The worst UK airports for flight delays

No one wants to be stranded at an airport. Delays add more stress to the air travel experience, affecting millions of passengers every year in the UK. This blog will highlight which airports, airlines and routes to avoid.

The busiest airports in the UK:

There are many international airports spread across the UK, as well as lots of smaller ones operating domestic and private flights. For the purposes of their research, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) focus on the 25 biggest ones.

Heathrow is the largest and busiest airport in the UK; it handled 75 million passengers in 2016, nearly double the amount that passed through Gatwick during the same time period. With its four terminals hosting international (short and long-haul), domestic and connecting flights, Heathrow dealt with over a quarter of the 1.7 million flights that departed the UK’s 25 major airports over the course of 2016.

Each one of the Top 10 busiest UK airports saw an increase in passenger numbers in 2016. The most significant surges were at Stansted, Luton and Glasgow, which all experienced double-digit passenger growth last year.

Airport Passengers 2016 Passengers 2015 Change
London Heathrow 75,006,00 73,442,000 2.1%
London Gatwick 40,396,000 38,217,000 5.7%
Manchester 23,197,000 22,039,000 5.2%
London Stansted 22,690,000 20,287,000 11.8%
London Luton 12,426,000 10,549,000 17.7%
Edinburgh 11,188,000 10,197,000 9.7%
Birmingham International 10,237,000 9,761,000 4.8%
Glasgow International 8,774,000 7,759,000 13%
Bristol International 6,829,000 6,351,000 7.5%
Newcastle 4,558,000 4,517,000 0.9%

Each one of the Top 10 busiest UK airports saw an increase in passenger numbers in 2016.

What are the chances of being delayed?

According to the Civil Aviation Authority, passengers flying to popular holiday destinations from the UK, have a 20% chance of enduring an airport delay of at least 30 minutes. In 2016, a staggering 38,000 international flights took off behind schedule during the peak summer months alone.

Which airport are you most likely to get delayed at?

London is the biggest city in the UK and has four major airports serving it, including two of the busiest in Europe. Therefore, it is not surprising that most UK delays involve flights from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton. When looking at proportion of flight delays over 30 minutes, Gatwick came out as the worst of 25 UK airports, with nearly a third of its international departures disrupted during the summer of 2016. Luton and Stansted also make the Top 10 list of frequently delayed airports, with approximately one in five flights being delayed at both.

Belfast International has the second highest percentage of delayed flight, with just under a quarter of departures being at least 30 minutes late.

Both of Scotland’s major international airports make the list too, with just under 20% of each airport’s flights getting delayed by more than 30 minutes between June and September 2016.

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The UK’s most regularly delayed airports:

Airport Minutes Delay
London Gatwick 30 minutes
Belfast International 23 minutes
Luton 23 minutes
Jersey 21 minutes
Edinburgh 19 minutes
Glasgow 17 minutes
Manchester 17 minutes
Stansted 17 minutes
Birmingham 16 minutes
Bristol 16 minutes

A staggering 38,000 international flights were late departing major UK airports last summer.

How long should you expect to be delayed for?

Delays will vary significantly in length, with some lasting a matter of minutes, and others extending beyond several hours. The average delay across major UK airports last summer was 21 minutes. The longest delay to happen at a UK airport during this time was a flight from Manchester to Dusseldorf, which got delayed for an astonishing 779 minutes – that’s nearly 13 hours!

Which routes suffer the longest delays?

Although Manchester to Dusseldorf tops the list, there are many other routes which averaged delays well in excess of 200 minutes between June and September last year. Popular destinations featured in the Top 10 include Oslo, New York and Warsaw.

  1. Manchester to Dusseldorf
  2. Gatwick to Cunagua Cayo Coco
  3. Edinburgh to Oslo Gardermoen
  4. Jersey to Dusseldorf
  5. Birmingham to Malta
  6. Belfast International to Burgas
  7. Bristol to Thira Santorini
  8. Gatwick to New York JFK
  9. Gatwick to Warsaw Chopin
  10. Heathrow to Split

Which routes get delayed most frequently?

Of the top 40 delay-prone routes flown from the UK three-quarters were heading to European destinations.

The non-European flights that were regularly delayed last summer were bound for Ghana, Canada, USA and Pakistan.

The most repeatedly delayed route was from Heathrow to the Ghanaian capital, Accra – 85 out of 122 flights on this route were at least 30 minutes late during the peak summer months.

When are delays most likely to happen?

All UK airports seemingly experience more delays in June than any other summer month.

Last September, a flight from Manchester to Dusseldorf was delayed for an incredible 13 hours.

What are the UK’s most delayed airlines?

The Civil Aviation Authority have analysed 850,000 flights at 25 UK airports across the entirety of 2016. A quarter of all these flights arrived behind schedule, with Air Transat, Icelandair and Norwegian Air among the most frequently late airlines.

At the other end of the scale, KLM were the most punctual ahead of Qatar Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Etihad Airlines.

When looking exclusively at UK-based airlines, EasyJet have the worst punctuality record, with only two-thirds of their flights arriving on time. Low-cost rival Ryanair had a much higher punctuality rate of 77 per cent and British Airways managed to get 74 per cent of their flights to destinations on time.

