More shops won’t make airport customer experience better

When you’re stood in a line for security at a UK airport, with hundreds of people ahead of you in the queue, what would improve your customer experience?

If you’re looking for somewhere to sit before your flight, but can’t find any seats what would make things better for you?

A few months ago I wrote an article about the shocking state of UK airports. About endless queues. Layouts designed not to speed you to the gates, but to make you walk in long, winding, convoluted route marches through shops and restaurants.

 airport customer experience

My article turned out to be one of most popular articles on this blog. My rant resonated with travellers.

Airports or shopping malls?

UK airports are not airports.

They are vast, badly designed shopping centres with a few gates welded into the corners for planes to park at.

At Edinburgh airport you’ll find it difficult to see any aircraft until you’re at the bottom of the steps for boarding. Windows are a luxury the owners of the airport can’t afford to give their passengers. Windows take up too much valuable retail space.

Like most UK airports, they’re expanding the terminal all the time. Last week, after my forced hike through the mall at 6:30am, I came across a hoarding concealing yet more expansion work.

The sign read as follows, “We’re upgrading your journey with more shops, gates, seats and destinations.”

Take a moment to read that statement again.

When upgrading our journey, for that read, our customer experience, the priority for the airport is…


More shops.

Sure they mention more gates, seats and destinations.

But the first upgrade they mention is more shops.

How to upgrade airport customer experience

Here encapsulated in one advert is the reason travelling through UK airports is such a miserable experience. Despite their protestations to be improving, these changes aren’t about a better customer experience. It’s all about cramming more retail outlets in so they can fleece passengers of more of their cash before they fly.

Wouldn’t you like to see quicker and more efficient security lines?

What about more comfortable seats with a view over the runway rather than a few rock hard benches crushed into a dingy corner?

Don’t get me wrong. I know people like to do some shopping and have a meal before their flight. But UK airports have lost a sense of balance between the customer experience of getting on a plane and flying off on business or pleasure, and the forced retail overload many of us endure many times a week.

So Edinburgh airport please reassess your priorities.

By all means build more shops.

But they should come last behind more efficient queuing.

More seating and most important, more comfortable seating.

More gates with seats and space.

And please. As this is an airport. Can you give us an opportunity to see the odd aircraft through a window at some point?

Now it’s your turn:

What do you think would improve the UK airport experience? More shops? More seats? More gates. Please leave a comment below and share on social media.

Why it’s no surprise 4 UK airports are among the 10 worst in the world

Hold on a second this can’t be true, can it?

Edinburgh, Manchester, London Gatwick and London Stansted are among the 10 worst airports in the world according to a survey by AirHelp.

Surely they can’t be serious!

But they are being serious (and stop calling them Shirley!) Sorry for the blatant quote from Airplane the Movie there, but I’m trying to make myself laugh. When I think about UK airports I can’t help myself from getting cross.

Why it's no surprise 4 UK airports are among the 10 worst in the world

Logic suggests there must be grimmer airports than EDI, MAN, LGW and STN out there.

Worse than Saint Vincent?

I remember queuing up at immigration for 90 minutes in a grey building with no air conditioning in Saint Vincent. Not fun. Palma’s football pitch sized check in hall is enough to convince you never to fly with checked bags again. And the scary threat of being manhandled into a back room and probed by security men in latex gloves means you walk through US terminals trying to avoid eye contact with anyone in a uniform.

Yet here are 4 supposed world class UK airports languishing in the bottom ten.

Actually, I’m not surprised. They deserve their place on this list of shame.

Most UK airports aren’t designed with amazing customer experience in mind. They’re designed to part passengers from their cash at every opportunity. They are sprawling, maze-like shopping malls with a few gates added onto the sides for planes to park at.

If you dare to drop someone off at a UK airport in a car, you’ll have to cough up some cash for being so downright inconsiderate. The airport will bleat on about their environmental responsibilities to justify the charge. Encouraging people to take public transport aren’t they? No, it’s just blatant profiteering. You can’t play the green card when there’s a jet fuel burning jumbo jet taking off and landing every couple of minutes.

Fast track

Expect to queue to check in. Then queue to go through security. Unless your heart sinks when you see the ten thousand people ahead of you and you decide to pay a fiver for fast track.

And once through security don’t expect to find anywhere comfortable to sit. UK airports are ingeniously designed to force you to walk miles through the shops keeping you away from the gates and the planes and spending money for as long as possible.

Funny you can buy a fast track pass through security but you can’t buy one to bypass the shops.

Edinburgh Airport’s layout is a particular masterclass in design muppetry. The main entrance takes you through a series of outlets. Then up the escalators and back through a load of landslide eateries. Through security and then looping all the way back to the way you came in for another half a mile of shops. Eventually, you might find the odd window and catch a glimpse of a tail fin reminding you you’re at an airport.

UK airport retail outlets must be the only businesses left where we cannot avoid their attempts to flog us stuff.

If you’re watching your favourite TV show, whether it’s Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey, when the ad break comes on you can fast forward through the adverts. On your computer, you can activate a pop-up blocker to stop companies interrupting you watching cat videos. You can unsubscribe from email lists if companies start bombarding you with promotional messages or crap content.

But UK airport’s force you to go through the shops. You’ve no choice. Don’t try walking too fast either. Shop assistants (admittedly only doing their jobs) will block your path and wave samples in front of your face.

It’s interruption marketing at its worst.

What little space that’s left after cramming in all the shops and restaurants offers uncomfortable seating in dark windowless corners. If you want somewhere comfy to sit you’ll have to spring some more cash to go into a posh airport lounge. Those lucky passengers with silver or gold airline frequent flyer cards, or travelling in business or first, scurry for the sanctuary of the lounges. But even they can’t short cut the forced route march through the shops.

What if you need help with your flight?

If you need help with your flight once airside, forget it. Do you remember when airports had information desks? Stansted is best at being bad here. There’s no one top ask for information about a delayed flight. The staff with high-viz jackets, lanyards and clipboards are doing shopping surveys not helping passengers. All you’ll get is the departures board telling you there’ll be more information in 10 minutes time.

When you finally find your gate expect to stand up and queue again. There’s never enough seats at the gate. They take up too much valuable retail space.

Don’t expect the experience to be any better when you arrive back in the UK. Your aircraft will park on the furthest remote stand possible. After a long hot journey jammed like battery hens into a bus and treated to a circuit of the taxiways, you’ll find another endless queue to get your passport checked.

Why it's no surprise 4 UK airports are among the 10 worst in the world

So I can definitely understand why EDI, MAN, LGW and STN made it into the 10 worst airports list.

Am I being a grumpy old man? Probably. Maybe Fat Grant’s Magaluf Stag 2017 Party love all those bars and restaurants. And Boozy Kayleigh’s Ibiza Hen Do like getting lost in all those shops. Maybe once a year is fun. But I fly out of Edinburgh or Stansted once or twice a week.

Their adverts say, “Shop. Eat. Fly.”

Please EDI, MAN, LGW and STN, can I just fly?

Now it’s your turn:

What would you do to improve the customer experience in UK airports? Do you think the retail feeding frenzy has enhanced or worsened air travel? Please leave a comment or share this on social media.