Which? survey reveals the highs and lows of airport performance

Worst UK airport named and shamedUK airport people walking past a shopAirport lows

Which? has revealed the best and worst rated airports in the UK for 2019. The annual survey of more than 6,000 passenger experiences details this year’s top and bottom ranking airports countrywide.

Long queues, crowded terminals and pricey parking charges contributed to Belfast International Airport taking the bottom spot. It scored 42% overall. Passengers described the airport as “tired and shabby” with a “poor layout”, claiming that there are long security queues and that the airport is “understaffed”.

In the BBC News report The UK’s ‘worst’ airport revealed, Graham Keddie, the airport’s Managing Director, told BBC Radio Ulster “We have now got a tracking system in place and we’re seeing more than 90% of our passengers going through in less than 15 minutes.”

“It’s perhaps legacy from the past, but again we’ve got to take it on board and continue to improve.”

Time will tell whether the promised changes bring the much-needed improvements.

Airports doing not much better

For the fourth year running, Luton was close to the bottom of the table, this year second-to-last. Again, passengers complained of long security queues and limited seating. This is despite more than £1m spent on terminal improvement works in December 2018.

Of those surveyed, when asked if there was an airport they would never fly from 25% picked Luton. Aberdeen International Airport scored the lowest rating for Scotland, achieving poor results for both staffing levels and the availibility of seating.

Steve Szalay, Managing Director at Aberdeen, told BBC News that the Which? research was “months out of date and in no way tallies with the hugely positive feedback we’re receiving from the tens of thousands of passengers who are travelling through our doors on a weekly basis”.
However, a quick flick through the hundreds of comments on the BBC News article shows that many Aberdeen passengers do not agree. They talk of poor building design, in putting baggage reclaim so far away from the arrivals area, dirty toilets and long queues at security.

Aberdeen may well be able to add staff to improve some areas of performance but rebuilding, so as to improve the passenger flow on incoming flights, may prove more difficult!

Airports flying high

Doncaster Sheffield was the highest scoring airport for the third year running, achieving 86% passenger satisfaction. In contrast with airports at the other end of the table, passengers described it as “cosy”, with no queues, and said that it is “easy to navigate”.

97% of those who have used the airport within the last year said that they would recommend the airport, giving particular attention to its “personable and helpful” staff.

But passengers did have one criticism, which was that they wanted more flight destinations than the current 55.

Best of the biggies

Among the airports with more than ten million passengers a year, Heathrow Terminal Five has the highest customer score (66%) among airports with more than ten million passengers a year. Toilets are clearly important, as it was the only area that scored five out of five stars! Ample seating and helpful staff both received four out of five stars. “Too many half-empty luxury shops” made the terminal feel like “a shopping mall”, and what passengers saw as expensive car parks were described as “daylight robbery”.

Close behind was “hassle-free” Birmingham Airport, which scored 65% with three stars across all categories. However, some passengers used words such as “unremarkable” and “functional” to describe it.
What do passengers expect?

The findings show quite simply that passengers expect staff to be helpful and courteous. But just as important are the surroundings. Queues, as you would expect, are never acceptable to passengers unless in exceptional circumstances and even then they expect more staff to be on hand. Passengers also expect good facilities whilst they wait for their departure.

Public vs Private airports

How does the ownership of an airport affect the customer service performance? In 2016 the Airports Council International Europe analysed the ownership of UK airports and found that almost 53% are fully private and more than 25% are in mixed ownership. 21% are still entirely publicly owned. Nearly all of the airports with private shareholders are owned by a variety of foreign private equity funds and pension groups. Since then, Prestwick Airport was put up for sale in June 2019.

Perhaps there is little incentive for airports to adequately staff their airports or keep their buildings up to scratch and fit for purpose, when there’s money to be made? Profit margins are where it is at and of course there isn’t much in the way of competition if you just want to fly from the nearest airport.

Airlines are responsible for most services at airports, so complaints usually go there. People tend to forget their experiences once they’ve flown out and by the time they come back usually can’t be bothered to do anything. Poor service is difficult for people to complain about when they don’t know to whom they should complain or if they will get redress because they haven’t paid the airport any money.

This is probably a big part of why airports say they don’t receive many complaints! There’s a feeling of “well they won’t clean the toilets anyway!” and “I’m back after a lovely holiday I can’t be bothered” and “they won’t take any notice anyway”.

The future of airport satisfaction

The true “customers” of airports are not the passengers but the airlines, who pay to use them for the departures and arrivals of their flights. If problems occur then passengers need to make more effort to complain about service, both to the airports themselves and to their airlines.
In doing this, passengers can guide the way in helping airports to improve the service that they provide. We can live in hope.

Terminal decline – Belfast International rated worst UK airport the Which? press release.

