/ 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?

JohnN says:
4 July 2014

My biggest bugbear is being prevented from boarding a flight to Mexico transiting via Atlanta because the airline decided to treat Mexico as the 51st state. It would be nice if they told you you needed a visa when you are simply transiting. Anybody else had this problem?

It isn’t the airline, it’s the US authorities. The US doesn’t understand transit. It’s the same going to Canada, you’ll get grief from US immigration. Best to fly direct.

Biggest bugbear? From arrival at the car park to taking off. Everything else is just dandy.

Apart from most of the above, would just like to add one “thing I hate most about flying” – Frankfurt Airport. Vast, impersonal, no maps, hardly any staff and those who are present don’t seem to know what is going on. Then add in the over-priced, lousy food airside and you have a recipe for a thoroughly unpleasant way to spend several hours.
Finally, to add insult to injury, if you are travelling from Aberdeen and changing flights there, although you have not been out of airside, you have to go through security again to get to your flight. Yet coming from other European airports, they don’t seem to require this. What is Aberdeen doing wrong?

Mark says:
4 July 2014

The UK has not joined the group of countries in the “Schengen Zone”, which allow travel without border controls, so a passport check is required when moving from the “outside Schengen” area to the “inside Schengen” area (or vice versa) of any airport in the Schengen Zone.

Richard Cammack says:
4 July 2014

Don’t be tempted to buy duty-free spirits on the airport, if the journey will involve a change of planes. e.g. on a flight to Brazil via Lisbon, we decided to buy a choice bottle as a gift to our hosts. Then when passing through security for the second flight, guess what, the booze was confiscated! At the shop, they might have known this would happen, as we had to show boarding passes, but they didn’t warn us. Why isn’t there a warning?

Mark says:
4 July 2014

In future, you should ask at the check out for the bottle to be sealed in a plastic bag, with the receipt inside (and then keep the bag sealed at least until you’re through the last security check of your trip).

TB says:
4 July 2014

A few points:

Airports are there to make money. Manchester (certainly T1) is one of the biggest offenders in my view. To get to the gates from security, you are channelled through the ‘retail opportunities’ in the most indirect and indistinct route. When I’m travelling, I’m travelling, not shopping. Especially at inflated prices. At least give us a clear path past the stacks of perfumes, booze, cigarettes and tat!

At Manchester T1 you are also forced through another shopping experience on arrival (which I have never seen anyone actually use) when all you want to do is get back to the car and go home (or drive straight into the M6 Thelwall carpark).

I agree with the comment above about hand luggage. Everywhere at most airports I’ve used there are signs limiting the amount and size of hand luggage allowed on board, but this isn’t enforced at check-in, on rare occasions it might be at the gate, and I’ve once or twice seen checks at the airstairs, but only on small aircraft. On the contrary, many times I’ve seen cabin crew struggling with massive bags, trying to be helpful and find somewhere for it. On business flights one is rarely charged for hold baggage so why bother? By the time you get from the flight, through immigration and down endless corridors the bags are waiting.

Talking of endless corridors, and back to Manchester, why is T1 so grubby with all the money they make from the shopping.

Gate allocation: so the odd flight gets held up, but most happen to a known schedule, day in, day out. Yet at Manchester passengers have to ‘wait in lounge’ until the gate is displayed, then there’s a mad rush. At Zurich the gate is printed on the boarding card as soon at check in.

By the way, Zurich airport doesn’t charge for plastic bags.

I’ve always wondered, too…most airports have shops selling luggage AFTER check in. What do you do with it?

And at Zurich there’s a shop selling Swiss army knives, AFTER security!

Why do I have to show my boarding pass to buy a packet of Polo mints?

I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

Stephen says:
4 July 2014

There is a quick route through the retail hell at Manchester T1. Notice the ‘staff only’ route at the RHS. Stick close to that wall, ignore the designated route, and you will be through in 30 seconds.

The general seizing of every single opportunity to fleece passengers while they are passing through and therefore ‘captive’. Lots of examples already in the posts above. Norwich airport’s ‘airport development fee’ is probably the most blatant example – I suppose they should, in a way, be praised for their openness in not pretending it’s anything other than an attempt to screw even more out of us than they’re already doing, although they might have gone the whole hog and just called it the ‘ANLETY’ (A Nice Little Earner, Thank You) surcharge?

