/ 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?


The endless queues.

Catherine says:
28 June 2014

Lack of cold water taps or water fountains to refill water bottles, when you can’t bring liquids through security.

I strongly agree – drinking water taps should be widely available in all airports, in fact it should be obligatory for airports to provide these. I was overjoyed to find one in Dubai Airport, where I had no local currency to buy a drink. So I don’t understand why UK airports don’t have them. Flying can be very dehydrating.

I can understand why they don’t have water fountains: it’s so they can rip you off. EVERYTHING in UK airports is extortionately overpriced. Water is just the start!

Too right; your point is proven by the refusal of the airside shops to sell water in small bottles. There are sometimes drinking water fountains available but you have to have an empty bottle available to make use of it . . . and you got rid of that [together with half its contents!] before going into the security zone. It’s another one of those “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza” scenarios.

I’ve started to carry an empty bottle, so I can refill it if I find a fountain. Never been stopped.

Best. Richard

Jane says:
4 July 2014

I used to carry empty bottles and fill them in the Ladies … but now the taps aren’t labelled as to whether the water is OK to drink, and they’ve started using the automatic taps which are pre-set to provide warm water – no good for drinking at all!!

judith lacey says:
4 July 2014

They do have them, but they are usually quite well hidden! Often situated near cloakrooms.

Maccbmw says:
5 July 2014

In Manchester there is a water fountain on the left in the wide corridor just as you leave the security area and move towards the first shopping area. At Zurich there is a chilled water dispenser just inside the pharmacy. I carry a small empty bottle and refill it once I am through security checks.

Maccbmw says:
5 July 2014

Oops – forgot to say Terminal Two at Manchester and Section D at Zurich in previous comment.

Mac bmw says:
6 July 2014

Went through Liverpool airport today with my empty bottle and no drinking fountain anywhere…….told to use the tap in the ladies! No customer services desk either to make a complaint.

J N says:
28 June 2014

Trying to buy a pair of headphones or a packet of crisps and being told that I have to let them scan my boarding pass to do so. Nonsense. I’ve never agreed to it.

david says:
4 July 2014

Even had to show boarding pass to buy a 0.60 newspaper at WH Smiths and silly self service tills that never work. In future will buy newspaper before airport

Would somebody please explain why they make us do this.

I think it’s to do with charging you the correct amount of VAT and duty depending on whether you are flying within the EU VAT area or outside it. Even if they charge you the same price irrespective of destination, it still makes a difference as to how much money they pass on to HMRC. I’m also guessing that the airport wants to record this data for statistical purposes.

Stephen Murchie says:
29 June 2014

Security !

I am 100% for better security, but why can’t we have a level playing field? Some airports its practically down to the underpants, others even in Europe they hardly look at you. More so if I’m wearing a suit I can’t even remember the last time I was stopped.
However, after a trip from Wimbledon with my 11 year old son we had a great time, got to Luton went straight to departures got to the security area for x ray and was told that we had to deflate the big tennis ball my son had got at the event or risk loosing it (that’s including all the signatures of famous players he managed to get). I enquired as to why there weren’t any signs or obvious indications in boarding passes to tell people? I also informed them I was a frequent flyer so where had this new ruling come from? My son by this time was in floods of tears and the security people seemed to find this quite hilarious. One of the guards who actually had a conscience, presented a solution that if I went into the departure lounge there was a sports shop there that sold footballs and I could possibly buy or borrow a valve to let the air out. I went through border control got through and the very kind lady assist me by giving me use of the shops own valve. We got the ball deflated and then had to endure yet more probing as my sons rucksack was then taken apart bringing out his under wear almost waving it about and all his personal items. I don’t think I have ever been so humiliated and my son now never wants to fly again!!
PS – The JD Sports Shop had footballs that were fully blown up, when I asked how they get them in, the assistant told me we bring them through security. I asked, blown up? The reply, yes !!
One rule for one another for everyone else, I totally get it, tell people or take them out the way so that 400 people are not watching an upset 11 year old?

Yes! The winner is : Security!