Ryanair descends to new lows in customer service ratings

Which? survey reveals league table for customer service

The consumer organisation Which? has today released the results of its latest survey of customer service performance. It asked nearly 4,000 members of the public to rate how the companies make them feel, how helpful and knowledgeable their staff were, and how well they handled complaints.

Ryanair branded “arrogant” “sneaky and “greedy”

Ryanair has been rated the worst firm for customer service out of 100 popular brands operating in the UK.

I don’t think this comes as a surprise to anyone. Ryanair is not known for great customer service.  According to the Which? report, passengers felt undervalued by unhelpful staff and miserable complaints handling. Ryanair came bottom of the table, only managing a paltry customer service score of 45 per cent overall, with the lowest rating of one star in all three categories:

  • Making you feel valued as a customer
  • Attitude/helpfulness of staff
  • Efficiency with solving complaints or problems

Which? said “Presented with a choice of 50 words to describe the airline, most of the airline’s passengers opted for ‘greedy’, ‘sneaky’ and ‘arrogant’, with one going as far as to say “Ryanair seem to make things deliberately difficult in order to make more money out of their customers”.

People take a calculated risk when booking with Ryanair. Every year Ryanair has strikes, every year there are reports of Ryanair trying to fob people off and not pay them compensation due. At some point it has to come to an end for Ryanair. Michael O’Leary, the CEO since 1994, has always been quite open about not caring about his own customers. It seems to be a model that has worked for him and his company. Cheap flights with little investment in training, retaining staff or customer service and complaint handling.

But is it worthwhile for Ryanair to continue this customer-hostile behaviour? There has to be a limit to what people can take, causing an increase in the numbers of passengers who say theu will never fly Ryanair again. When asked about how well the airline handles complaints, half (50%) of respondents gave it the lowest possible rating.

In September 2018 I wrote about Ryanair misleading customers on their consumer rights and again in December Landing in court with Ryanair (what you need to know about airlines and ADR too!).

easyJet, another budget airline, came in at 79th place, not hugely better but it was the highest ranking airline, demonstrating that Ryanair could definitely improve. One can only wonder if the airlines with the cheapest flights invested more in customer service, instead of constantly trying to fob people off and treat them badly, how well they could do. This is of course theoretical, because Ryanair has no intention of improving anytime soon. Numerous media outlets tried to get a statement from them regarding this survey but failed.


It comes as even less of a surprise that three large telecoms providers are right down there at the bottom of the rankings. Having complained to Virgin Media many times and using the Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme three times, winning each time, I can vouch for just how dreadful their service is. It is the sector about which I receive the most complaints, that’s for sure. And let’s not forget the energy companies performing badly too, whether it’s the Big Six or the smaller newcomers to the market.

lap top on woman's knees phone in one hand


If you are having problems with your telecom provider see All you need to know about complaining to telecom providers or for energy,


Electricity pylon Everything you need to know to complain about energy problems

All you need to know to make a complaint about energy



The big brand retailers and supermarkets came out well, considering the current difficulties in the High Street. The findings appear to suggest that some stores and supermarkets are getting better at customer service.

In the banking sector, the online bank First Direct took the top slot. A score of 89% is very high! Customers were hugely positive about the bank’s quality of service. Other banks would do well to look at First Direct which has won awards for customer service for a number of years.

Lakeland (87%) was the highest-rated retailer, standing out for the attitude of its staff, where it scored the full five-stars. Customers chose the word ‘helpful’ when given a list of words to describe the brand.

Sports Direct, unsurprisingly, was rated as the worst retailer for customer service with a 58% rating. Customers told Which? that the sporting apparel shop did not make them feel valued. The negative reputation Sports Direct has for treating both its staff and its customers is borne out by the survey.

Customer service dissatisfaction

The findings are in keeping with those from the Customer Service Institute. Last month it published a report Customer service goes down, complaints are going up showing that Customer service is getting worse. The ICS Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) has shown a decline for the fourth consecutive year. And by a significant amount too. 14.3% of consumers said that they experienced a problem with customer service. This represents a rise of 1.5% since last year’s figures.  in a report published last month.

Harry Rose, Editor of Which? Magazine, commented: “The best way to send a clear message to businesses about the importance of customer service is to spend your hard-earned cash with brands that make it a top priority – and don’t hesitate to complain if you feel you’ve been treated poorly.”

Customer service is becoming more important to savvy consumers and those in all the sectors would do well to heed the messages that consumers are sending. Not investing in customer service and complaint handling and fobbing customers off does not help sales. It contributes to a costly high turnover of staff, poor company reputation and a lack of loyalty.

Businesses getting it right see an increase in customer loyalty and better sales as a result. It’s not rocket science!

BBC Breakfast 23/08/19 discussing the Which? report

BBC Breakfast 23/08/19 Helen Dewdney discusses the Which? customer service survey