/ Travel & Leisure

What’s your biggest airport bugbear?

Airport queue

What’s your biggest gripe when you’re at an airport? We surveyed more than 1,000 Which? members to tell us what frustrates them most before they fly off for their holidays…

If we can ignore late or delayed flights, there isn’t much that gets me down at airports.

But it would be good if airports could provide more space to get dressed again after passing through security.

At busy times it’s obvious that there will be a bottleneck of holiday makers putting on belts and shoes and re-packing bags but the space to do this never seems to be adequate.

It reminds me of the supermarket checkout experience; you’ve paid for your shopping, but still packing your bags and the checkout assistant starts putting through the next customer’s shopping – causing unnecessary stress at a time you really don’t need it.

What we’re asked to unpack, pack or remove at airport security has changed over recent years and there are good reasons for this, but the space to do it in feels like it’s just the same.

Endless airport security queues

We asked Which? members what their biggest airport frustrations are. Top of the list is the endless queue to get through security, followed by paying to drop-off and pick-up passengers. And completing the top three is the price of airport parking.

But some people simply aren’t bothered by the stresses of finding a parking space or queuing for security – 10% said they didn’t find anything frustrating at all about UK airports.

Top airport frustrations survey results

• Queuing for security (49%)
• Paying to drop off/pick up passengers (47%)
• Price of airport car parking (46%)
• Lack of seating, such as too few seats or uncomfortable seating (43%)
• Queuing at passport control (43%)
• Queuing at check-in (41%)
• Price of food at outlets (39%)
• Waiting at baggage reclaim (37%)
• Lack of space to dress after security (37%)
• Having to walk long distances between terminals (35%)

What’s your biggest frustration when you go to the airport?

Geoff P says:
5 July 2014

I had a serious problem at Gatwick Airport and complained. Sadly I never got a satisfactory reply from them, it seemed to be swept under the carpet.
We flew to Jerez on a Thompsons package tour with our 18 month son. On the flight home my son was sick on me and later went into a deep sleep. On arrival at Gatwick I asked for our pushchair as he was still asleep. My request was turned down and I had to carry him in my arms for a long, long way. I have had a heart attack and was feeling very angry and struggling to carry him. My wife carried our hand luggage.
When I complained by email Gatwick blamed the tour company and the handling agent. Neither replied as Gatwick had asked them to.
There are 2 problems here, one is the ridiculous amount of walking required to reach the plane and the second is not being able to get your child’s pushchair on arrival.
Incredibly Jerez airport gave you the pushchair as you disembarked the plane….which airport is more civilised?!

fisher says:
6 July 2014

Having checked in for my flight at an SE of England airport i was astonished to find i needed to purchase a £3 ticket to proceed through to security and into the departure lounge – held to ransom – pay or don’t fly !

fisher – Please advise which airport.

fisher says:
6 July 2014


I just checked and was amazed to find that that would appear to be thet Airport Development Fee and is £10, not £3!

http://www.norwichairport.co.uk/faq.asp ans scroll down a bit.

That really is outrageous. You already pay to use the airport in landing charges as part of your ticket price. They say that Newquay Cornwall Airport, Blackpool International Airport and Durham Tees Valley Airport run this scam too.


Cannot see any mention of a £3 fee which seems bizarre. I see that there is an executive lounge which has an unmentioned charge – could that be it? Though from what you write unlikely.


fisher says:
6 July 2014

No – no mention in any of the bumph anywhere. It was a couple of years ago and i’ve retired now thankfully after 40 years of extensive traveling around the world – land sea and air. I understand the charges have gone up at some airports considerably. Vancouver also comes to mind – confronted with a $20 fee to get into the departure area. That’s stopped now tho. Staycations for me now.