With a nod to Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times”, I sometimes wonder it wouldn’t be better if I just jumped on the conveyor belt and went through the scanning machine fully dressed with all my important articles remaining in their correct places. Not only do I wish there was consistency in requirements for the departure security procedures, Stephen, but that there would be a clear notice at the start of each line or channel saying what needed to be taken off and put through the scanner. Sometimes it’s shoes off but not the belt, at other places you can keep your shoes on but must remove the belt; it would make the process more comfortable if the airport-specific details were made known at the outset rather than just before reaching the conveyor belt by a loud shout from an impatient operative. The whole experience is characterised by total rudeness and implacability from the bored and uninterested staff and a lack of decent arrangements for conducting a necessary process with a modicum of consideration for the people involved [who ultimately are keeping the airports in business]. Some of the mechanical apparatus used in the security zone strikes me as being poorly designed with roller conveyors that don’t roll until there is a log-jam of containers backing-up and twenty people hopping about trying to get their shoes back on. A gentle gradient would keep the whole thing rolling along nicely to the re-dressing area where there should chairs and tables and enough space in which to make sure you’re back in the state in which you entered the zone. I should be interested to know howpessengers’ blood pressure readings might change during the airport security process; even the officials seem to be hyper.

Since having

The lack of free water, room for screening carried out away from the curious, etc are just symptoms of panic response to the 9/11 attacks without anyone being interested in trying to make it a less traumatic or simply a trying experience.

Obviously passengers have gripes but the airlines and the airport operators have no commercial incentive in changing what is happening given the huge number of people who continue to fly.

Quiet comfortable seating air-side and the ability to “check-in” sorry “drop off luggage ” more than 2 hours before flight.
Would encourage people to arrive early.
I have never had a long delay in going through security and am always impressed by how jolly and light hearted the security staff are.

I don’t like the term “bag drop”. I know it’s just a trendy name for the check-in desk, but even when you have done the auto-check-in process in the departures hall at a computer terminal that scans your passport and isues a boarding card, you still have to take your luggage to a desk where an official checks it in, weighs it and attaches the labels. We have luggage consisting of suitcases, not bags, and we don’t want them dropped.

Gordon says:
1 July 2014

If you check on most airport websites there’s usually information as to how to prepare for security.

Stephen says:
4 July 2014

…but some airports are better than others. Manchester does security well, friendly attentive staff, doing their job, but offering assistance where necessary. Both big London airport have disinterested staff, and are amongst the worst in the world outside the USA. This is down to the staff (or perhaps the way staff are hired or treated) not the passengers.

The things that annoy me most are:
– Queues for security (anything more than 30 seconds is unacceptable). Madrid usually has no queues, so why can’t Heathrow do the same?
– Charging for plastic bags at security (a uniquely British scam?)
– Charging for baggage trolleys (increasingly common globally)
– Lounges are airside instead of landside (e.g. Verona) or before security (e.g. Prague)
– Even worse, no lounge at all (e.g. London City except when flying to JFK)
– Long distances to walk around the airport (e.g. Hong Kong)
– Lots of unnecessary stairs, unsuitable for wheeled baggage (e.g. Moscow Domodedovo)
– No train station (e.g. Barcelona T1)

My above comment should have read “Lounges are landside instead of airside (e.g. Verona) or before security (e.g. Prague)

Queues at security, lack of seating in certain areas & prices for refreshments !!!

Stephen says:
2 July 2014

Security staff chatting to one another and not paying attention to keeping the queue moving, or making the airport secure. This is a particularly a problem at London airports, for some reason.

Actually what’s even more annoying is when they don’t open all the security lanes, often only half, even when passengers are queuing. A queue is indicative of a problem, and this problem is that many London airports neglect to open sufficient security lanes to meet demand.

Special assistance for disabled at Gatwick has been awful at times. I still don’t understand why, unlike airports in other countries, that you can’t be left alone with a wheelchair. I could very happily have pushed my wife around from the moment our bags were dropped. Instead we had to wait for wheelchair/wheelchair pusher at terminal entrance (25mins), then get dropped at pre-security reception and wait another 20mins for another wheelchair/wheelchair pusher to take us through security and drop us in another reception area. Add in the long wait in security line (because special assistance lane now includes families with children), and you’re talking close to 90mins to go about 300 feet from airport entrance to duty free.

Christopher says:
4 July 2014

I find that airports are almost invariably too warm… much too warm… both winter and summer. I was at Terminal 5 Heathrow yesterday, and yes, once again the cooling system was not powerful enough /
/ turned up/down enough, to deal with the hundreds of bodies milling around…. I finally went into a shop that was cooler than the areas for passengers to sit down in.

