Airport fast track
Most UK airports offer a quicker way to the departure gate for those willing to pay. Fast-track security services promise passengers a stress-free experience so they have more time to relax, eat and shop.
You don’t get to skip the X-ray machine - everyone is subject to the same safety checks – but you should get to Departures quicker. But is it worth forking out for extra minutes in duty free, or are ‘faster’ lanes just another way to extract cash from stressed-out holidaymakers?
Fast track security compared
We’ve researched schemes at 10 of the UK's largest airports.
Fast track: the small print
Clear terms and conditions are vital so that you know what you’re signing up for before parting with your cash. But we couldn’t find any fast-track T&Cs on the websites of Belfast, Gatwick, Glasgow and Luton airports. Of those that did provide T&Cs, we discovered a few pitfalls to watch out for in the small print:
- No guarantee it will be quicker – Birmingham, East Midlands, Manchester and Stansted airports say they can’t guarantee that the fast-track lane will be quicker than the standard lanes.
- No freebies for kids – Some airports require all passengers, even babies and infants, to buy a fast-track ticket, so a family of four could pay £28 to bypass the queues.
- No buggies – If you’re travelling with young children, you might be tempted to pay extra for fast track. But be warned that some schemes, such as those at Manchester and Stansted, won’t let you through with pushchairs, prams or car seats.
- Booking charges – Some airports charge a credit card fee of 1.5%, or less than 20p, when buying fast-track tickets online. But watch out for Gatwick’s fixed £2 charge, a 40% increase on the price of a £5 fast-track security ticket.
- Advance bookings – While Gatwick and Glasgow allow only advance bookings, you can buy fast-track tickets in the terminal at most other airports, although this may be more expensive. At East Midlands, Manchester and Stansted, the turn-up price is the same, so you may as well wait to see how long the queues are before shelling out.
Fast track gamble
Of course, what we all want to know is whether the priority lanes are actually speedier. Some airports even admit in their terms and conditions that they can’t guarantee that the fast-track lane will be any quicker than standard security lines.
Data from the CAA and the airports themselves suggest that average waiting times at security range from five to seven-and-a-half minutes. Even at the busiest times of day (see infographic, below), this is only eight to 10 minutes.
You’re most likely to feel the benefit of fast-track security when travelling at peak times. If your flight is leaving before 10am, this is likely to be the busiest time of day at any airport. While these airport statistics don’t consider seasonal differences, such as the hectic school holidays, the busiest times of day at an airport should remain pretty consistent all year round.