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.