18/06/2024 1:51 AM


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The most infuriating things about airport hotels

There is always an element of risk in trying to second guess the plans of a government that is more prone to U-turns than a seven-year-old, living in a suburban cul-de-sac, given their first bike and told to exhaust themselves before bedtime. Still, here we are, almost a year into this crisis, and the Number 10 carousel is again, as Kylie Minogue kind of said, spinning around, move out of my way, I know you’re feeling me ‘cos you like it like this. Today, we were told, was the day we would be given the full facts on the recently announced policy of obligatory hotel quarantine for travellers arriving in the UK from certain “high-risk” countries. This headline-grabbing idea has been the talk of travel for the last fortnight, but beyond the requirement to hunker down for 10 days, exact details remain notable by their absence – and anyone who thinks enlightenment will be coming on this fine Thursday afternoon has, according to Downing Street, been “misinformed”. Where will travellers be required to isolate? How will they get there? Will the quarantine-doer be required to pay for their privilege in full – or will there be some sort of discount? Your guess is still as good as ours. But while we wait for Matt Hancock, or Grant Shapps, or whoever it is, to pluck their nicest tie and best “sincere face” from the wash basket, wipe off the soup stains, and pretend they know what they are talking about, let’s make a reasonable assumption. This enforced quarantine, if it happens, will take place in a series of airport hotels. Because, in the 21st century, travellers coming into Britain mainly arrive at airports. And if they are enough of a risk of spreading the virus to necessitate a week-and-a-half in a room of their own – as this policy suggests – then the obvious course of action is for them to move as short a distance as possible. In other words, out of the terminal, and into the various accommodation options around the perimeters of airports that normally cater to passengers on the go, but which aren’t doing much at the moment. Which – let us be truthful – is a bleak scenario. There is a palpable bleakness to this whole idea – the fears about civil liberties that it invites; the reasonable debate as to whether it should have been introduced sooner; the big old question as to whether applying it to passengers from some countries but not others renders it useless. It is a dank, bleak topic. But beyond and below this, there is a further bleakness – and you can find it in the unholy combination of the words “airport” and “hotel”. Allow yourself a nervous shudder, if you will. For there are few bleaker places on God’s currently unclean planet than those accommodation options that are found somewhere close (or close-ish, anyway) to a runway. Bleakness, thy name is “4am check-out, and breakfast from a vending machine”. Not that anyone is doing any checking out – unless they’ve done their full sentence under lock and plastic swipecard. Checking out is for holidaymakers; for people with plans and locations they wish to visit. Whereas this, this is… well, put it this way. Have you read the Inferno section of Dante’s Divine Comedy? No? A quick summary, then. Chap drops into hell. Strolls about a bit. Yadda yadda. Gets to the Ninth Circle, and realises, in cold terror, that he’s in a (nominally) three-star “property” that sells itself as an “airport hotel” – even though it’s three miles from Heathrow, by some big dustbins. He pays £190 for the night. All right, I’m exaggerating. But, rather like Dante, you really should be wondering what you’ve done with your life – and whether you’ve strayed from the sensible path – if, whatever-it-is number of months into a pandemic, you find yourself in a two-square-metre “superior suite”, ringing reception for a toilet roll that you aren’t allowed to collect. At this juncture, a trip to the Fifth Circle (Wrath) or the Seventh (Violence) will sound comparatively appealing. But no leaving the room, please. This is strictly self-isolation. Which could be a new TV series, but it probably won’t work in the Saturday evening slot. Bleak, bleak, bleak. So bleak, in fact, that it might be the solution to the entire situation. If Covid could just be contained within the least recently refurbished hotel a park-and-ride bus journey from Gatwick, it would soon lose its pep and tireless desire to reproduce. Still, while we’re waiting for Shapps, let’s embrace this bleakness. The airport hotel has a style and a character all of its own. And if you happen to find yourself staying in one, whether it’s for quarantine or “pleasure”, here are some of the fine facets you can expect: 1. The window that will only open a crack In luxury hotels, you can fling wide the veranda doors onto an ocean panorama and a palm-framed trail meandering down to the beach. In Room 47 of the Airport Go-tel!, the best you’ll get is about an inch of space before the window mechanism locks – on account of the location being not a Pacific shoreline, but an industrial estate with a 24-hour freight delivery timetable and a nice line in slumbering lorry drivers. Still, that gap will be just enough to let in all the fresh air and sweet stench of kerosene your nostrils can cope with. 2. The coffee buffet We live in a world which takes its coffee seriously. We have gourmet pod machines on stand-by in our kitchens; there are flat white outlets on every city corner (or, at least, there were until Mr Covid became a regular customer). But you can avail yourself of your caffeine fix in your room – via the plastic-bagged parcel of dreams next to the mini-kettle. A sachet-tube of instant coffee that will prove impervious to being opened until you use your teeth – at which point, it will scatter half its contents across the carpet. A tiny tub of long-life “creamer” – enough to brighten your brew to the colour of riverbed mud. A sharpened stirrer that doubles as a tooth-pick. Mmm. That’s morning nirvana, right there.