Summer in the UK means school's out, and weary families will be jetting off for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. But travelling with children isn't always that relaxing. Packing for little ones, and tears and tantrums at the airport can make for a strained experience before you've even taken off.
To ease the stress of going abroad with a brood, Netflights.com has scored all the major airports in the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands to find which are the most family-friendly. Working with some expert parenting bloggers, we've measured 20 airports on the following criteria to give you a score out of 10:
|Airport||On-time departure||Free water fountain||Play area||Free pick-up/drop-off||Security fast-track||Breastfeeding facilities||Netflights score|
|Birmingham||77.20%||Yes||Yes||Yes||£3.75 Under 5s free||No||8.7|
|Jersey||64.70%||Yes||Yes||Yes||Families are free||No||8.1|
|London Gatwick||54.80%||Yes||Yes||Yes||On request||Yes||7.8|
|Dublin||58.90%||Yes||Yes||€3.00||€5.95 - €7.99||Yes||7|
|Glasgow||68.40%||Yes||Yes||£2.00||£4.99 Under 3s free||No||6.7|
|Newcastle||79.90%||No||Yes||£1.00||£3.00 Under 5s free||No||6.4|
|London Luton||41.80%||Yes||Yes||£3.00||£3.00 - £5.00 Under 5s free||No||6.1|
|Liverpool||82.70%||No||No||Yes||£5.00 Under 1s free||Yes||5.2|
|Southampton||71.10%||Yes||No||£2.00||£3.50 - £4.00||No||4.4|
|Leeds Bradford||46.60%||No||No||£3.00||£4 .00 Under 12s free||No||3.2|
We also wanted to get a picture of the average parent's airport experience. So we polled 2,000 British travellers on their habits and experience of using airports with children.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out travelling with kids isn't easy. Keeping kids entertained, fed and watered while waiting to board a flight costs parents almost £45 on average, and, though 92% of travellers consider themselves organised when they go on holiday, 66% still said they find airports stressful.
So how are airports doing with their efforts to make travelling with kids easier? Here's everything you need to know about kid-friendly facilities in airports around the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands – find out how your local airport performs, and where you could think about travelling from for a more family-friendly trip.
The airport that came out on top in our scoring was Birmingham Airport. The most family-friendly airport in the UK and Ireland, BHX offers free drinking water, free Wi-Fi and play areas for children of all ages.
There are plenty of areas designated to baby changing and breastfeeding, and you can book fast-track security online with Birmingham Airport's Express Lane – it’s £3.75 each when travelling with children and under-5s can go through for free. Airport parking and drop-off are free for 30 minutes, and almost 80% of flights from BHX left on time in June 2018. All this added up to a top experience for families.
Bottom of the list was Leeds Bradford Airport. There are no water fountains provided, though you can get water for free from various restaurants. Free Wi-Fi is provided. Airport drop-off is £3 for 10 minutes and under half of flights (47%) left on time in June. Its website also contains no information on changing facilities and no statement on breastfeeding, where others do.
Eight of the 20 airports we assessed have dedicated breastfeeding rooms. London Gatwick also has baby care rooms, which not only have baby changing tables, but also chairs for nursing mothers, as well as playpens to put toddlers in while smaller sibling is being fed or changed.
In the UK it's a legal requirement for airports to have changing facilities, so they're a given everywhere, and can also be useful for mums who prefer to have somewhere more private to breastfeed.
Cardiff, Heathrow, Liverpool, Manchester and Stansted airports all specify on their websites that breastfeeding is welcomed throughout the terminal or wherever mother and baby feel comfortable.
Although it scored 15th in the overall table, Manchester Airport has several restaurants equipped to heat up breast milk (using hot water) and you can pre-order formula from Boots to pick up after security. The airport is also currently trialling a breastfeeding room, but it also welcomes women to breastfeed wherever they feel comfortable in the airport.
While the uninitiated might not think this is a child-specific requirement, parents know otherwise. Letting children to watch or play on a tablet can be a simple and effective way to keep them entertained, meaning Wi-Fi can be essential. Happily, 19 out of the 20 airports we assessed offer it. The only one that doesn't is Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
Airport pick-up and drop-off is available at every airport but varies in time limit and price. You can pick up and drop off for free at seven of the 20 airports. Cardiff and Birmingham are free for 10 and 30 minutes respectively, whereas Newcastle and Bristol charge £1 for 10 minutes.
Paying for a fast-track option can often make life easier when travelling with children, as the queues can be shorter, and staff are on hand to help with pushchairs and other essentials.
