Whether holiday-makers are heading off in search of some much-needed sun, or hitting the slopes on a snowy mountain, the UK’s airports see huge amounts of travellers passing through each year. In 2022 alone, an estimated 224 million passengers travelled to and from airports across the country.
From seeking a smooth passage through crowded terminals, to simply avoiding the hustle and bustle altogether, it’s important to find the right airport to meet your travelling needs. But, with over 40 airports in the UK, which ones deliver the best service?
We compared 30 of the UK’s busiest airports across four key categories to find out which UK airports are the best for holiday-makers:
- The top five relaxing airports in the UK
- The top five accessible UK airports
- The top five UK airports for shopping
- The top five UK airports for families
Our experts have also shared why it’s important to make sure you’re protected with travel insurance before you head off on your travels this autumn, and beyond.
The top 10 UK airports revealed
A certain amount of planning and preparation is always needed when travelling by plane. Complications may still arise during your travels but you can enhance your pre-holiday experience by travelling through a number of UK airports.
The airports in the UK that have received the highest overall score out of 10 across all four categories are:
- Manchester - 7.3/10
- Gatwick - 7.2/10
- Birmingham - 7/10
- Luton - 6.9/10
- Edinburgh - 6.7/10
- Stansted - 6.4/10
- Liverpool (John Lennon) - 6.1/10
- Belfast International - 5.9/10
- Newcastle - 5.9/10
- East Midlands International - 5.7/10
Manchester Airport is the UK’s best airport, particularly when it comes to accessibility
- Lounges & relaxation score = 6.8
- Accessibility score = 10
- Shopping & leisure facilities score = 5.8
- Family-friendly score = 6.4
Our research suggests that Manchester Airport is the best airport in the UK based on the four categories we looked at. Just like the residents of the northern city, Manchester’s airport stands out as a helpful and friendly place to travel through. With the highest accessibility score in the country, at 10 out of 10 and a brilliant family-friendly score (6.4), holidaymakers can expect an all-round brilliant service.
Gatwick Airport achieves second place in the UK airport index
- Lounges & relaxation score = 6.4
- Accessibility score = 7.6
- Shopping & leisure facilities score = 5.8
- Family-friendly score = 6.4
With an overall score of 7.2 out of 10, Gatwick follows closely behind in second place. The London airport promises a smooth journey through the terminal for all, with the second best accessibility score (7.6). The airport’s high score for shopping and leisure (7.6) also means there’ll be plenty of stores and restaurants to explore for travellers wishing to pass some time before their departure.
Birmingham airport rounds up the top three, providing great shopping and leisure facilities
- Lounges & relaxation score = 7.3
- Accessibility score = 6.9
- Shopping & leisure facilities score = 8.6
- Family-friendly score = 5.6
Rounding off the top five are Birmingham, Luton and Edinburgh where travellers can complement their relaxing getaway with some retail therapy. The three airports scored high for shopping and leisure, receiving 8.6, 8.2 and 9.6 respectively.
The top five relaxing airports in the UK
Below are the top five airports that deliver the best lounge and relaxation experiences in the country based on their overall lounges and relaxation score.
- Aberdeen - 7.7/10
- Edinburgh - 7.4/10
- City of Derry (Eglinton) - 7.4/10
- Birmingham - 7.3/10
- Southampton - 7/10
Aberdeen is the most relaxing airport in the UK, with an average lounge customer satisfaction rating of 4.1 out of five
Scottish airports take the lead when it comes to lounge experiences. In first place is Aberdeen, with the airport’s lounges seeing high average customer ratings of 4.1 out of five. Within its one terminal, the airport has two lounges and offers relatively affordable access, with fees around £32 per adult.
Edinburgh is the second most relaxing airport with the highest number of airport lounges per terminal
Edinburgh follows in second for lounge and relaxation experiences, boasting the highest lounge to terminal ratio, with its only terminal hosting four locations. Despite the hefty airport lounge costs (£37.66 per adult) and high number of passengers per terminal (937,372), the customer satisfaction scores of Edinburgh’s lounges are relatively high, at 3.9 out of five.
The top five accessible UK airports
The top five UK airports for accessibility needs have various services and facilities available to make sure that all travellers passing through can enjoy a smooth experience. Below are the top airports 5 based on their overall score in this category.
- Manchester - 10/10
- Gatwick - 7.6/10
- Aberdeen - 7.5/10
- City of Derry (Eglinton) - 7.5/10
- East Midlands International - 7.5/10
All five airports operate the Sunflower Lanyard scheme, allowing travellers to voluntarily share any hidden disabilities and receive a helping hand from airport staff.