After dismounting from a plane about a hundred yards away on the apron and queueing in the rain, in the dark, waiting to get into the barn that is the so-called “arrivals hall” at Norwich’s “International Aerodrome” I can appreciate the need for an airport development levy [£10 per adult passenger outward only] but with the impoverished range of destinations served and the limited number of flights available I think it’s going to take them a long time to save up enough tenners to make any significant improvements unfortunately. Having said that, it’s a friendly and pleasant place to travel from with fewer of the bugbears experienced at major airports so for shorter holidays we look for flights from Norwich which is close enough to be convenient at any time of day.

Well, it’s each to their own John. Friendly enough place I agree but we switched to Luton, where they are no less friendly, passenger facilities (including the parking) are very competitively priced, they have a much wider choice of destinations, and above all try to improve their service without the ‘Ryanair-style’ approach of extracting an extra fee of £10/person – which, for a large family, amounts to a sizeable sum – over and above the price we already pay for a trip.

Yes, we have just booked a holiday from Luton because the right combination of destination, flight times/dates, and operator became available. Always been happy with Stansted, however, which is only an hour away from home and seems to run more smoothly than most [with some long walks available for those who like an active holiday].

Yes, we have also used Stansted in the past and been fairly happy with it, although (since the subject of these exchanges is airport bugbears) I think they have recently succumbed to another irritating current money-making ploy – of preventing passengers being dropped off at the entrance by anything other than official buses? They certainly do this at Edinburgh, where a work colleague kindly gave me a lift to the terminal only to discover that the only way of doing this is via a lane in which you get charged for ‘parking’ even if all you do is wait five seconds with the engine running while someone jumps out of the passenger seat and says “Thanks, Goodbye”.

The nun says:
4 July 2014

The joy of being “the chosen one” for security checks. I was asked was it alright for me to be searched, so I asked what happens if I say no the “guard” just shrugged. After the search she asked what I’d got in my trouser pocket, IT WAS MY BOARDING PASS! Hardly a danger, but then shouldn’t I have been asked to empty my pockets before she started???
I must look like a terrorist because I get chosen most times but I am a white and female and no I’m not the White Widow……………

curts says:
4 July 2014

I bought a quickscan backpack to make it easier to get my electronics through security, but all the EU airports I have visited with it thus far have made me remove the laptop and tablet anyway.

Another bugbear is completely emptying your pockets for the full body imaging scanners in the USA.

Nick says:
4 July 2014

I have no problem with security – all for it – but why can’t they be civil. I hate being herded like sheep by faceless autocrats, being made to feel a criminal. Why can’t they do it with a smile. We pay their wages. We support the work they have to do. Why do they have to be so officious. rant over

This problem is a lot less in countries that use well-known government agencies (e.g. police or customs) for security (e.g. France and Italy). I find that police and customs officers treat passengers much more professionally and courteously (and vice-versa) than private security firms. This was also evident at the London 2012 Olympics, where British armed forces stood in for G4S and performed the service with extreme friendliness towards the public, even cracking jokes that would be frowned upon in an airport.

Peter Brewer says:
5 July 2014

The price of food and drink are the same as London streets once you are airside in the tax free area. The profit for a captive market must be huge.
The long walks to the gates should have more moving walkways.

Bristol Airport. The ‘improved’ terminal facilities mean they can avoid busing you to the planes.
Now you have a 10 to 15 minute walk to the gate instead. No moving walkways, no escalators. Once there, you are kept standing in the cattle pen until the sick/disabled and premier passengers have been boarded. Then, despite numbered seats there is a mad rush for the plane to ensure you can get your hand luggage in the overhead locker whilst there is still space.

Security anywhere. As an unfortunate with 2 replaced hips and 2 replaced knees I am forced to arrive at security with no watch, no wallet, no tissues, no shoes, no belt and trousers with no zips. I then set off the buzzers and go through the body search charade. Oh the joy of flying.

Don Forder says:
5 July 2014

Once when you went to an airport, you were treated like royalty. Now they treat passengers like the worst form of criminal. I don’t think I have got through security at at an airport in the last 20 years without setting off the bleepers. My partner and I avoid flying whenever possible. Train is the best way, although Eurostar is getting more like flying now. My favourite way of travelling is to take a ferry and either train or self drive. Although I can see that this is not an option for some.

