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Watchdog slams airports over queues

Security queue delays 'against public interest'


travel airport queues

Travellers could face extensive delays

The UK’s two biggest airports have ‘acted against the public interest’ in failing to manage security queueing so as to avoid unacceptable delays, the Competition Commission said yesterday.

The commission said the situation at Heathrow and Gatwick airports can be remedied through a broadening and strengthening of existing service quality regulations.

Publishing the commission’s views, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it would be ‘making proposals that remedy the adverse effects of the airports’ conduct’.

Heathrow and Gatwick

The commission’s comments came in a report following its six-month inquiry into just how much airport operator BAA can charge airlines for using Heathrow and Gatwick.

The Heathrow and Gatwick airport charges to airlines recommended by the commission are roughly in line with those already proposed by the CAA.The CAA said that it would consider the commission’s report and then next month issue, for consultation, its own price control proposals for Heathrow and Gatwick for the five-year period starting in April 2008.

If charges to airlines rise, the higher cost could well end up being passed on to passengers.

Lorna Cowan, Editor of Holiday Which?, said:’ Long queues at airports are extremely frustrating for travellers, and improvements to shorten them are welcomed. However, consumers shouldn’t have to pay for these – BAA is not doing the best it can to work in the interests of the public.’

Airport ownership

The commission report is separate from its continuing market investigation into the whole question of ownership of UK airports. The commission is required to report on this by the end of March 2009, but aims to do so earlier. Some airlines have called for a break-up of BAA’s airport ‘monopoly’. As well as running Heathrow and Gatwick, BAA is responsible for Stansted, Southampton, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen airports.

Competition Commission chairman Christopher Clarke said: ‘We recognise the importance of both Heathrow and Gatwick to the UK economy and hence the need over the next five years for BAA to undertake large capital expenditure programmes at both airports while also operating them efficiently and providing enhanced levels of service.

‘We believe our recommendations to the CAA will enable BAA to implement its plans in full for the benefit of airlines and passengers and at a justifiable level of airport charges.We consider they will also enable BAA to earn an adequate return for its shareholders and other providers of finance.’

Mr Clarke added that the commission aimed to reach provisional findings in its inquiry into BAA airport ownership in the second half of next year.

Improving service

BAA chief executive Stephen Nelson said: ‘We are absolutely committed to improving the passenger experience in our airports and addressing the current concerns around customer service standards. In the last year, BAA has placed an unprecedented focus and resource on improving service levels.

‘However, we see little in the commission’s report which delivers the incentives to transform the airports. Nor do we believe that the commission recognises the scale and nature of the challenges we face in seeking to deliver a step change in the passenger experience.’

The commission said that new security arrangements introduced in August 2006 were partly to blame for queues, but added that ‘important aspects’ of BAA’s performance had been poor, and a service standards scheme should be extended and strengthened.

It said the airports had ‘failed to manage security queuing and queue times to avoid unacceptable delays to passengers, crew and flights and consequently have not furthered the reasonable interests of the users of Heathrow and Gatwick’.

Which? would like to hear from anyone who has successfully sued an airport operator or airline over security delays: email news@which.co.uk. Our Campaigns section has more about flight rights.

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