My recent two-cent travels on RyanAir took me to London via Stansted Airport. London currently has 5 airports (View My Google Map): the most famous Heathrow, next most famous Gatwick, then Stansted, Luton and City Airports. Stansted is Ryanair’s London hub (though it also flies from Gatwick and Luton), contributing to Stansted’s position as 3rd busiest airport in the UK.
Flying into Stansted was easy enough, but flying out wasn’t: the airport has instituted a number of atypical security procedures that complicate travel. Knowing about these procedures ahead of time can save even savvy travelers a few headaches.
+ Dress the Part: before you even get to the airport, think for a moment about what you’re wearing — might those fancy studded jeans, super-large belt buckles or thigh-high boots with metal zipper set off the metal detector? (The answer is yes!) European women, I implore you: if you must, pack those clothes along to wear, but don’t make me wait behind you in line because you set off every alarm in the house!
+ Don’t Pack Anything that’s Not Allowed: check this list for things that aren’t allowed on board. They’ve got some weird items like spoons and nailfiles which are allowed at other airports.
+ Check-in: this is fairly straightforward and if you’ve shown up on time will be the least of your concerns. With your boarding pass, head over to the pre-security lines. There are several, so don’t just join the longest queue you happen upon first. By going further down the rows, you will find the lines are shorter. Yes, this is to say you must first queue to even get into the security lines! Here a security agent checks your passport and boarding pass.
+ The One Bag Rule: Next, the security agent checks that you have only one bag. And they mean it: no purse and hand luggage, no laptop and suitcase (in my case, no purse, laptop, and suitcase); you only get ONE bag. Of course that bag must be carry-on sized (officially actually SMALLER than carry-on, but I didn’t see them being TOO sticky on this point). Here’s hoping your purse can still squeeze inside your carry-on!
+ Weighing Your One Bag: on top of being strict about the sheer number of bags you’re carrying, the gateway agent will make you weigh the bag in question. Doesn’t matter if you just squeezed three bags into one bag, doesn’t matter if your airline couldn’t care less how much you’re toting, you still only get 10 kg to get through the door. He might let you through with, say, 12 kg; 17 kg was too much for the gatekeeper and I was sent back to check my suitcase.
+ Preparing While in the Queue: for the love of all things holy, I don’t know why Europeans don’t prepare themselves in the long queue for the approach to the actual security checkpoint. Americans, whether because we fly more or are simply more efficient, I don’t know, seem at least to have the drill down. Drink your water bottle empty; have your transparent liquids bag in hand; take off your belt, coat and shoes; move your change, keys, wallet and mobile phone over into one pants pocket (or better yet, a zipped pocket in the jacket you just took off); take your laptop out of its case or have it mostly ready to go; get your baby out of the stroller and have this folded up for x-ray. This saves everyone time and is simply considerate. I mean, what else are you doing in line anyway? This instructional Stansted video, which is supposed to show one how to go through security, actually illustrates how clueless person after clueless person slows down the whole process.
+ Walk Down the Hall, Take off Your Shoes: at Stansted the shoe inspection happens after the security inspection. So pack up all your stuff again, walk 20 feet and take off your shoes. Feed them into the shoe-sized scanner, put them back on in the forest of bent-over people. Wade through them onward to your gate.
+ Fill Your Water Bottle and Go to the Bathroom before getting to the gate. If you’re flying RyanAir, steel yourself for the 20-minute hike through the airport.
+ Find your gate and sit down: why contribute to the horrible queue when you can sit until they call the flight and most everyone else has fought their way onto the plane? There will always be a seat for you; RyanAir never overbooks. Further, RyanAir flights are fairly short hops, so the worst case scenario — a middle seat — is for max. 2 hours. My advice: head for the rear of the plane. It’s a quicker route towards the middle where most empty seats and baggage compartments remain for late boarders.
Frequent flier through Stansted? What are your tricks for making it through this process more smoothly? Leave your ideas in the comments.
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