Friday, 2 October 2009

Airport lounging


Eight minutes. That's the average time it now takes - apparently - to pass through security at Manchester Airport's Terminal One following its £50m refit.
I was there on a rainy Manchester afternoon last Friday for a tour of the new airside facilities and set my watch accordingly.
I hate security queues. Liverpool John Lennon Airport has taken a slating recently for its handling of security and I long since gave up on London Stansted as a no-go zone.
So, from the moment we swiped through the tube station-style ticket barrier to the 14-lane security area, the seconds were ticking.
Jacket off, belt off, phone and keys in the plastic box, shoes off (but swiped separately through a machine after the main security gate to avoid doubling back). Once through, I was called over by the attendant to have my phone and laptop checked and scanned again. No reason given why. Then belt and jacket back on, and laptop back in bag.
Total time? Seven minutes. The success rate of hitting the target is currently running around 99% beam airport management with some pride.
The £14m spent on updating the security area is just one aspect of the refurbishment alongside an increased retail offer, a new walk-through series of zones with names like 'Desire' and a brand new Emirates lounge, currently on a soft opening, with hot meals, airside views and remote control toilets. No, really. Just wash n' go.
But it's queue beating that will warm the autumnal hearts of most passengers. From business travellers cutting it fine for an early-morning flight to families hauling baby and buggy through check in, the delay at security is one of the key factors driving people away from airports and back onto trains.
Manchester Terminal One first opened in 1962 with a capacity for 2.5m passengers. Today it handles 9m people per year, flying Emirates, Swiss and Jet2.com amongst others. According to Managing Director Andrew Cornish, new long-haul routes over the next 18 months are likely to include the American west coast, India and China.
So, will the facelift, two years in preparation and re-tweaked several times after the 2006 liquid ban and the 2007 Glasgow Airport attack, bring about, as the press release promises, "a return to when the holiday began at the airport"?
Well, maybe it will help to restore faith in air travel to some extent.
The writer Alain de Botton recently spent a Heathrow's Terminal Five and listed some of things he learnt from the experience in a blog post for the Guardian.
From my afternoon at Terminal One I learnt that 17,000 passengers typically pass through Manchester Airport on a Christmas Day, the lemon drizzle cake in the food hall is particularly good, some writers spend their press trip buying leather boots they'll never actually wear (unless staring in their local Pantomime this Christmas) and, best of all, free wifi is coming to Manchester's "international, regional" airport.
The holiday begins here. But ditch the boots, love.

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