Why Gatwick isn’t the world’s 17,677th-best airport

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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‘Gatwick named second worst airport in the world’. Such an easy headline to write and no-one to hold you to account.

I suppose I shouldn’t blame The Times in that the media title was simply reporting the results of a survey. Well, no, strike that, I will blame The Times because the headline is misleading and, well, plain wrong. What the wretched President Trump might call an alternative fact.

This must be some very detailed survey, I surmised, after reading the headline. For there are an awful lot of airports in the world and I reckon I have been in most of those that are indeed awful. Gatwick the second-worst? I am no apologist for London’s second hub but I use both the South and North terminals regularly and I reckon it is a damn good airport. More of that in a moment.

But if a headline is going to pass the litmus test of fair comment then it’s got to have more than a passing acquaintance with reality, right? So I did a little digging, google-style. How many airports are there in the world? A simple question that threw up ‘about 85,000,000 results’. As my time was limited, I decided to focus only on the first couple of answers. Number one came from a site called Quora that seems to exist precisely to answer questions such as this one.

I shall quote their answer (from March 2016) verbatim: “This is a hard question to answer because you haven’t specified whether you mean only commercial airports such as London Heathrow, New York JFK, Sydney Kingsford-Smith etc. or whether you mean commercial airports AND airfields such as Duxford, RAF Wyton and other RAF bases in the UK.

“For argument’s sake, let’s say you meant both, seeing as both commercial airports and airfields have IATA and ICAO codes (such as LHR for Heathrow’s IATA code or EGLL for Heathrow’s ICAO code) in which case there were 43,983 airports in the world in 2010 according to the CIA World Fact Book.”

Wow, 43,983. You mean Gatwick is the 43,982nd best airport in the world? But no, that number won’t do, as I’m sure no-one was possibly comparing Gatwick Airport with RAF Wyton, unless the latter was ‘the worst airport in the world’ and I doubt it is, though I believe its F&B and luxury shopping offer doesn’t compare well with Changi (named best airport in the world in the survey).

Let’s confine ourselves to commercial airports. So, I googled some more and came up with the following (via AeronewsTV.com): “According to the Airports Council International (ACI) World Airport Traffic Report, there are currently 17,678 commercial airports in the world, in other words those which receive airliners, cargo and business aircraft.”

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. So that means Gatwick is the 17,677th best airport in the world rather than second worst as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer might say if he was to take a new job as Communications Director at Gatwick Airport.

But hey, did the survey referred to by The Times really study 17,678 airports?

Like heck it did. The survey was produced by a mob called AirHelp, which exists to extract compensation on behalf of passengers who have suffered from flight delays. “If you aren’t compensated by the airline, we don’t charge you anything. It’s as simple as that,” it proclaims.  “The average successful claim is $450 or more per passenger. Next time you’ll think twice before settling for that food voucher.”

Smart idea in an ambulance-chasing kind of way. And apparently very successful. So presumably it ranks airports in terms of flight delays? Well, it goes further, in fact. “Airhelp Score compares each airport using three different criteria to give you a full picture of how they perform. We provide statistics on the quality of service, on-time performance, and the passenger experience of a given airport, thanks to analysis conducted on Twitter. Air travel is about more than just the price of the ticket.”

I wonder what sort of ‘analysis’ is conducted on Twitter? I wonder what is factored into ‘quality of service’? I wonder what constitutes the ‘passenger experience’? I wonder if services such as shopping and F&B (both excellent in Gatwick’s case) have been factored into the equation? And I wonder how events beyond an airport’s control are factored into evaluation of delays? A spokesman for Gatwick (not Sean Spicer) said that the airport had increasingly good satisfaction ratings among its own passengers (based on ACI’s rather more rigorous ASQ system -Ed). He told The Times: “Repeated strike action on the continent and heavily congested airspace above parts of Europe and London, have led to a significant increase in delays caused by issues outside Gatwick’s control.”

Now to me that’s pretty important. If I ran an airport that had just been dubbed the second-worst in the world, I’d be a bit miffed to know part of the reason was that some bolshie French air traffic controllers had just downed tools and played havoc with flights all over Europe. I’d be a bit miffed to be blamed for European and London airspace being more overrun than (and this is from another list) the place previously considered to be the most crowded place in the world – the Mongkok commercial and residential district in Hong Kong, which has over 340,000 people per square mile.  “Nothing else on Earth comes even close,” says list25.com. Oh yeah, try flying in on easyJet to Heathrow or Gatwick some time, you can practically reach out and touch your fellow passengers – and I’m talking about those on the next plane.

Goodness knows what Sean Spicer would make of, not only the headline but the story lead, “Britain’s overstretched airports have been named among the worst in the world as concerns grow over delays and ageing facilities. A study of 76 airports published today ranked three British sites in the bottom ten, and none in the top ten.”

Yeah, right. I last reviewed Gatwick Airport in June 2015, describing it as one of the world’s most improved airports. It is and if anything it’s got better since. If we just talk dining and drinking, tell me how many families complain about the fare at WonderTree? What about The Nicolas Culpeper Pub & Dining, replete with the airport world’s only gin distillery? The world-class Jamie’s Italian? The taste and design zest of Comptoir Libanais? The top-class execution of a British pub that is The Red Lion? The stress-busting elegance of Caviar House & Prunier? The consistent excellence of Pret A Manger? The in-your-face, hen-party exuberance of The London Bar? The old-world service levels of The World of Whiskies? The stunning, refined Jo Malone boutique (one of my top ten airport shops in the world – I feel another list coming on…)?

Second-worst airport in the world? Pull the other one. The headline writer needs to get out more.

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