38 Flights, 18 terminals, 84 lattes: How we audited every major UK airport

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At Cheapflights we’re all about helping our users to find the cheapest flights (the clue’s in the name) and making flying as easy as possible.

So we pride ourselves on needing to know everything, good and bad, about the airports you’re using. Quite frankly there’s only one way to do this; by getting out there amongst the masses and negotiating each and every security scanner, baggage hall and check-in queue. We suffered, so you don’t have to.

On behalf of Cheapflights, our intrepid footpad, Jo Kendall embarked on a five-week mission to do just that – visiting each and every major UK airport terminal in all of the major UK airports.

Jo stress-tested the facilities, evaluated the inconsistencies and even counted all the toilets at all of the major UK airports, taking in 38 flights in the process, including three in just one day!

We spoke to Jo about the highs and lows, as well as the insights she gained in the process…

Also read: ‘Cheapflights UK airport audit part 1: What to wear, where to walk, when to get out’

What was your brief?

To travel in and out of every UK airport and gather extensive data on each terminal.

What was your favourite airport?

One hundred percent Edinburgh. It was a fantastic airport from start to finish. Just getting to it is so easy with their tram system. It’s clean, it’s orderly and (contrary to recent reports) the all-new security hall works perfectly – or certainly did on the day I flew out of it. I also liked London City Airport, but it’s worth noting that both Edinburgh and City were the most expensive airports in which to spend time (and company money).

Search for flights to Edinburgh

…and the worst?

Luton has no seats, which was quite clever as it made you wander around and buy things or go into the restaurants. There’s seating on the way to the gates, but they don’t tell you that. But it’s not the most welcoming consideration, and would surely create problems for families, the elderly or those with special assistance requirements.

Where was the strangest place you visited?

Stornoway in the Scottish Highlands, because it was so small and barely anyone lived there. The town was only two roads with a pub, a shop and a café. My journey up there was during the heatwave. It was 35 degrees in London but only 17 degrees in Stornaway, which the locals considered warm. The flight was also the most turbulent of the project, owing to bad weather, but the airport had ample seating with only 30 or so people using it, so there were no queues or stress.

view from the office - photo: Jo Kendall
view from the office – photo: Jo Kendall

What insights into flying did you personally gain from the project?

People’s behaviour definitely changes when they enter an airport. For those of us using them for travel, they seem to bring out the worst! I saw a lot of meltdowns and arguments between families and couples, usually about spending money, but also about going through security which really stresses people out. Even after 10 years of increased measures, there’s still confusion about the rules and, coupled with pressure from the queue behind you, people can get very edgy. On the upside, I didn’t have a bad experience with staff at any of the airports. They get a bad press sometimes, but everyone I met was incredibly helpful and patient, particularly with young children and the elderly.

With your new found wisdom, do you have any personal tips for flyers?

Plan ahead. If you dress appropriately, you should save time clearing security. Obviously it helps if the airports have thought about their operational processes in the first place, but if you wear slip-on shoes, keep jewellery and other metal objects to a minimum, and remove your belt in advance, it will certainly speed things up. Also, by keeping the things that you’ll need to remove at the top of your bag – such as your Kindle and your liquids – you’ll also speed up the process.

Flying into London again *yawns*
London from the air again *yawns* – photo: Jo Kendall

Has the experience made you a better traveller?

Definitely, by the end I felt completely at ease with the whole process, particularly with regards to security. Somebody did say on one trip, ‘Oh, you’re very prepared with your see-through bag and everything.’ I’m definitely a more confident flyer now and I’m well prepared to take the lead in any airport.

We’ll be rolling out Jo’s findings as a series of reports over the next few months, with the first report on Security & Customs available below…

Airport Audit 2015 - Security

Jo’s tips for a security-friendly travel outfit (or what not to wear):

Shoes that are difficult to take off
Gladiator sandals and Doc-Martens are a no no when travelling by plane, unless you want to replicate a single-player game of Twister as you wrestle out of them in the security queue. Wear slip-ons and be sure to keep your socks on. Thousands of bare feet pass over that same patch of carpet every day.

Jewellery and piercings
Triggering the metal detector will usually earn you a more intimate pat-down – and jewellery and piercings will be a sure-fire way of raising the alarm. Remove all items of jewellery and ideally stow them in your carry-on before you hit the queue. As for piercings, make the security personnel aware of any intimate pieces in good time.

If you want to wear a belt, ensure it’s one you can remove and reintegrate into your outfit in seconds. The average passenger waits approximately 3 seconds before tutting when held up, so consider that your window. Ideally wear and outfit that doesn’t require additional support, although scruffy sportswear will occasionally signal you out for closer inspection.

Baggy clothing
According to security staff, the baggier the clothes, the more opportunities there are to hide prohibited items. That flowery dress may look perfect as you strut along the travelator, and those hip hop jeans lurking around your ankles might be right on-trend this week, but they could also mark you out for a short walk to a little booth.

Coats and jackets
Although you may be travelling to and from a chilly climate, the chances are you won’t require a heavy coat from the moment you step into the airport through to when you exit arrivals at your destination. Coats and jackets add to the items that need to be x-rayed – and they also take up valuable space in the overhead locker.

Offensive clothing
Saucy stag and hen outfits and T-shirts featuring offensive slogans or images may draw attention from security or airline staff members. Reports of passengers being refused entry onto an aircraft owing to their wardrobe malfunctions are not uncommon. Ask yourself, would you wear it in front of your mother / grandmother / vicar? If not, don’t.

And if it all goes wrong, there is always the Cheapflights ‘Making Airports Easy’ playlist to keep you nice and relaxed.

38 Flights, 18 terminals, 84 lattes: How we audited every major UK airport was last modified: November 17th, 2015 by Andy Stone
Author: Andy Stone (4 posts)