Airport review: Gatwick Airport, southeast UK

OFFICIAL IATA CODE

LGW

THE FLIGHT

UX1014 to Madrid with Air Europa, economy class

THE ARRIVAL

Located roughly halfway between London and the south coast, Gatwick claims to have more direct rail connections than any other airport in Europe. It's only 30 minutes from central London on the Gatwick Express with trains running every three minutes. The station is in the airport's South Terminal so if you're flying out of the North Terminal, you'll need to take the free inter-terminal shuttle, which takes around two minutes.

THE LOOK

Both terminals have the same uninspiring, generic airport look and feel. While there are no soaring atriums or rooftop pools, the terminals are at least clean and compact, with all the modern facilities you'd expect, including water fountains, free Wi-Fi and charging points.

CHECK-IN

Air Europa doesn't have automated check-in kiosks so it's a frustratingly long queue time with only two staff behind the desk. Many other airlines do offer the time-saving kiosks, including EasyJet (the airport's biggest airline), which has a vast bank of automated bag-drop stations.

SECURITY

For outgoing flights, access to security is via electronic gates that scan your boarding pass. Security is thorough and efficient – I've flown out of Gatwick dozens of times and never had to wait more than 10 minutes. If you're in a hurry, you can pay £5 to upgrade to Premium Security, which has its own dedicated channel. Arriving is similarly painless providing you have an e-passport and are eligible to use the automated immigration gates (Australians can). Again, if time is of the essence, you can pay £9.99 to go through Premium Passport Control, which has a separate line.

FOOD AND DRINK

Both terminals have the usual high street chains (Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Pret a Manger) plus some higher-end offerings, such as Itsu, which serves healthy Japanese snacks, and Caviar House & Prunier, where you can indulge in beluga caviar and Balik smoked salmon. The main concourses of both terminals can get uncomfortably crowded; you may have a better chance of finding somewhere to sit down if you head towards the gates.

RETAIL THERAPY

After being funnelled through a snaking maze of duty free, you'll find a range of shops in both terminals, from UK mainstays such as Boots, Harrods and WHSmith, to boutiques by Cath Kidston, Jo Malone and Ted Baker. Good luck keeping the kids away from Hamley's and the Harry Potter Shop.

PASSING TIME

In addition to dedicated lounges for British Airways, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic, there are four premium spaces that can be used on a pay-as-you-go basis. Access to the No1 Lounge starts at £32 and includes a fully-tended bar, a decent menu of hot and cold food, newspapers, magazines, kid's packs and unlimited Wi-Fi. Want to go full rock star? Splash out on Signature Elite Class, which will have you whisked off to a private VIP terminal with its own customs, immigration and security facilities. From there, you'll be delivered to the plane by chauffeur-driven transfer.

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ONE MORE THING

Gatwick was the first UK airport to have a sensory room designed for passengers with conditions such as autism, dementia or cognitive impairment. Located in the North Terminal, the wheelchair-accessible space is calm and tranquil, with floor cushions, bean bags and interactive displays. It's free but must be booked online in advance at bookings.gatwickairport.com

THE VERDICT

With excellent rail connections and an ever-expanding roster of airlines (currently more than 50 including budget carriers EasyJet and Norwegian plus long-haul specialists Cathay and Emirates), Gatwick is an infinitely less-stressful alternative to Heathrow. It's particularly handy if you're heading to the south coast – it's just a 30-minute train ride from the seaside town of Brighton.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

4

Rob McFarland was a guest of G Adventures (gadventures.com.au) and No1 Lounges (no1lounges.com).

See also: Airport review: Bali's unpredictable beast of an airport

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