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Article from BTNews 9 SEPTEMBER 2019

COMMENT: Small is beautiful, says airport survey

Results released today of the latest survey by Which? on Britain’s airports (see news story in this issue) will make depressing reading for some and bring cheer to others. The main message, however, is the not surprising one that the smaller facilities are outperforming their big brothers as far as customer satisfaction is concerned. Luxury shops? No thanks. Polite and well-trained staff and streamlined service? Yes please.

Which? in its summary of the survey chooses to put the bad news first, saying Northern Ireland’s busiest airport, Belfast International, has been rated the worst, with passengers saying they are “frustrated” by a range of problems including long queues, crowded terminals and pricey parking charges. It came bottom of the small airport rankings and achieved a customer score of 42% – described by Which? as “abysmal” – making it the UK’s worst-rated airport overall.

Travellers described Belfast International as “tired and shabby”, others pointed out a “poor layout” and criticised “understaffing”. The airport also scored poorly for security queues and seating as well as a limited range of shops and restaurants, a quarter of which are branches of WH Smith.

Also at the wrong end of the survey of more than 6,000 airport experiences were Luton (43% customer rating), Manchester T3 (47%) and Aberdeen (50%). Luton was again at the bottom of the large airport table, where Which? noted it had been “tethered” for the fourth year running. The consumer organisation reported that despite improvement works to the terminal finishing in December, Luton travellers complained of “limited seating” and “congested” security queues.

Which? commented: “The refurbishment does not appear to have fixed the airport’s problems, with one passenger noting that the airport seemed to have ‘taken all the bad ideas from other airports and incorporated them here’.” Most damningly, Which? noted that passengers said if there was an airport they would never fly from, a quarter would pick Luton. BTN would challenge the Luton comments, where progress is being made and the 'search' congestion much less than in the past.

Meanwhile, Aberdeen achieved the lowest rating (50%) of airports in Scotland with two stars in most categories, including staff. The lowest rating for this airport criticised a lack of seating, which received only one star. One customer told the survey “geographic convenience rather than choice” was the main reason for using the airport.

Turning to the bright side, Doncaster Sheffield was crowned the highest-rated airport in the country for the third year running, beating its larger counterparts by some margin with an impressive 86% customer score. Customers described the Yorkshire hub as a “cosy airport” with no queues that was “easy to navigate”. The biggest gripe among customers was that it was not connected to more destinations than its current 55.

Most impressively, said Which?, a “staggering” 97% of those who had used the airport in the past 12 months said they would recommend Doncaster Sheffield, praising its “personable and helpful” staff.

Among the airports with more than 10m passengers a year, Heathrow Terminal 5 achieved the best overall customer score (66%), with ample seating and helpful staff both earning four out of five stars and the quality of the toilet facilities gaining the full five-star rating.

On the downside, travellers noted that “too many half-empty luxury shops” made the terminal feel too much like “a shopping mall”, while car parking was described as “daylight robbery”.

Hot on the heels of Heathrow T5, Birmingham, described as “hassle-free”, earned a 65% customer score and three stars across all categories, although some travellers used words like “unremarkable” and “functional”.

Summing it all up, Which? Travel’s Naomi Leach said: “It is clear that smaller airports are generally outperforming their larger counterparts with seamless security checks and friendly staff making the biggest impression with flyers.

“Passengers given the luxury of choice when it comes to which airport to fly from should choose Doncaster Sheffield over Leeds Bradford, Southend over Luton, Edinburgh over Aberdeen and Belfast City over Belfast International for a smoother start to their journeys.”

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