I’ve yet to find an airline that has this sorted. Why not number the seats in the departure lounge and ask folk to come forward in reverse order of their seat numbers. If this still causes congestion in the aisles, than take every 2nd row and go through the seat order twice.

Anthony says:
5 July 2014

My pet hate is the length of time required between check-in and departure time. I know they will blame security requirements, but airlines and airports should be competing to reduce it, not trying to force people to waste time and browse the shops. Regulators will still make sure they perform whatever tasks are deemed essential.

My biggest gripe, above all others is the lack of courtesy by some staff at airports. I think the US is by far the worst here, but they are by no means alone.
Security guys, completely untrained, and going through the motions as they were instructed, rather than using common sense, who order the removal of clothing as if one is in prison (and why be discourteous there either?), with no consideration of the older and less agile, who pay for the privilege! Immigration staff are also past masters at this language of “stand here”, “go there”, with out a “please” or a “thank you”: after all the travelling public keeps these people in a job and yes, I am multi-lingual and I know it is not easily expressed in some languages, such as French, but it is in English. We can understand that there will be queues, the baggage rules have tightened up, but sometimes applied to the level of the ridiculous – nail clippers more dangerous than a steel fountain pen? etc. etc.
Do we have to put up with all of this? It is of course something which can easily be changed, so those in a position to change it, get a move on, please!

Will says:
5 July 2014

I think the US is really variable from place to place, and day to day. In Miami we have both breezed through quickly with super-friendly and super-chatty immigration staff; another time we waited in a queue for well over an hour. New York we found to be a bit tough sometimes but then Vegas was pretty good. In Canada (Toronto) last year I got the absolute third degree. Going home to Australia is always tough, even though I am from there. If you can use the automatic gates a Gatwick then that is a breeze. But the place that is absolutely crazy is Ben Gurion Tel Aviv – you nee to allow a good couple of hours when leaving. So I thin it just varies.

Will says:
5 July 2014

I used to dread Gatwick’s security area but since they upgraded South Terminal it is amazing – quick efficient, clear, and they seem to have training in being friendly. Lets hope they replicate this at other UK airports – We flew from Luton last year and their security was appalling.

Leeds Bradford airport forces cars to be driven through the car park even if collecting or dropping off passengers; and charges for the inconvenience. I wonder if those who came up with this appalling money making scheme would be happy if supermarkets they use did this to them as customers. Pay up even if just delivering or collecting their customers.

FMSawyer says:
5 July 2014

As a passenger needing mobility assistance, the worst place I have ever been (twice) is T3 @ Heathrow. I have been abandoned for lengthy periods alone on buggies, treated like an animal in the Special Needs holding area and seldom met an English speaking worker. I hate to think that many older/disabled passengers first experience of Britain is in Terminal 3 at Heathrow The contrast with the OSC run assistance at Gatwick is total. Their care for passengers like me is superb.

MamaLal says:
5 July 2014

T5 at Heathrow is just as bad. We were kept there for ages and nearly missed our connection. Needless to say there is no chance for a coffee or a paper as in “Special Needs” you are stuck in an empty corridor underneath the escalators. By the time my wheelchair arrived I was stressed out at the thought of missing the plane but the staff manning the computer just shrugged. Edinburgh Airport assistance is so much better.

MRE says:
5 July 2014

The single worst thing is the lack of clear signage about which security procedures are in force today – and even worse, different procedures at adjacent check points! Laptops in or out of bags? Other electronic devices in or out? Shoes on or off? Belts on or off? Pockets empty or just metal things removed? All this made worse at most airports by there only being a few seconds to prepare for the checks rather than (as at a few airports) a long conveyor for the trays so you have a minute or more to divest yourself of a potentially harmful pack of tissues.

Manchester airport has automated passport readers for “faster” arrivals. I have seen them working once and they could not read my new passport. On one occasion I was told by immigration staff “we don’t operate those” There were several expensive-looking machines idle while queues stretched way back. Beware at Manchester if 2 large planes arrive at same time and staff are scheduled for tea/lunch/dinner break – then tough luck for arrivals. What a shambles – particularly after long flight.