My experience flying from the UK’s worst airport to the best
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The data has spoken, as TPG U.K. has uncovered the best and worst airports in the U.K. The report compiled hours of research and utilised thousands of data points from the Civil Aviation Authority, as well as data gathered directly from the airports, local public transport organisations, taxi firms, rideshare apps and ExpertFlyer, which is owned by TPG’s parent company Red Ventures.
We looked at the top 20 U.K. airports based on passenger numbers for 2018 and divided our research into three sections: commuting, amenities, and on-time performance. We aimed to be as objective as possible to produce our results, which are based on solid facts and data. But once the results were in, I took it upon myself to fly from the worst airport in the U.K., London Stansted, to the best, Glasgow.
How handy that Easyjet flies that very route direct. For the price of £74.46, I booked myself a return ticket, giving me the chance to depart from and arrive at both airports.
The worst Airport: London Stansted Airport
Stansted lost points down big time in the commute section. It calls itself a London airport, but it’s actually a shlep from Trafalgar Square, the chosen centre point of the capital. The quickest route involved the Bakerloo line from Charing Cross to Oxford Circus, a change to the Victoria line up to Tottenham Hale and then the Stansted Express service direct to the airport.
At 74 minutes commute and £20.90 for the tickets, the hard facts were against Stansted, but the experience wasn’t great either. The change of trains at Oxford Circus is annoying, and the change at Tottenham Hale involves leaving the station and a few minutes walk around the building to the train platform. If I had heavy bags it would have been difficult. Throw in a cheeky bit of rain and it would have been a nightmare.
Rideshare and driving don’t fare much better, with extortionate parking costs and the drive time super long from central London due to distance and traffic.
The actual experience at the airport was rather pleasant. For starters, the check-in and mid-morning security queues were non-existent, and I flew through these hurdles. There are plenty of decent food and drink options, including my all-time airport favourite, Joe and the Juice, where I simply can’t resist the spicy tuna sandwich (so tangy, so crunchy!).
Fuelled up on Joe and Juice, and ready to head to Scotland, my happy bubble was burst by the shoddy boarding experience. Due to renovations, the transit train was out of action. Passengers were forced to take a long detour, head up and down some escalators and walk through a vintage bus gate to take a bus to the satellite building. We then took a couple more corridors and escalators to reach the gate area, before descending again to head outside and walk across the tarmac to the aircraft. Talk about a poor boarding experience.
My flight left on time, but Stansted also performed poorly for on-time flights and cancellations. Taking a whole year’s worth of flights into account, Stansted is not the place to be if you want to get to your destination on time. That being said, I had no complaints in that regard from my experience on this day of travel.
The Best Airport: Glasgow Airport
After the short flight, we landed in our best U.K. airport. I immediately felt at home arriving in Glasgow with warm Scottish accents floating through the air. It’s a cosy airport, even if it was biting cold outside.
We immediately put the commute to the test and headed into the city centre. The data was spot on and even close to rush hour, the journey was just 15 minutes via shuttle bus. What the data didn’t show though, was how excellent the shuttle bus was. The modern double-decker bus with tables and wireless phone charging points made the short journey incredibly comfortable.
I returned to the airport for the leg back down to London. Like Stansted, check-in and security lines were very short. Once clearing security, what was impressive was the range of amenities available for what is a relatively small airport. There were plenty of restaurants and multiple lounges. The lounge offering at Glasgow was much more impressive than the single lounge at Stansted, even though Stansted has triple the annual number of passengers.
We went to the British Airways lounge, which has been renovated and was a lovely place to chill before the flight.
The simplicity of walking to the gates was also a pleasure. The stress and time of the Stansted satellite transfer was a dampener on the experience there, but at Glasgow, just being able to take a leisurely stroll to reach the plane without worrying about time was a big improvement.
The flight left bang on time, which was in line with our findings for this Scottish airport. For on-time flights and cancellations, Glasgow was in the top three across the board for the whole year.
Stansted was not as bad as you would imagine for an airport ranking dead last out of 20. Apart from the messy transfers to the aircraft, the amenities were OK and the experience overall at the airport was enjoyable. On a very busy day with queues and just one lounge to enjoy, this experience could flip. What can’t be denied is the poor transport both in terms of time and cost. Stansted wants to be a London airport, but it simply isn’t closely connected enough to be comfortably enjoyed as one. Lastly, although my flight was on time, looking at the whole year, your experience in this regard at Stansted is unlikely to be as smooth every time.
Conversely, Glasgow was a dream. The connection to the city centre and ease of using the airport was fantastic. I enjoyed the experience of arriving, commuting into town and departing.
Ultimately, many people don’t have a choice in the airport they use, with a decision being made based on the availability of airlines and routes, prices and proximity, but that shouldn’t stop airports striving to improve. I look forward to our next report to see how airports in the U.K. fare a second time around.
Featured photo by Liam Spencer/The Points Guy.
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