward point per £1 spent in the following Heathrow locations:
- Airport shops, bars and restaurants (excluding tobacco products)
- Airport lounges at Heathrow such as Plaza Premium and Aspire lounges (not the airline lounges that you get access to with a business or first ticket)
- Heathrow Parking
- Heathrow Express
There is a generally a sign-up bonus and promotions are run regularly where you can earn more if you hit a certain spending limit or shop at certain retailers.
The redemption rate is a £5 voucher per 500 points, which is worth double the amount (£10) if you redeem with Heathrow Parking. You can also transfer your Heathrow Reward Points into airline miles in certain programmes, including British Airways Executive Club, at a rate of 1:1.
Sign up, save up and then treat yourself to lounge access (more on that later) on your next visit (or whatever else you fancy).
Airport Concierge Services
This is an interesting one, airport concierge services have been on the rise and offer a range of services of which you can generally you need, or get a package, a non exhaustive list of which below:
- Expedited check in and security clearance
- Assistance claiming VAT refunds
- Lounge Access
- Baggage porters
- Escort through the airport all the way to the aircraft gate
Airport concierge services partner with airports rather than airlines, so it is not the same as the TSA PreClearance Programme operated in America.
We have only used an airport concierge service once when we arrived in Muscat for our honeymoon in Oman; we were collected from the end of our jet bridge, whisked away on a golf buggy and taken through a separate customs area with no queues. It took a total of seven minutes from collection to car, including getting our luggage from the carousel.
If your chosen destination is notorious for long customs queues, consider this option.
Related Post: How to Survive Long Flights in Economy
Airport Pickup Service
Many people get so distracted about just trying to get through the flight, they forget about the final leg of the journey from the airport to their hotel. This is a mistake.
If your patience is going to give at any point, it will be in the arrivals hall. Trust me. A long flight, jet lag, QUEUING, culture shock and a foreign language can make even the calmest of traveller snap.
Ditto on the way back (minus the foreign language), only this time you will be hit by the strongest desire to be in your own bed. There is something about being so close but not quite there yet that can send you (me) insane.
At the very least, make sure you have a car booked, Blacklane tend to be my go to. Consider an airport concierge service to get you off that plane and into a car at top speed as well.
Other Luxury Airport Services
Unless you have similar habits to myself for catching flights, you may be thinking that this is great and all, but what on earth are you going to do with all this extra time at the airport?
Guess what, enjoy yourself! The below airport VIP services aren’t fast track options as such, but they will help transform your airport experience from a hell you need to get through to a luxury experience in itself.
VIP Airport Lounge Access
I always make sure I have lounge access in an airport (unless I know I am going to be running through it), short or long haul, economy or business.
If you are flying in business, first or have airline status, you should be covered in this department, but if you are flying in economy, there are a few options.
Firstly, it is important to know there are two types of lounge, airline lounge and airport lounge. An airline lounge is generally only if you are flying first or business class (or you are a premium member of their frequent flyer programme) and an airline lounge anyone can get access to, for a fee.
Airport Lounge Membership: Priority Pass
I have a membership with Priority Pass, for which there are a few tiers. The basic level (which is the one I have) is currently £69 annual membership fee and then it is £20 per lounge visit. You can also bring guests into the lounge for an additional £20 per person.
I am a Silversmith Member with Mr & Mrs Smith so I get complimentary airport lounge membership to Priority Pass, although I still have to pay the £20 per person lounge entry.
My first thought was that this was quite expensive for every lounge visit, however bear in mind that you have a complimentary (alcoholic) bar, food and WiFi as standard in the lounge. Many also have additional facilities such as showers, kid’s play areas and computers to use.
I don’t know about you, but I the first thing I do when I have time in an airport is have something to eat and a couple of glasses of something sparkly which generally comes to over £20, so it actually works out more cost effectively for me.
Priority Pass Lounges
I have found the quality of the Priority Pass lounges a little variant, some I think are truly excellent and others are average. None I have ever been into I would say were disappointing.
The ones at Edinburgh and Birmingham are my favourites, lots of food and beverage choice, including an actual menu to order from (in addition to a buffet) and the food was decent. These two lounges, dare I say it, I actually think are better than the British Airways Business Class lounge at T5, where I just don’t think the buffet food selection is up to scratch anymore.
Priority Pass gives you access to 1,300 lounges worldwide and in many major airports you will have more than one choice as to which lounge you want to go to.
Pay As You Go Airport Lounges
The other option is to check which lounges operate at the airport you are travelling at and just pay for one time entry. The most common are No 1 Lounges and Aspire. Try and book in advance if you can, I have just turned up a couple of times and there hasn’t been any availability. They very often run special offers and discount codes as well.
Manchester PremiAir Private Terminal
Having only opened in December 2019, this private terminal at Manchester Airport sounds like the ultimate luxury airport service, but it’s the amazingly reasonable price you pay that means I am actively looking to fly out of Manchester for my next trip (I haven’t used this service yet).
There are two levels of departure service, one arrival service, or you can book a round trip:
Priority Departures £50 per person
- Suitable for guests with hand luggage only
- Dedicated security channel
- Luxury car transfer from the private terminal to your departure gate
Premium Departures £100 per person
- All services included in the Priority Departures package
- Hold luggage processing
- Use of the PremiAir Lounge
- Exclusive arrangements for boarding may be arranged, however this varies by airlines, route and departure gates
Arrivals £125 per person
- Luxury car transfer from the private terminal to the private PremiAir terminal
- Use of their dedicated security channel
- Access to the PremiAir lounge where you wait for your luggage to be delivered to you
You can book a round trip as well; the cost is £175 per person with priority departures and £225 per person for premium departures.
Heathrow Airport VIP Service
Full disclosure, I have not ever used Heathrow VIP service and it is unlikely I will be doing so in the near future, but it is supposed to be one of the most luxurious airport experiences in the world.
It has a hefty £3,300 price tag to match, for which you get the following services:
- Chauffeured transport in a luxury private car to and from the airport
- Access to the airport via a separate entrance and entry into your own private lounge with personal butler
- Dine from the menu designed by Michelin starred chef Jason Atherton
- Visit the terminal with your own personal shopper
- Travelex specialists are available to process VAT refunds
- All security and customs procedures are performed within the Windsor Suite
- Private transfer by car direct between the plane and private lounge
Final Thoughts: Airport Fast Track Services
I genuinely believe that you if you can, you should try and treat your journey to, through and from the airport as part of your holiday and therefore make it as enjoyable as possible and there are lots of ways to make that happen.
Yes they may cost a bit extra, but if you’ve already splurged on a trip, why not make every day of your annual leave count and enjoy it as much as you can.
You will land at your destination that bit calmer, happier and ready to relax and enjoy your break!