VS109, premium economy class
Manchester Airport's real strength is how well-connected it is. Direct trains arrive there – with the station a short walk from the terminals – from towns and cities across the north of Britain. In my case, that's about 75 minutes from Sheffield.
The train from Manchester Piccadilly station takes about 20 minutes, leaves every 10 minutes and costs from £3 (it varies by operating company and time of day). Otherwise, Metrolink trams service other parts of the city for £4.60. Expect to pay at least £25 for a taxi, which will probably take longer if there's any traffic.
Artless, but not actively unpleasant, utilitarianism runs through Manchester Airport. It is grey and calculatingly bland, but clean. Terminal 2 opened in 1993, and looks like the work of someone who also designs multi-purpose conference centres. This should change – a £1 billion transformation and expansion program is underway, with a honeycomb-style transparent roof as the star attraction, and is due to be completed in 2020.
Queues are relatively short – there are about 20 people waiting for five desks, checking in economy class passengers for all Virgin Atlantic flights. For premium economy, it's six for two desks. I'm travelling with hand luggage only, and don't even need to go that far – the woman at a lectern directing people to the correct queue prints off my boarding pass with no need to wait. It's all done in about two minutes, which is hard to fault.
Welcome to the most pernickety security procedure on earth – you're going to hate it. If your bag is anything like full, or contains a couple of electronic chargers, you can pretty much guarantee it's going for secondary screening. This leads to predictable logjams, with no trays available and conveyor belts clogged. It takes half an hour to get through, and this is on a quiet day. Alas, previous experience at Manchester shows that this is not an unfortunate one-off – in summer this turns into an unmanageably chaotic shambles.
FOOD AND DRINK
The artlessly bland ethos comes through in the food offerings. The main three places to eat are chain-style American theme restaurant Frankie and Benny's, plus the Cabin Bar and the Spinning Jenny. These two are, to all intents and purposes, identical. They're sprawling, open-plan bars, with unimaginative food menus focusing on burgers, cooked breakfasts and other things designed to be eaten with ketchup. The Spinning Jenny at least sells local craft beers – the £6.10 Thornbridge Jaipur is pricey but excellent.
The duty free shop could be anywhere in the world. The rest? Think of a bog standard UK high street – WH Smiths newsagents, Claire's Accessories, Dixon's for electronics – and you're about right.
Free Wi-Fi and free newspapers (The Sun or The Times) are the major nods to keeping people occupied. There's also a pretty dismal collection of arcade games, which are clearly designed to eat money rather than genuinely cater to entertainment needs.
ONE MORE THING
Airlines seem fairly randomly allocated to terminals. Of the major transcontinental airlines of interest to Australians, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways are in Terminal 2, but Etihad and Emirates are in Terminal 1.
Manchester Airport is almost entirely lacking in flair, and a few creative additions would go a long way. Assessed purely on how it works as an airport, it is excellent in most senses. Walks to gates are short, check-in is smooth, transport links are superlative. It's such a shame that the security system is such a glaring, howling let down.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE