Earlier this year, the CEO of Manchester Airports Group argued that improving connectivity to its regional hubs will do “far more” for the UK’s economy than the long-debated third runway at Heathrow.
Charlie Cornish made the claim as Manchester Airport, the third biggest airport in the UK, edges towards the 30 million annual passenger milestone for the first time in its 80-year history.
Far from having links to only leisure-oriented, short-haul destinations, Manchester has built up an impressive long-haul network over the last few decades. Its 220 destinations include links to the Middle East, Asia, Africa and North America from its three terminals and two runways.
The US is particularly well served, with nonstop flights to 12 different cities.
According to Manchester’s Aviation Director Julian Carr, this is a “hugely important market” for the airport, and has seen significant growth over the last five years.
Virgin Atlantic alone has flights to Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York JFK and Orlando, while its joint venture partner Delta will return to the airport to take over Virgin’s nonstop route to Boston from summer 2020. Both fly from Terminal 2, where Virgin will open a Clubhouse lounge in 2020.
This year saw Virgin increase its flights out of Manchester by 20 per cent, with a doubling of its Las Vegas frequency and the launch of the LA service this summer. The Delta partnership also allows it to provide one-stop connections to over 200 US destinations.
Virgin has further emphasised its commitment to the airport in an announcement following its acquisition of British regional carrier Flybe. It says this will allow it to provide more choice for customers through improved connectivity between the UK’s regional airports and its extensive long-haul network at Manchester.
According to Carr, a growing number of passengers are arriving from the UK, Ireland and parts of Europe to connect onto such “feeder flights”.
For all the airport’s growth, Terminal 1 is looking a little dated after almost 60 years in operation.
But that is set to change, with the airport in the midst of a £1 billion expansion. This will see Terminal 2 more than double in size and get dozens of new restaurants, shops and public areas, as well as new security halls, access roads and lounge spaces. These areas will open in summer 2020, at which point the existing parts of Terminal 2 will close for a refurbishment until 2022.
By 2024, all airlines will be operating out of Terminal 2 and a refreshed Terminal 3. After that, Terminal 1 is set for demolition.
Business Traveller took a tour of the site, and it is clear to see how the project will transform the passenger experience.
Most of it still looked like this during our visit:
The inside of the new Terminal 2 entrance
But it was clear how spacious the new public areas will feel.
The extension covers six floors (two of which are staff-only) which are being lined on one side with large panes of glass to let light in, including even the immigration halls. Several areas will also provide airfield views.
Manchester’s air traffic control tower visible from a floor of the new terminal
A rendering of security in arrivals
Rendering of the new departures hall entrance
Check-in, security, immigration and arrivals will span the four floors, one of which will have a mezzanine for restaurants and lounges.
The mezzanine level in departures
It’s currently Terminal 1 which has the biggest range of food and beverage options, while Terminal 2’s selection is more limited.
Of course, that’s also changing with the expansion – but the new T2 is going above and beyond your usual airport line-up of chains.
Manchester has signed up a host of local, independent favourites to provide its new restaurants, bars and cafes.
Rendering of the new San Carlo Cicchetti restaurant
Grindsmith coffee, which will be in the arrivals hall
A rendering of the arrivals hall
The infrastructure surrounding Terminal 2 is also getting an upgrade, with additions including a new 3,800-space multi-storey car park with a glass bridge leading to departures and arrivals, an elevated road that will lead directly to the new entrance, and a new link between Terminals 2 and 3.
The new road and T2 entrance, which will have a covered forecourt, under construction in July 2019
Security queues at the expanded terminal are also set to improve, with 22 lanes featuring state-of-the-art scanners.
A rendering of the new security lanes
Tiles are laid in the future immigration hall
The expansion project currently has more than 1,300 people working on it, with engineers Laing O’Rourke set up in a six-storey temporary office next to Terminal 2.
They have already completed a new 216-metre pier connected to Terminal 2 which opened in April, adding 11 gates and air conditioned/heated airbridges. The pier has 1,400 seats and 300 individual panes of glass, giving it great views across the airfield.
Work is currently underway on a second new pier to enhance the departure experience and add capacity, as well as airfield alterations to improve efficiency – such as a dual taxiway to reduce bottlenecks when two widebodies are unable to pass each other.
Inside the new departure pier
The view from the passenger walkway leading to the new pier
The project means not only a vastly improved passenger experience out of and into Manchester, but the ability for the airport to move towards its full capacity. Its airfield can manage 55 million annual passengers, but it wouldn’t be able to reach that with the existing size of its terminals.
The airport wants to play a “vital role in connecting different parts of the country to key markets,” according to MAG CEO Charlie Cornish. The £1 billion expansion is a way to ensure that role will grow in the years to come.
From central Manchester, the easiest routes are by train or taxi. Trains run from Manchester Piccadilly roughly every ten minutes and the journey takes 20 minutes. The airport train station is just north of Terminal 1 and just southeast of Terminal 2, and is attached to both by a covered walkway with travelators called the Skylink. Leave at least 10 to 15 minutes for the walk from the station to the check-in desks.
A taxi obviously varies in price, but a journey from Manchester city centre should take 20 to 30 minutes. An Uber costs around £20. There are drop-off areas outside each terminal entrance and the station, which incur a £3 charge for five minutes or £4 for ten minutes. There is also a free drop-off area where passengers can catch a complimentary shuttle bus to their terminal.
Bus routes are also available to local areas.
It is possible to walk between the terminals fairly easily via the Skylink, although you will need to go outside to get between Terminals 1 and 3.
The only hotel connected to the Skylink is a 360-room Radisson Blu, so it provides convenient access on foot to every terminal as well as the train station, which it is directly opposite. It first opened in 1998, but was given a £10 million refurbishment in 2013. Today it’s a highly-ranked property (and its runway view rooms make it a good one for aviation geeks.)
Other big hotel groups are also represented near the airport – a 300-room Hilton provides a courtesy bus to the terminals, as do the nearby Crowne Plaza and Marriott. All the hotels also have their own restaurants and meeting/event spaces.
A variety of new hotels are arriving over the next few years, including a 375-room Hilton Garden Inn with a sky bar, and a 254-room Hampton by Hilton which will have a covered walkway linking it to the airport terminals and rail station.
Meanwhile a 262-room Holiday Inn and 280-room Ibis Budget are set to be located east of Terminal 2.
Carriers: Aegean, Aer Lingus, Air Arabia Maroc, Air Transat, Aurigny, Austiran Airlines, Balkan Holidays, Belavia, Brussels Airlines, Easyjet, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Eurowings, Finnair, Icelandair, Iraqi Airways, Jet2, Libyan Airlines, Lufthansa, Norwegian, Pegasus Airlines, SAS, Swiss, TAP Portugal, Thomas Cook Airlines, Titan Airways, Turkish Airlines
Lounges: Escape Lounge (pay to enter, starting from £21) 1903 Lounge (pay to enter, adults-only, starting from £35)
Carriers: Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge, Air Malta, Belavia, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Ethiopian Airlines, FlyLolo, Hainan Airlines, Jet2 (currently operating out of Terminals 1 and 2), Jetsgo Holidays, Olympic Holidays, Oman Air, Pakistan International, Qatar Airways, Sardatur Holidays, Saudi Airlines. Singapore Airlines, Small Planet Airlines, Tailwind, TUI, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic
Adria Airways, Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Flybe, Iberia, Iberia Express, KLM, Loganair, Ryanair, Vueling
Lounges: Escape Lounge, 1903 Lounge