On the home page of the Norwich Airport website [norwichairport.co.uk] there is a prominent box labelled Airport Development Fee [ADF] which links through to a page about this levy which explains how it works, says what it’s used for, and seeks to justify it. It pre-empts, but does not answer, Nick Davies’ point above with the following devious words –

“Norwich International has decided to collect the ADF in an open and transparent manner, and all airlines operating from the airport are aware of its existence as a charge payable locally in addition to the flight ticket costs and associated taxes / charges”.

Yes, ‘devious’ is not an unfair term, although I can think of other less printable adjectives to describe Norwich’s ‘Airport Development Fee’.

At least Ryanair, in attempting to charge passengers extra at every opportunity, give something tangible in return (even if it’s only a trip to the loo or whatever) on the day in question, whereas Norwich’s ADF is nothing less than shameless daylight robbery : compulsory extraction of money today for nothing other than the possibility of improved facilities should the victims choose to return at some time in the future.

We chose not to; Luton or Stansted are at least as attractive as departure points, do not try to charge us a sizeable extra sum every time we use them for a family trip and are worth the extra miles we have to drive to get there.

BillP says:
6 July 2014

I Never fly now, but take the train or drive where I can, I refuse to fly simply because the treatment I receive at airports leaves me angry and frustrated, I think it says it all when you can BUY a security fastpass at some airports.
While I am aware of the need for security, I think we wrongly believe it has to be super visible and inconvenient for the passengers just so we know that they are looking after us, common sense has gone out the window, however since most UK airports are running at almost full capacity there is absolutely no incentive for them to change their ways.
Don’t get me started on Airport parking scams… 🙂

I agree about fast track security. When flying from Madrid recently, I looked for the fast track security lane (as I would be entitled to use it), but I couldn’t find it. I then discovered that Madrid operates one security channel for all passengers with no queue. This is how it should be.

Jeremy says:
6 July 2014

Latest annoyance is Ryanair staff trying to bully us into putting hand luggage in the hold. On our flight from East Midlands recently they wanted us to put luggage in the hold. We said that we would if they could guarantee it wouldn’t be damaged. They declined to do this and we declined to put the luggage in the hold. When we came to board the supervisor stopped us, claimed we’d been rude and was very threatening. Our written complaint is on the way.

IanB says:
6 July 2014

Jeremy, this has been standard practice at BA for quite some time and I fly with them short-haul every week. There is not enough room in the overheads to accomodate all the bags being brought onboard these days and those that won’t fit go in the hold. Ryanair’s 737-800 max number of bags overhead is, I think, 90 but BA’s is much less on their smaller A319’s. It follows that, on busy flights, there will always be some bags that have nowehere else to go other than in the hold. I have yet to see any passenger refuse to have their bags put in the hold if asked. It’s free. NO AIRLINE will guarantee that luggage will not be damaged so, in fairness, that was an unreasonable request.

Josquine says:
7 July 2014

Personally I was very glad when airlines started insisting on only one piece of hand luggage. As one who only ever did have one, and found it often impossible extremely difficult to find space in the locker over my own seat for it, I got most cross seeing people selfishly bringing on three or even four piece just to save a few minutes in baggage reclaim.

So why did Ryanair increase the number of cabin bags to two then when it doesn’t have space? What’s needed is a strict enforcement of the size limit (with no weight limit) and only one item.

The trouble is you get into silly arguments as to whether a laptop bag counts as a bag, or does a woman’s handbag and when is it too big to be a handbag and becomes a piece of luggage? So you stipulate one piece of hand luggage plus a laptop bag, but what if it hasn’t got a laptop in it? People will find all manner of ways of bending the rules.

IanB says:
7 July 2014

NFH, I am inclined to agree with you (I only ever have a carry-on) but that’s exactly what Ryanair were doing up til February this year and their “strict enforcement” rules were regularly berated publicly by passengers who felt the rules didn’t apply to them (supported by the likes of the Daily Mail). So, you can’t win can you 🙂 ?
At BA Gate desks they tie a yellow ribbon around hand baggage that they decide must go under the seat. If you chance it and put it in the overhead it will be spotted and removed!!

