I’ve been debating this for years now, but is the UK airports’ gating system really the most efficient?
Never knowing the gate number until last minute can be really uneasy and frustrating for a traveller at times, especially one with a short connection time and that has no clue where to go. Particularly in the larger UK airports, where there is a plethora of shops and places to lounge and eat or drink, it would be nice to know at least what section of the airport to go to… LHR (Heathrow) is the worst for this, as some terminals have trams to take you to different sections and this can take a while.
Personally, I like to know where my gate is, so I can locate somewhere nearby to rest myself and do my own thing until I absolutely need to leave. (And taking me just a couple minutes to get there.)
However, I’m torn in the UK, as on one end, for some airports, you are provided with ample time to get to your plane once the gate is announced on the screens overhead. 30-50 minutes, depending on where you’re going, and they don’t typically start physically boarding until 15 minutes before flight time – which happens to usually be the same time you are previously informed when the gate will close, funny enough. So, you end up waiting around at the gate for 10-15 minutes when you get there.
Others, instead, you have to rush/run to, leaving you sometimes as the last person to board the plane and/or while the gate is closing. And always end up in a sweat and in panic mode. I keep reminding myself in those moments: As long as I make this flight, I’m okay.
But how would one know which of these options they are going to get?
Although, I have found a slight, costly way to go around this. If you can afford paying for a one-day pass at a airport lounge (Escape Lounge is usually the “cheapest” in the UK), then they usually know the gate number – so, you can know in advance how long it will take you to get to that gate and take a relaxing seat with a glass of wine or tea/coffee. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t have enough time to go to one of the lounges, so what’s one to do then? …just sit near a monitor and wait…
I have had one interesting experience that kind of makes you hate knowing your gate in advance, but only one so far and it was in the U.S. It was at ORD (Chicago’s O’Hare Airport). One of my top three worst international airports I’ve ever had to frequent. I was flying from Chicago, Illinois to Dallas, Texas and was told to go to Terminal C, gate whatever, so I sat down at a Chilli’s bar right next to my gate and relaxed. As I was having a sip from my marguerita, I saw a bunch of people, who were sitting at this gate, make a mad-dash out of the area (45-min before flight time). Curious, I took a quick step out and checked the gate and the monitor nearby. Gate and Terminal changed! What!? So, I ran back in, paid my bill as quickly as I could, and rushed out of there. To go to the next Terminal, I had to run, as it was very far away – and, thankfully, I had been traveling this airport enough to already know this fact. Passing people at full speed, barefoot from my previous gate (as I had to take off my heels to run faster), I finally got to the new gate (time of boarding – not bad, but was in full-on sweat-mode). However, there was no agent at the gate. Curious. We all looked at each other and no one had any clue to what was going on. We looked at the monitor again and the gate/Terminal had changed again! Another mad-dash and a lot of aggravated travellers, as time now was cutting close to departure. We arrived there and were immediately told by a gate agent that it had changed yet again! And, you’ll never believe it – it was changed again to the original gate we were started from at the beginning! Having less than 10 minutes until the gate doors closed and about half the passengers running all together, we thought we would be okay. However, when we made it back to the original gate, they had every intention of closing the doors! But because so many of us ran up at the same time, they didn’t shut them completely when we came in yelling – ‘Don’t close the door!’ We made it, but the airport decided to take us on a tour of almost the entire place before allowing us to get on our plane. I definitely didn’t need a gym that day!
Aside from this experience, I still think knowing your gate in advance makes life a bit easier for travellers.