Watchdog to shame worst airports

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The Independent Online

Airports subjecting passengers to a lengthy wait for their luggage, confusing flight information and endless queues at the immigration desk will be named and shamed under plans designed to end the grim experience of navigating Britain's busiest terminals.

Passenger Focus, which already acts as the official consumer watchdog for train and bus users, is in line to take up the role on behalf of air passengers under a government plan announced yesterday. It wants to publish a list of the best and worst performing airports in a regular "national passenger survey", which it says has proved a successful way of boosting the performance of rail firms.

Airlines which are unpopular with travellers will also be revealed in the survey, updated every three months. "We are very hopeful that we can drive through some positive changes for passengers as we have done with the rail industry," said Anthony Smith, Passenger Focus's chief executive. "We are very pleased to have been given the new responsibility."

It comes as part of a drive to improve conditions for air passengers, expected to be given the go-ahead later this year. The air industry's regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), will be toughened up in the shake-up and told to put the interests of passengers above those of airlines.

The Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, said: "I want to put passengers at the heart of how our airports are run; this will help ensure that that we get the most efficient and competitive aviation sector possible.

"Passengers have told us that although they are broadly happy with their experience of airports, they want things like more seating areas, more toilets, better flight information and more baggage carousels open at busy times – these are the exactly the kind of issues that we will expect the CAA to address in discharging its new duty."

The scheme comes after research by the CAA found that some passengers at the South-east's three main airports – Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted – complained of bottlenecks at crucial points during their passage through terminals and frustrating delays in reclaiming baggage.

The CAA is beginning a six-month operation at Heathrow, during which it is attempting to improve service.

Britain's monopoly watchdog, the Competition Commission, is also forcing airport operator BAA to sell Gatwick airport in an attempt to create greater competition. The company currently runs seven UK airports.

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