Manchester airport is the best UK’s airport for special assistance needs
Manchester Airport stands out as the top choice for special assistance needs. The airport is one of only four to have RoomMate audio description available, and has the highest number of Changing Places toilets with three to choose from. On top of that, 100% of passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) waited under 25 minutes for their non pre-booked departures.
The top five UK airports for shopping
Whether you’re an organised traveller arriving early to the airport or an unlucky passenger facing delays, it’s always nice to have a few shops to browse to pass the time. Below are the airports in the UK that offer the best shopping and food facilities based on their overall score in this category.
- Edinburgh - 9.6/10
- Stansted - 9.4/10
- Birmingham - 8.6/10
- Luton - 8.2/10
- Gatwick - 7.5/10
Travellers will find the best airport shopping facilities in Edinburgh, with 23 shops per terminal available
Edinburgh is the best place to keep you busy and fed while you wait for your plane with 23 shops per terminal and the second highest number of food and drink facilities (11).
Stansted follows closely behind, boasting the highest number of food and drink facilities (12) and the second highest number of shops (20).
The top five UK airports for families
Travelling alone can be stressful enough. When you add children to the mix, it’s important to be organised. With this in mind, we also looked into the best UK airports for people travelling with young children. Below are the top airports 5 based on their overall score in this category.
- Gatwick - 7.1/10
- Luton - 6.9/10
- Liverpool (John Lennon) - 6.6/10
- Manchester - 6.4/10
- Belfast International - 6.1/10
Gatwick is the most family-friendly airport in the country, offering breastfeeding facilities and dedicated ‘kid zones’
Parents seeking to simplify the stress from their getaway will be happy to know that Gatwick is the most family-friendly airport. With specific breastfeeding facilities and available play areas onsite, London’s second biggest airport is well-equipped for families with young children..
Our research suggests that Cardiff is the least family-friendly airport, with the highest airport lounge costs, costing around £32.99 per child.
Darren Saunders, Managing Director at PayingTooMuch says, "It's interesting that Heathrow, the largest airport in the UK by passenger volume, doesn't feature in this study to find the best airport in the UK. Although it has a bustling energy, and regularly wins industry awards, this suggests that bigger doesn't always lead to a better experience.
"Manchester Airport in comparison, which is currently undergoing a huge £1 billion investment and expansion, is ranked as the third largest airport by passenger volume but hasn't suffered the same fate as Heathrow. Being voted as the top UK airport in our study, Manchester has proven that despite its size, it can still give passengers an enjoyable experience.
"Whether you decide to travel from Heathrow, Manchester or any other airport, it's important to make sure you're travelling with the right travel insurance - and that you're not paying too much for it.
"That's why, at PayingTooMuch, you can search and compare multiple policies to fit your needs and your wallet, even when you're living with pre-existing medical conditions."
To work out the best UK airports for travellers, we compared 30 of the UK's busiest airports across four key categories. All data is accurate as of August 2023.
- Lounges & relaxation
- Shopping & leisure facilities
- Family-friendly travel
We looked at the categories using 18 metrics, which are listed below. Each metric was graded on a 10-point scale, with a score of 10 representing the highest quality or best service or options.
Finally, each airport was then given an average score out of 10 for each of the categories. An overall “Airport Review Score” out of 10 was also worked out based on its scores across all four categories.
Unless stated otherwise, we looked at each airport’s website to find the results.
Lounges & Relaxation
- The ratio of airport lounges to terminals advertised on the airport's website
- The option to book a fast-track security pass via the airport's website (yes/no)
- The cost of fast-track security pre-booked via the airport's website (1 adult)
- The average cost of all the lounges advertised on the airport's website (1 Adult)
- The average Google review score for all the lounges advertised on the airport's website (out of 5)
- The number of terminal passengers to terminals each month based on CAA data
- Is there a hidden disability lanyard scheme in place at the airport? (yes/no)
- Is there a RoomMate audio description available at the airport? (yes/no)
- The number of registered Changing Place toilets available at the airport
- Has the airport published its latest 2023 Special Assistance performance report on its website (yes/no)
- The percentage of passengers with reduced mobility (PRM) departures who had to wait under 10 minutes after alerting staff of their arrival (pre-booked, latest available data)
- The percentage of PRM departures who had to wait under 25 minutes after making themselves known (pre-booked, latest available data)
Shopping & Leisure
- The number of shops relative to the terminals advertised on the airport's website
- The number of food and drink facilities relative to the terminals advertised on the airport's website
- Are specialised breastfeeding facilities advertised on the airport's website? (yes/no)
- Are ‘Kid zones’ or play areas advertised on the airport's website (yes/no)
- The advertised age at which infants travel through fast track for free
- The average cost of all the lounges advertised on the airport's website (1 Child)