Britain’s Busy Airports Get Busier

Written by Kate Goldstone

As we move inexorably towards the 2015 summer holiday season, it looks like Britain’s already-busy airports are getting even busier. What’s going on, is it a long term trend and what – if anything – can you do to make the entire experience as painless as possible?

heathrow airport

Heathrow Airport – Getting Busier

Heathrow and Gatwick airports getting more crowded

Both Heathrow and Gatwick airports experienced record passenger numbers during March 2015. Just under 3 million of us travelled through Gatwick, more than 9% more than the same time last year. Heathrow airport handled just under 6 million people during March 2015, up 3.4% on March 2014.

Total passenger numbers at Heathrow for 2013 were 72,367,054 and for 2014, 73,405,330. That’s more than the entire population of the UK travelling through Heathrow airport. Gatwick’s passenger numbers look like they’re steadily going up too, from 35,444,206 in 2013 to a total of 38,103,667.

Both airports are waiting to find out the outcome of the Airports Commission capacity review in the south east of England, allegedly due ‘shortly after the general election’. We can’t find any news yet, but feel free to correct us if you know different. In the meantime, watch this space. We’ll be reporting on any decisions about airport expansion.

Are busier airports a growing trend in Britain? According to figures on Wikipedia, yes. Their table detailing the top 40 busiest UK airports reveals only a handful of airports with falling passenger numbers, eleven in total. The rest have steadily increased year on year from 2013 – 14.

The UK’s 8 next busiest airports

  • Manchester airport is our third busiest, with an impressive 20,751,581 passengers throughout 2013 and 6% more during 2014, offering over 200 destinations and more than 100 airlines. But there’s more. Almost 30,000 more of us travelled via Manchester airport in April 2015 than April 2014. The rolling annual passenger total is currently a vast 22.3 million, up 6.7% year-on-year.
  • London Stansted airport is the fourth busiest UK airport, connecting with more than 145 destinations via 12 different airlines. They handled almost 18 million travellers during 2013 alone and just under 20 million in 2014.
  • London Luton airport handled just over nine and a half million travellers in 2013 and just under ten and a half million in 2014, up 8.1%.
  • Edinburgh airport comes next, the sixth busiest in Britain with 9,775,443 passengers in 2013 and 10,160,004 in 2014, up just under 4%.
  • Birmingham airport comes next, with 9,120,201 passengers in 2013 and a 6.4 rise in 2014 to 9,705,955.
  • Glasgow airport looked after 7,363,764 of us during 2013 and 4.8% more, 7,715,988, the year after.
  • Bristol airport is the ninth busiest in Britain, handling 6,131,896 people in 2013 and 3.4% last year.
  • Newcastle airport is tenth busiest, with almost four and a half million passengers during 2013 and 2.2% more in 2014.
manchester airport

Manchester Airport – Terminal 3

Which UK airports are handling fewer passengers in 2014?

If you can’t stand the crowds you might prefer to travel to a quieter airport. So which UK hubs handled fewer passengers in 2014 than they did in 2013? Obviously the figures for 2015 aren’t anywhere near ready, but the 2013/14 numbers provide a reasonable indication.

  1. Liverpool John Lennon airport – down 4.8% years on year
  2. Leeds Bradford airport – down 1.3%
  3. Cardiff airport – down 4.5%
  4. Glasgow Prestwick airport – down 20.3%
  5. Isle of Man airport – 1.3%
  6. Norwich airport – down 1%
  7. City of Derry airport – down 9%
  8. Scatsta airport – down 6.2%
  9. Blackpool airport – down 14.7%
  10. Durham Tees Valley airport – down 11.6%
  11. Alderney airport – down 2.4%

What’s happened at Glasgow Prestwick, with over 20% fewer passengers?

As Wikipedia says:

“In physical terms, Prestwick is Scotland’s largest commercial airfield, although in passenger traffic terms it sits in fourth place after Edinburgh Airport, Glasgow International, and Aberdeen Airport. Passenger traffic peaked at 2.4 million in 2007 following ten years of rapid growth, driven in part by the boom in no-frills airlines, especially from Ryanair which uses the airport as an operating base. There has been a significant reduction in passenger traffic with around 900,000 passengers passing through the airport in 2014.

On 8 March 2012 the airport owner Infratil announced that they had placed the airfield up for sale. The airport remained unsold until October 2013 when the Scottish Government announced it was in negotiations to take the airport back into public ownership. Subsequently the Scottish Government took ownership on Friday 22 November for £1, Infratil having incurred annual losses of £2m.

It is expected the airport will continue to operate as normal and there will be no job losses. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told BBC Scotland that work would now begin for “turning Prestwick around and making it a viable enterprise”. On 1 April 2014, the public petition committee at Holyrood heard that The Robert Burns World Federation wished to rename the airport to Robert Burns International Airport. In June 2014, Ryanair announced the relocation of some routes from Prestwick to Glasgow Airport by October 2014, among them are the flights to Warsaw and Dublin.”

prestwick airport

Prestwick Airport Entrance

Busiest April EVER at Edinburgh and Glasgow airports

On 11th May the BBC announced that Scotland’s two biggest hubs had their busiest April on record, partly down to Easter bank holiday travel. Just under 930,000 of us hit Edinburgh Airport in April, up 10.2% on the same month in 2014, and 665,000 headed for flights out of Glasgow Airport, 15.4% more than April 2014, probably due to an increase in flights between London and Edinburgh plus more long-haul destinations from Glasgow.

According to the BBC news website:

“Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said: “Our passenger numbers have continued to rise each month in 2015 and last month was our busiest April on record. “We’ve seen strong performances on both domestic and international routes, with London doing particularly well. “A number of new routes have also launched since April last year, including Madrid with Iberia Express, Malaga with Norwegian and Copenhagen with SAS.”

Amanda McMillan, managing director of Glasgow Airport, said: “We have enjoyed double-digit growth in our passenger numbers for six consecutive months, but to have recorded our busiest April ever is hugely encouraging. “There certainly appears to be a renewed confidence amongst passengers and airlines alike, and with the launch of nine new services, including direct flights to Prague and Halifax, Nova Scotia, May promises to be yet another busy month.”

What about the long-term?

Cheap, no frills air travel is probably partly responsible for the rise and rise in the popularity of Britain’s airports. If low cost flights ever nosedive for whatever reason, the upward trend might slow.

This might happen if, for example, aircraft, airlines and airports are forced to go greener and end up having to charge passengers an environmental premium. If the bottom drops out of the economy again, whether at home or worldwide, the trend could also slow. But as things look right now, UK airports will probably just keep on getting busier.

There’s some excellent insight into the next generation of environmentally friendlier aircraft here, reported by the Washington Post in January 2015.

Book an airport lounge in advance…

If you’re stuck using a particularly busy airport and can’t stand the crowds, you’ll probably appreciate the calm and peace of a good value, cosy, well equipped airport lounge. But as things get ever-busier, it’s more important than ever to book your airport lounge in advance.

… and book your airport parking early

The same goes for airport parking and airport hotels, both of which might be busier than you expect. Book your airport parking early and you’ll still be able to sail through smoothly. Leave it to the last minute and you might find your journey is a lot less convenient and nowhere near as pleasant.

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