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Revealed: Britain's best and worst airports

Customer satisfaction levels at Britain’s small and large airports are “worlds apart”
Customer satisfaction levels at Britain’s small and large airports are “worlds apart” Credit: GETTY

Airport experiences are rarely pleasant. But travellers hoping for a slightly less stressful start to their holiday should opt for one of the UK’s smaller hubs, according to an annual passenger survey by the consumer magazine, Which?

It found that customer satisfaction levels at Britain’s small and large airports are “worlds apart”, with the likes of Doncaster Sheffield and London Southend leaving Manchester and Stansted in the shade. 

London Luton, which welcomed 16.6m travellers last year, was named worst large airport (10 million or more passengers a year) for the fourth year running, with a passenger satisfaction score of 43 per cent. Manchester Terminal 3 (47 per cent) and Stansted (49 per cent) fared only slightly better. 

Britain’s best large airport, according to more than 6,000 holidaymakers questioned by Which?, is Heathrow Terminal 5, with a 66 per cent satisfaction rating, followed by Birmingham (65 per cent) and Heathrow Terminal 2 (64 per cent). 

Far higher scores can be found at Britain’s regional airports. Doncaster Sheffield, which handled 1.2m passengers last year, achieved an impressive rating of 86 per cent. London Southend, used by 1.5m people in 2018, scored 79 per cent, while 77 per cent of those who flew from Southampton had a positive experience. 

Not all of the UK’s smaller hubs performed so well, however. Belfast International was the lowest rated airport across the entire survey with a satisfaction score of 42 per cent. 

Why do so many people hate Luton?

Passengers described parts of Luton as “tatty” and “antiquated”, while others cited “long security queues, airside crowds and limited seating”. The report added: “The results suggest that the airport is just too small to handle its 16.6 million passengers a year, despite multi-million pound terminal improvement works being completed in December.” 

Another common complaint among those Luton users who arrive by train is the requirement to board a slow shuttle bus to the terminal. This hassle should be gone by 2021, however, when a new rail link is expected to open. 

But not everybody is so scathing of the Bedfordshire airport. Telegraph Travel’s Hugh Morris suggests travellers cut it some slack, and points out that were it not for the likes of Luton and Stansted, low-cost airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet could never afford to offer £20 flights to Europe

What’s wrong with Belfast International?

Northern Ireland’s busiest airport, with 6.3m annual fliers, came under fire for its “slow-moving queues, crowded terminals and pricey parking charges”. It scored one star (out of five) for its seating facilities, and two stars for both its toilets and baggage reclaim. 

All hail Doncaster Sheffield

Just four airlines offer services from Doncaster Sheffield – Flybe, TUI, Hungarian low-cost outfit Wizz Air and BH Air, based in Bulgaria – and customers raved about its “small and uncrowded” feel and “short or non-existent” queues. The “personable and helpful” staff were also praised. 

But the hub is facing difficulties. Passenger numbers dropped 8.5 per cent last year and Flybe is scrapping half of its routes from the airport at the end of October. 

The rise of Southend

Things are looking brighter at Southend, London’s best airport according to Which?. Passenger numbers rose by 35.5 per cent last year, on top of a 24.9 per cent rise in 2017, and new routes are coming this winter courtesy of Wizz and Ryanair.  

It represents something of a comeback for the Essex hub. In the Sixties, Southend was actually Britain’s third busiest hub, behind only Heathrow and Manchester. 

During that heyday it handled nearly 700,000 passengers a year to destinations including Paris, Ostende, Rotterdam and the Channel Islands, but competition from cross-Channel ferry services and the growth of Stansted and Luton ushered in its rapid decline.

Which is your favourite UK airport, and which do you dread flying from? Join the conversation using the comment box below.