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Article from BTNews 18 SEPTEMBER 2017

COMMENT: Airport ratings

"Which?" goes back to 1957 and is part of the Consumers' Association, with more than half a million subscribers. Which?  magazine has been championing users’ rights since that time, often controversially, giving publicity to whoever and whatever comes under its glare and, of course, to the publication.

Just published is its Best and Worst UK Airports report, divided in two, those with more than 10m passengers annually and those below this arbitrary figure. Belfast, Newcastle and Liverpool all come in at around 5m, while Doncaster and Southend, highly rated by Which?, are at 1m and don’t have air bridges. Comparison is unfair. At least Heathrow is split into three, with T5 – at 30m passengers per annum – Britain’s busiest terminal.

It is no surprise to find Luton at the bottom of the league, and by far. Luton will say the airport is under reconstruction but Heathrow has built an entirely new complex, T2, in recent years, without alienating the public. The arrogant attitude of the management has not helped and Luton Airport will argue that the public love the place, with superb growth figures over the past few years in spite of the regular chaos around and within the terminal.

The argument is that Luton is probably the best placed airport in the country, sitting north of London with both the M1 and A1 trunk roads nearby and, some would suggest, the ideal place for a new runway in the south east. That is not going to happen.

For the large airports, Birmingham comes top, a tribute to the recently-retired Paul Kehoe CBE, with Heathrow T5 second. But it is all a matter of personal preference, with BTN suggesting that Heathrow T2 is the best thanks to everything being on one floor, easy short-term parking and the terminal not busy.

Gatwick South rates highly with us, the shopping area a cluster rather than a mall, which is perhaps the downfall of Stansted, which is otherwise vastly improved. At STN, a short-cut is required from security to the boarding area. 12.5m people will pass along the narrow strip between the shops this year.  Some families then turn back having missed what they were looking for, literally colliding with others, late passengers trying to make the gate before it closes. 

London City (4.5m in 2016) has always been a favourite for  BTN  and for many others. According to Which? it is rated worse than Bournemouth (667,000) a business vs a holiday airport.

The real problem is if you have a bad experience at an airport for any number of reasons it tends to stick. It is the same for an airline, or a hotel. Which? needs to reconsider the way it carries out its evaluation, particularly with the smaller airports.

As for Luton, let us hope that its 29% rating improves for the next survey. In some ways, the signs are good, but significant mistakes are being made with its reconstruction. Is the freeholder, Luton Council, monitoring the situation properly with regard to its tenants, a French and Spanish consortium? How much profit are they taking out while the airport is being rebuilt?  Are they contributing to the proposed station connection?

There happens to be around at the present time two very experienced airport managers who might be interested in sorting out the mess and available.

BTN  will monitor Which?


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OUR READERS' FINEST WORDS (All times and dates are GMT)

All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

Allan Schoenherr, Prague, CZ

Agree with the Stansted comments, the way they herd people through the entire shopping corridor with no alternative means creates such a bottleneck. I get the idea that they want captive customers but it can also be offputting. Prague has recently introduced a similar system in T1 there. The security itself at Stansted is also a pain point, with the level of investment made surely they could have designed a system that flows faster than this? Although I guess the volume of LCC traffic causes delays at security as passengers cart massive bags with them as carry on. Incoming border security at Stansted could also be better served as well but on the whole the airport is vastly improved.

Andrew Sharp, United Kingdom

'Which?' subscribers are people of a fairly specific age, income and background. Those readers who respond to its surveys are a self-selected part of the total readership. So its surveys have no statistical validity whatever, and are representative of 'Which?' readers answering specific surveys and not the generality of users. The survey is mildly interesting anecdotally but its relationship to the real world is uncertain.

Phil Harper, UK

I'm no lover of Luton Airport management, but it's worth pointing out that drop off is free for 20 minutes in the mid-term car park, which offers a free shuttle (or you can walk) to the airport. The fact it's not advertised very well is possibly more of a problem...

Josephine Bacon, United Kingdom

"The arrogant attitude of the management has not helped " - you can say that again! Their greed is amazing, £3.00 to drop off passengers. As for the disruption, it has continued for over a year! I am one of the unlucky people forced t to use Luton because it has better transport links than Gatwick.