The most punctual UK airline in 2016 was Flybe – the Exeter-based carrier landed 82 per cent of their flights on schedule, serving approximately 7 million passengers in the process.

Airline Percentage of flights on time
Air Transat 55.17%
Icelandair 56.09%
Norwegian 59.86%
Malaysia 60.23%
Air Canada 64.48%
Air Portugal 64.59%
Vueling Airlines 65.23%
EasyJet 66.19%
Emirates 67.42%
American Airlines 67.50%

A third of all EasyJet flights arrived late in 2016

Which airlines departing the UK had the best punctuality rates in January 2017?

CAA recently released on-time performance (OTP) rates for the first month of 2017.

Overall, there was a significant month-on-month improvement to the on-time performance of UK departures. The data, which looks at British and Irish carriers operating from UK airports showed a

The total OTP rate for all flights was 77 per cent, up from 70 per cent in December 2016. However, it sits just below the 3-year average January OTP level of 80 per cent.

Punctuality for the rolling year to 31 January 2017 was 73 per cent, slightly down on the rolling annual OTP to 31 December 2016 and down 5 percentage points on the 3-year average.

Aer Lingus continued to outperform all other flight operators in January, with a 91 per cent punctuality rate that was 14 percentage points above the national average. Their domestic operator Aer Lingus Regional, wasn’t far behind in second place with 88 per cent of its flights arriving on time.

There was a significant improvement in Flybe’s reliability, moving up to third thanks to an OTP of 82 per cent. EasyJet’s 78 per cent flight punctuality rate represented a considerable improvement on December 2016, moving them seven places up the OTP table.

Thomson Airways took the unwelcome title of least punctual carrier with one-third of its UK departures arriving at their destination at least 30 minutes late. Thomas Cook also had issues with lateness during this period, with less than 70 per cent of their flights arriving on schedule in January.

January 2017 - Latest OTP

Airline OTP Versus UK Average Change
Aer Lingus 90.8% +13.8ppt -
Aer Lingus International 88.5% +11.5ppt -
flybe 82.2% +5.2ppt +3
Jet2 81.4% +4.4ppt -1
British Airways 81% +4.0ppt -
Monarch Airlines 80.7% +3.7ppt +1
Loganair 79.7% +2.7ppt -3
EasyJet 77.8% +0.8ppt +7
BA CityFlyer 77.6% +0.6ppt -
Ryanair 75.6% -1.4ppt +2
Eastern Airways 75.2% -1.8ppt -1
Virgin Atlantic 74.5% -2.5ppt -4
BMI Regional 72.5% -4.5ppt -
Thomas Cook Airlines 69.3% -7.7ppt -3
Thomson Airways 66.5% -10.5ppt -1

Thomson Airways took the unwelcome title of ‘least punctual’ carrier, with one-third of its UK departures arriving later than planned.

Passenger airport ratings

Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted and Edinburgh all feature in a list of the 10 worst airports in the world. The AirHelp rankings, which rate punctuality, quality and service at 76 airports across the globe place all of the aforementioned UK airports in the bottom six.

It’s not all bad news for British airports however, as London Heathrow (highest-rated UK airport) rounds off the top 20, sitting between San Francisco and Vancouver.

Passengers have rated Singapore Changi as the very best, with Munich second and Hong Kong third.
According to the same rankings the worst airport in the world is Kuwait.

The top 10 airports in the world and their scores in the AirHelp index:

Airport Country AirHelp Score (out of 10)
Singapore Changi Singapore 9.07
Munich Germany 8.66
Hong Kong Hong Kong 8.42
Copenhagen Kastrup Denmark 8.04
Helsinki-Vantaa Finland 8.03
Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky United States 7.94
Barcelona El Prat Spain 7.90
Madrid Adolfo Suarez-Barajas Spain 7.81
Auckland New Zealand 7.80
Frankfurt Germany 7.76

The worst 10 airports in the world and their scores in the AirHelp index:

Airport Country AirHelp Score (out of 10)
Kuwait Kuwait 5.02
London Gatwick United Kingdom 5.38
Manchester United Kingdom 5.43
Newark Liberty – New Jersey United States 5.92
London Stansted United Kingdom 6.07
Edinburgh United Kingdom 6.10
Mumbai India 6.21
Dubai United Arab Emirates 6.24
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Thailand 6.30
Delhi India 6.31

What factors are important to passengers when rating an airport?

When flying from an airport, it would seem that passengers prioritise practical elements that aid a swift passage through the terminal such as well thought-out building design and efficient security procedures. Dining and shopping amenities are deemed less important along with peripheral attractions – however, these factors are likely to become more important for passengers enduring flight delays.

Airport factors in order of importance:

  1. Security speed
  2. Airport design
  3. Lounge seating
  4. Restaurants & Bars
  5. Shopping
  6. Attractions

Four UK airports are ranked among the worst in the world

The standards set by international airports these days is pretty high, but there are still some that passengers should perhaps look to avoid if they can.

The chances of a journey being severely disrupted are still pretty slim, but the various findings analysed in this blog should help travellers make an informed decision at the booking stage. Knowing which airlines, airports and destinations to avoid can all improve the chances of a relatively stress-free travel experience.

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