Non-enforcement of the existing hand baggage restrictions is the real bugbear as it makes life difficult and potentially hazardous if the overhead lockers are filled up with big pieces of luggage. “Hand Baggage”, by definition, is an article that can be carried around by the hand reasonably easily for a lengthy period. Anything that requires wheels and a pull-handle is not hand baggage. I think the trend towards taking luggage on the plane was influenced by unreasonable charges for extra weight in hold luggage [the permitted weights have gradually reduced – allegedly as a response to “manual handling regulations” but irrelvant because there is very little manual handling involved]. Since it seems that the extra weight is going on the plane anyway – but in a more unsafe and troublesome way – it would make sense for the airlines to increase the weight limits for the hold luggage . . . or would that reduce the capacity for lucrative commercial freight which so often delays departure? In my experience baggage-handling is now so fast and efficient at most major airports that it often beats the passengers to the carousel.

I agree baggage handling can be quite quick in delivering bags to the terminal – but that’s assuming the bag was actually on the correct flight. I DO usually have a checked in bag – but I also have a certain amount of essential and/or valuable/breakable stuff that I would never put into the hold… That said, my baggage, hand or hold, is always well within size and weight limits.. What on earth do people put in those monster cases??

Queues caused by insufficient staff. I see red when there’s a huge queue for passport or security checks while many of the desks, x-ray machines or scanners are not in use.
Last weekend I spent 20 minutes in the passport check queue at Munich airport to LEAVE Germany. There were only 2 staff in the particular area I was using. Then I breezed through a well manned security check in about 3 minutes…..
I fully appreciate the need for all the checks but proper staff must be on duty to make it as painless as possible.

Germany has always operated the strictest exit immigration controls in the Schengen area, and France some of the weakest. I don’t know why Germany bothers doing this, given that anyone dodgy will simply enter or exit the Schengen area via France.

steve says:
7 July 2014

This would be my number 1 beef. There are always unmanned checkindesks/passport control points/security channels despite long queues at those that are open. Tesco solved this with their policy of opening more lanes until the queues go down. Airports should do the same. Steve

I agree about France. Their ‘security’ at CDG is farcical, and during a bomb scare some years ago one French National was arrested for making a really loud song and dance about the fact that all the evacuated people in the outer ring of the airport were allowed back in without any re-examination in security.

All phones can record – records these problems and put them on you tube

Recently went from Bristol International (sounds grand, doesn’t it?!!) on an Easyjet flight. The queue to drop off the bags was extremely long because there were three flights within a short time of each other (so how does that help things?!!!). There was a Easyjet person who, at a certain time, called for passengers in the queue to come forward for the first of the flights so they would get to the gate on time. This happened to me, but I was on the second flight. There were still loads of people both in front and behind me. The point is, I had a sort of Speedy Boarding without paying for it. I must remember to get to the airport a bit later in future!

One of my biggest airport bugbears is inconsiderate passengers who crowd around the baggage carousel before their cases are visible, and block the view of everyone behind.

If everyone stood behind the yellow lines that are usually there, they would all be able to see their cases approaching and only need to move in when their bags arrived.

C’mon people, a little consideration and everybody’s happy!

Jonathan Beaumont says:
8 July 2014

Having to show my boarding pass every time I buy anything at the airport. I was at Boots at London City Airport a few days ago and needed to buy a quick packet of tissues. Why do they ask to see your boarding pass every time one buys anything? I can understand if they want to check your pass in relation to spirits and tobacco allowances but tissues?!

Fiona McOwan says:
8 July 2014

Used Ryanair recently flying from Edinburgh to Bordeaux. Budget flights arrive and depart from Hall A which is a big shed with no facilities. At bag drop on return flight the only ‘service’ provided was a balance to weigh hold cases and attach label then we had to carry/walk with these and load them on to belt ourselves. With lymphoedema in left arm I am not supposed to lift heavy weights (which is why I now have a ‘wheely’ case) so I complained to airport staff but did not get a very satisfactory response. I am beginning to decide that it might be better to pay a bit more and fly BA or AirFrance next time!

