Belfast International Airport rated ‘worst’ in UK

Which? survey cites long queues, crowded terminals and pricey parking

Belfast International Airport said that passengers had faced ‘significant operational challenges’ over the last 18 months. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA

Belfast International Airport said that passengers had faced ‘significant operational challenges’ over the last 18 months. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA

 

Belfast International Airport (BIA) has been rated as the “worst” airport in the United Kingdom in an annual survey carried out by an independent consumer body because of “long queues, crowded terminals and pricey parking”.

In the survey by Which?, BIA landed at the bottom of the small airport rankings, had the lowest customer score of 42 per cent and was named as the “worst rated airport overall”.

The highest rated airport in the UK, for the third year running, was Doncaster Sheffield which scored an 86 per cent customer rating and was praised by travellers as a “cosy airport” with no queues and “easy to navigate”.

‘Challenges’

When it came to BIA however, Which? said travellers complained about the airport being “tired and shabby” and “understaffed”. Many others commented on its “poor layout”.

In the Which? survey, the airport also scored badly for security queues, seating, staff and for its small range of shops and restaurants – a quarter of which are, the consumer body claimed, owned by WH Smith.

According to Naomi Leach from Which?, if travellers have the “luxury of choice” when it comes to airports in the North, they should choose Belfast City over Belfast International “for a smoother start to your trip”.

A spokeswoman for BIA said the airport “acknowledged” that passengers had faced “significant operational challenges” over the last 18 months but claimed that, since the Which? survey had been carried out, the airport has seen “a noticeable improvement in passenger satisfaction”.

BIA has recently completed a £1 million (€1.1 million) investment programme in its central search security facility.

The spokeswoman added: “This investment is having a clear and positive effect. A newly installed tracking system shows that the time it takes to process through security is averaging well below 15 minutes.

“Belfast International Airport has made considerable strides to improve the passenger experience, including the appointment of a new security contractor. The range of food and beverage outlets has also been greatly enhanced with the opening of the new Northern Quarter facility. We are working hard to improve the passenger experience and that will continue on a rolling basis.”

According to latest statistics, more than 6.4 million travellers have passed through BIA this year, making it the North’s busiest airport.

Two years ago, the airport launched an extensive marketing campaign in the Republic to attract more residents from the South to travel through Belfast International, using Brexit-themed ads to highlight the advantages of flying from Belfast because of sterling weakness against the euro.

The spokeswoman for BIA said that the airport continues to “get a growing number of passengers, particularly from Donegal, Sligo, Monaghan and Louth” and “currently around 11 per cent of traffic” is from the Republic.

Previously, Northern Ireland’s only direct, scheduled air service to the United States had operated from BIA but this ended when Norwegian Air axed the route.

Route

Since then, Belfast International has struggled to find a replacement airline to operate a direct route to the US. Earlier this year, Uel Hoey, business development director at the airport, claimed this could be as a result of how Northern Ireland is marketed by Tourism Ireland.

Mr Hoey told the House of Common’s Northern Ireland affairs committee that, because of the Good Friday Agreement, the North is “sold externally by an all-Ireland tourism body, and a very good job they do for the island of Ireland in terms of marketing and getting green lights on things on 17th March”.

He added: “We are in a global sales environment. We are light years behind even our closest competitor in Dublin in terms of how we pitch our external sales pitch. If it is fragmented, it further dilutes our likelihood of success.

“We have almost the invidious scenario where, if you look at external garnering of tourism, you have to say that whatever Dublin directs in the direction of Belfast is likely to be something that Dublin loses for itself. It does not make any sense for them to do that. We find ourselves currently in a situation that is tantamount to Belfast being sold by Dublin. It is like Barcelona being sold by Madrid or Edinburgh being sold by London.”