Just veering ever-so- slightly away from the topic for a second, I have always wondered in what circumstances in a busy airport terminal the armed police would discharge their automatic weapons. It occurs to me that terrorists and other threatening people probably realise that the police will probably not use their machine guns deliberately and mow down innocent passengers and airport staff. If deterrence is the objective, then a small but powerful side-arm in the hands of a well-trained officer would probably achieve the desired effect of stopping and disarming a suspect. And a good dog is worth an armoury of weapons.

The ONLY people who really understand the security issues are ElAl Israel Airlines. They question the people first – with a very carefully arranged set of questions – and then decide if it’s necessary to check baggage, shoes, etc. The most ridiculous security is in USA where they have decided that profiling is discriminatory and possibly racist! Well of course it is! That’s the point…..

Derrick says:
4 July 2014

I am 100% behind the comments relating to security and the attitude of the staff G4S in most cases I believe.
It’s just as bad at Southampton cruise terminals. My wife was wearing a small pair of shoes and I had heavy walking boots because I had just completed a 2 mile walk around the Hilton hotel.

My 75 year old wife was made to remove her shoes which was not easy standing up because she suffers from arthritis. I then started to unlace my boots and told by the man at the belt. “No need to take those of sir, they are fine”. Does anyone know why, as small pair of elderly ladies shoes are a threat to Queen Mary 2 and my heavy boots are fine. Just trying to imagine what kind of explosives could be hidden my my wife’s shoe which could blow a hole in the side of a 150,000 ton cruise liner

Having to wander up and down artificial “lanes” with all your bags at check in/baggage drop/security, even though there’s only a few people – would only take a moment to open the fabric barriers, but I reckon it’s all part of the process of humiliating and de-moralising passengers. Exeter Airport definitely the worst offender at this I’ve encountered [in addition to casual rudeness generally].

Recent flights through Schipol reveal how it CAN be done – EVERY airport manager should be forced to undergo an Internship there to see what an airport experience can be like.

And to add insult to injury, many airports charge for the use of the trolleys to make it easier to manage the mazes which lead to the various check-points. This is a direct penalty against the less physically capable. Then there are no trolleys to be had at any price after security – obviously, remaining “hand luggage” should be personally portable but it can still be heavy and awkward to manouevre and you often have to walk with it for miles to the departure gate.

Jane says:
4 July 2014

The lack of 24-hour transport to some airports. We quite often travel out of Stansted early in the morning and are forced to drive (ourselves, or in a taxi depending on what the exorbitant parking fees will be!), because the Stansted Express doesn’t run between midnight and 5am, or thereabouts. Even if we’re going from Gatwick and use the train (which does run all night, albeit less frequently), we have the problem of getting to/from Victoria during “unsocial” hours.

Two main moans for me are,
1. Duty Free prices are ofter more expensive than prices in the ordinary shops on any high street?
2. Standing in a queue waiting to board a plane after passing through the gate, especially EasyJet ( SleazyJet) flights where I find myself standing for up to an hour before we are allowed to board the damned plane??? Why can’t they let us sit in the gate seating areas until the flight is ready?

Jolyon Kay says:
5 July 2014

ryanair ditto

steve says:
7 July 2014

Nobody makes you stand in the queue. I sit down until the aircraft has 95% loaded and then stand up and virtually walk straight on. Now there are allocated seats there is no scrum for any particular seat, so why queue to get on early and sit there while everybody else sorts themselves out?

I used to do that until I had problems finding room for my hand luggage !
I wish they would board from the middle out ( 2 entrances) a few rows at a time.

EddieS says:
4 July 2014

People who insist on taking too much hand baggage on to the plane. On a recent flight there was one lady who had a baby in push chair and seven items of hand baggage. She got very nasty with the boarding crew when they told her that four of them would have to go in the hold. Why do the airlines not screen this problem out at the check in?

Good point Eddie. I have often wondered why there are all these instructions about luggage having to fit within certain dimensions and then the check-in desk doesn’t even inspect the hand baggage to make sure it is compliant. The consequence is that those passengers sitting in the more forward rows, who are called last to board, find the overhead lockers lready full of massive and multiple cases and bags. As well as testing the luggage in the three-dimensional frame at check-in, each passenger should be required to hold it above their head for twenty seconds to make sure they are capable of physically stowing it on-board safely without dropping it on another passenger’s head. I have seen many an accident in the making upon arrrival as people struggle to get their cases etc down from the lockers.

EddieS – How can an airline “screen this problem out at the check in” when check-in is done at home online or or a mobile device?