Although it scores lowest overall in the table, Leeds Bradford does offer free fast-track security for children under 12 with fare-paying adults. Several other airports offer free fast-track security for kids, with varying age limits: under-5s go free at Birmingham and Newcastle; Belfast and London Luton allow under-2s, and Liverpool John Lennon allows children under one year old. All remaining airports either do not offer fast-track security or do not have a reduced price for children.
Finally, we wanted an in-depth expert opinion. So who better than a panel of parents who travel frequently with their kids? We spoke to a group of parenting bloggers to get a first-hand opinion on air travel and children, and their thoughts on how airports can keep improving.
“I travel once or twice a month with my two kids. I don’t find it overly stressful – as we travel so often it is second nature to us. At the airport, the family queue can often take longer than the regular one, which I do find stressful. I find it helpful when there is a playground in the terminal and transit buggies are available. The soft play area at Gatwick is great and they have buggies when you're arriving, which is helpful. However, they do need to work on the family security line.”
Karen, Travel Mad Mum
“I have two daughters and we travel abroad once a year. It can be stressful; however, now that we are beyond the baby stage things are getting easier. We've had great experiences at airports where there is a family line at security. The security officers are prepared for you to have things like baby bottles, milk and pushchairs, so it's less hassle than queuing with passengers flying without small children. I really like Bristol Airport – there's a roof terrace in departures where you can get some fresh air away from the shops and let the kids run around a bit before boarding. The airport is also compact, so you don't have to walk great distances with kids. ”
Claire, Tin Box Traveller
“I have one daughter, Boo, who is almost seven. We travel abroad about five or six times a year. I don't find travelling with Boo stressful as we're used to it; however, I do find it frustrating sometimes. Airports could recognise that parents need help with children of all ages – not just babies. The 'children's' areas I've encountered at UK airports are typically aimed at the under-5s, but my daughter would still benefit from a dedicated space. Gatwick is my favourite airport as its lounges offer a children's pack and there are buggies available at gates – however, these aren't always available, so even with a child-friendly airport a lack of consistency is a real let-down. ”
Rosie, Mummy and Boo
“I have two girls aged six and nine. We fly at least four times a year as a family. We find flying with the girls fairly stress-free, mainly as we are now nine years into our family travelling journey. Packing light is a must: one book each, pencils and paper for the girls, and if we know the flight won't have seat-back entertainment then an iPad pre-loaded with a few films. Most airports offer lots of things to make family travel smoother – they are just not always very good at advertising them. Buggies to borrow when in the terminal, soft play areas tucked away in a corner, designated family security lanes, early boarding for parents with young children. I would recommend checking out the website of the airport you are flying from before you leave for your holiday to see what they have on offer. ”
Alice, Project: Wanderlust
“I have two boys, aged 12 and 14, and we go on about eight flights a year. Travelling with children can be difficult, whatever age they are. But having said that, my kids, like most children, are genuinely excited by travel. So, airports needn't be a miserable experience. The key is to be prepared. Airports should do more to make life easier for families. The thing we find most difficult at airport is the endless queues. There are often long queues at check-in, security, passport control and boarding. Few airports offer dedicated family lanes, yet this would go a long way to make the airport experience more bearable. We try to make the airport experience as stress-free and pleasant as possible by finding a café near somewhere we can watch the planes taking off and landing, or a play area so that the children can let off steam. We’ve had better family airport experiences at the smaller UK airports, like Stansted, where the atmosphere feels a lot less rushed. ”
Clare, Suitcases and Sandcastles
“I have four children (currently aged 6,5,3 and 2 ) and we travel abroad 2 or 3 times a year. Travelling with them can be extremely stressful or a complete breeze depending on their moods, the time of day and the airport. We’ve learned queues are not our friend and snacks definitely are! (Tip: take snacks, all the snacks. Enough to bribe them with and keep them busy!) So having play areas in an airport, even just a tiny one makes such a difference as it gives them somewhere to let off steam before they are strapped down. I also think having special queues for young families for things like security and customs makes life so much easier as standing in line for up to an hour can be stressful for not only us but everyone else in the room with us!”
Becky, The Mummy Adventure
- Consumer survey from Censuswide on behalf of Netflights of 2,005 UK consumers aged 16 and over: 21/05/2018-25/05/2018
- Flight punctuality data: OAG flightview
- All information on airports, including charges and facilities, correct at time of writing according to publicly information published on airports' websites