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Saturday February 1, 2014

Why some airports leave a bad taste in the mouth

At Gatwick Airport whenever I detect that one of those goodly middle-aged ladies brandishing a clipboard and a survey is clip clopping towards me, I disappear faster than a conjurer’s rabbit.

At the top of their voices – ensuring that everyone in the queue is party to your guilty airport shopping secrets and vices – they bossily demand to know if you shopped, where you shopped, how you found the prices, what you thought of the refreshments available and all manner of weary question. I naughtily pretended not to understand English on one occasion and the woman tutted and collared the poor mug – a fellow expat as it transpired – behind me in the queue. But of course really I’m doing these ‘survey interviewers’ a huge favour because as a seasoned commuter I usually find something to rant about.

Recently though my curmudgeonly airport persona has developed a Zen like peace with the timely arrival at Gatwick of Comptoir Libanais, an oasis of calm. I am someone who dislikes flying, airports, queuing, wasting time, endless walkways, towering vertical escalators, rasping intrusive tannoy announcements, officialdom, security checks, lifts, musak, paper cups, fast food and airport noise. So imagine my shock to discover that a discreet and mellow hangout with cheery Lebanese décor and gifts had been added to the garish riot of self service and loud joints on the top level of the north terminal. When I demanded to know whether the place served real tea in proper cups and food that actually tasted authentic, the smiling waitress assured me that I’d have a tea pot too and the most scrumptious choice of freshly squeezed juices with my Lebanese inspired breakfast. Bliss and at £7 for the lot, I felt it was money well spent. Now whenever I arrive at Gatwick for my regular flight I head for this little jewel with its calming music and charming staff and keep my head down until it’s time for the route march to the gate.

Ha! But all is not well in my neck of the woods here in Majorca. En route to London last week, I decided to buy a coffee and roll at Palma de Mallorca airport – after schlepping a mini marathon to the terminal I was in need of sustenance or better still a St Bernard. And what tasty treat was in store for me? A baguette in which a strip of standard cheese had been inserted – without butter, olive oil or whiff of a tomato or any garnish- cost €6.10, a water €3.60, a Fanta €3.45, crisps €1.85 and a croissant €2.85. In the words of a certain famed American, You cannot be serious?

Meanwhile outside the terminal in the main car park, a modest cafe largely frequented by airport workers, offers a far better standard of cuisine with prices at a fraction of the cost so how in heaven’s name could the airport get it so wrong? I decided to quiz passengers for their views. A Swedish businessman told me that the airport food offering was dismal and horribly expensive while two German ladies expressed their disapproval and agreed that prices had evidently been hiked up for tourists. An Englishman who worked in the tourism sector complained that airports were a grim enough experience without the feeling that one was being exploited. And the most depressing thing of all is that I doubt Palma airport bosses are the only ones deserving of the naughty chair. How many other European airports currently serve up mediocre fare at gulp-worthy prices?

So tell me fellow expats, what airport foodie experiences have you had? Have you a favourite eaterie at an airport? What attracts you to a particular airport café or bar and keeps you loyal to it? I’ll stop here for fear that I’m developing goodly middle-aged lady with a clipboard syndrome. Forgive me. Note to self: I must spend less time at airports.

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