Aloeanne says:
9 July 2014

being charged to pick up passengers at the airport. Liverpool allows 5 minutes – reduced from 10 mins, Manchester charges the minimum charge and provides no options for pick up other than parking. a cash cow!

Alan Reid says:
11 July 2014

Everybody should try (not!) Luton Airport.
Not only do they charge £3 for a 15 minute pick up, they then charge you £80 if you stay over that! You have to leave the pick up part, drive about 2 miles to srat again. No wonder with flight delays and security matters, loads of drivers block all entrance routes to await the call/text from their potential passengers.

Peter Kelley says:
10 July 2014

I have just been to Portugal to play some golf. Travelled to Gatwick by train from Purley, on arrival at Gatwick Railway station there were no trolleys on the platform, I struggled to the lift. On exiting the lift again there were no trolleys, passing through the ticket barrier i was told by a member of staff there were no trolleys available in the area for health and safety reasons. I eventually found a trolley at the far side of the booking hall. I had a golf bag, a suitcase and a carry on bag and i am not getting any younger
On returning to Gatwick, i bought a ticket (why cant you buy tickets in the reclaim area(( tickets were available for the Gatwick Express only)) but was told at the ticket barrier i could not take my trolley through and if i wanted to get my £1 back i had to take the trolley back to opposite Cafe Nero. I then struggled to the l lift and down to the platform. I thought they wanted us to travel to the airports by public transport!

Alan Reid says:
11 July 2014

I may have missed it but THE biggest rip-off at any airport are the bureau de change.

When the pound was at 1.23 to the Euro, they were ‘giving’ 1.01!!!!

Any exchange service makes money from tourists but these organisations should be banned from every airport and investigated as the Government is trying to do with “pay day loan” companies.
making over 17% profit plus their interbank profit is a step too far in my submission.

Why not simply have a high street branch at each airport offering the correct tourist rates of foreign exchange.

ken patterson says:
11 July 2014

I usually fly from Newcastle the PA announcements are garbled, so many staff seem to place the microphone too close to their mouth.

Alan Reid says:
12 July 2014

Obviously all trained by British Rail!

GJO says:
11 July 2014

When we had a problem with getting into Birmingham Airport parking bacause of lack of snow clearance (Spring 2013), then our flight being delayed because the same snow seemed to take for ever to be removed from our plane’s wings, a complaint to the airport resulted in what could only be described as a snub. Apparently it was ‘nothing to do with them’ – all services were claimed by them (incorrectly) to be in order or subcontracted by the individual airline. So the ‘customer experience’ they so valued for us counted for nothing when under test. Do they think that we would want to use their airport again, after patently being given the ‘cold shoulder’? Surely not . . .

My biggest gripe about airports is not the endless queues, the appalling seating, the constant noise, the dreadful treatment or the baggage restrictions. It’s simply communication or – more accurately – the lack of it. If anything goes wrong getting information from the airline is akin to extracting lime cordial from a McDonald’s hamburger.

Partly this is due to the fact that despite supposedly being on the cutting edge of technology the airport industry – with some rare exceptions – hasn’t grasped a better method for mass communication than a man shouting at a crowd. Where speakers exist they’re cunningly designed so that every other word is unintelligible and the rest simply can’t be heard. Communicating vital information to crowds is not actually difficult to accomplish, either. But it seems beyond their ability. Thankfully, Eurostar exists and is far less hassle and horror.

From David T

Airport Lounges. Booking one at Heathrow is a waste of money for European flights as baggage will not be accepted until 2 hours before departure, and as these are after usually lengthy security checks and a fair walk, there is little time to make use of these paid for facilities before having to head for departure. Gatwick is better at three hours for European flights. Given the paucity of seating before check in area, and all the hassle now surrounding flying coupled with additional charges associated with car drop off and parking, it has become the experience to avoid if at all possible.