In 2007, a leading neuropsychologist likened passing through Heathrow to facing a riot. Two years on, we consider whether the air travel experience has improved and list 20 of readers' biggest gripes.
1. Surprise charges
An all-too-common practice that begins when you book the tickets and continues at the airport. The "headline fares" may look astonishingly good value - but they rarely represent the final bill. Ryanair's website might advertise "free" flights but once you've added on the "optional" extras - online check-in (£5 per person per flight - unless you have a Visa Electron), card payment handling fees (£5 per person per flight), baggage check-in fees (£30 for one bag per return flight, £100 for two), fees for carrying sporting or musical equipment (£80 for a return flight) - the true cost is often considerably higher.
Fall foul of an airline's myriad regulations and you'll pay even more at the airport. Ryanair recently removed all its airport check-in desks, meaning all passengers must print their own boarding cards. Misplace yours and the airline will print out another one for you - at a cost of £40 per person. If your bags are too heavy you'll face yet more charges.
Tip: check in online, without hold luggage and don't lose your boarding card
2. Getting to the airport
From the very start, your patience will be tested. For those with young children, there's additional packing, extra passports to carry and restless minds to occupy. For everybody else, there is a slow crawl along Britain's overloaded motorways, and - with regional airports losing routes as airlines seek to cut costs - we are being forced to travel greater distances.
You could opt to travel by train, which is usually a far more serene experience, but the rising cost of rail fares will soon sour your mood. A return ticket from London Paddington to Heathrow on the Heathrow Express will set you back £32. That's more than £1 a minute. The Gatwick Express from London Victoria, at £28.80, is little better.
Tip: pick your departure time carefully; avoid premium train services; try staying at an airport hotel such as the capsule-esque Yotel
3. Airport parking
Airport car parks can be expensive and are often miles from the terminal. A week at Heathrow will cost close to £50, while finding a space in long stay during the summer holidays can be particularly tiresome. Earlier this year, bosses at Luton Airport even had the temerity to propose a £1 "kiss and drop" charge to all drivers leaving their loved ones at the entrance to departures. Fortunately, they shelved the plan.
Tip: book a parking space well in advance or get a friend or relative to drop you off
4. The airport
Where do you start? With a few notable exceptions they are overcrowded and poorly-designed. The gates are often too far from security and the seats - with rigid immovable armrests - are impossible to sleep on. They are built with little thought other than how to best accommodate more shops.
Tip: try to avoid Heathrow terminals 1-4 and Gatwick during peak times; use regional airports where possible; book a club-class lounge
5. The shops
For a start, there are far too many. Removing just one sprawling duty-free from your average airport terminal would create enough room for everyone in the airport to sit down.
And they're expensive. Does £2 represent a fair charge for a bottle of water? Especially when you're probably going to have it confiscated by security 20 minutes later. A sandwich is likely to set you back a fiver, and the only place to enjoy an alcoholic drink is usually a grotty pub.
Tip: pack your own sandwiches
6. Ridiculous exchange rates
Head for the high street: these kiosks are farcically uneconomical. A Which? report published earlier this year revealed that holidaymakers will lose as much as 10 per cent of their holiday spending money if they utilise airport bureaux. The survey showed that the cost of buying 500 euros averaged just over £460 on the high street, but peaked at £507.84 at an airport Travelex.
Tip: use the Post Office: it doesn't charge any commission
7. Surly or unprofessional staff
Everyone has their own story to tell. From stone-faced check-in staff to surly security...
Earlier this year Jet2's chief executive Phillip Meeson unleashed a foul-mouthed tirade at his own staff due to the length of time it was taking them to deal with customers, while Telegraph Travel readers have had plenty of unpleasant experiences with employees at airports in the United States.
8. Carry-on baggage allowance
If all airlines adopted the same policy, things would be far less stressful. But rules on dimensions and weight vary considerably. easyJet does not have weight restrictions but bags must be no larger than 55x40x20cm. British Airways allows bags up to 56x45x25cm, Virgin Atlantic 56x36x23cm.
Even if your brand new trolley case meets these criteria, once you've stuffed it with a week's worth of clothes (in a bid to avoid costly baggage charges) it may have expanded beyond the limit, leaving you with little option but to pay to check-in your bag anyway (at up to twice the normal cost).
Tip: check the rules and play it safe
9. Security screening
This week it was announced that the dreaded liquids ban is likely to remain in place for a further five years. Airports have even started to cash in on the policy: clear plastic bags are no longer dispensed free of charge at either Luton or Manchester, instead passengers must pay £1 to purchase them from a vending machine.
Tip: pre-pack your liquids (under 100ml) in plastic bags
This is one area where Britain's airports have shown significant improvement. In the first half of 2009, 81.6 per cent of departures at 10 major UK airports left on time, up from 71.2 per cent last year, according to the website www.flightontime.info. But that's still nearly one in five flights leaving late.
Tip: for information on routes most frequently delayed, see www.flightstats.com
( 2 Votes )