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Four million Britons give up flying due to airport stress

Brits: Airport experience more stressful than working week

Jun 28, 2011

YORK, England - Bad airport experiences have led close to four million travelers to give up flying altogether, with more than a third of Britons who have flown now claiming the airport experience is more stressful than the working week.

According to new findings from life assistance company CPP, despite taking a flight to pave the way for rest and relaxation, four in ten (42%) people say airports make them feel stressed and close to a quarter (23%) find the prospect of getting on to their flight as stress inducing if not more stressful than moving house. The problem has become so rife that one in ten (9%) of us are now avoiding flying altogether as a result.

The most nerve-wracking parts of the airport experience include flight delays, mislaying belongings and getting to the gate on time - all of which mean close to half of travelers find it difficult to relax until they're safely on the plane and a similar number (45%) believe the holiday doesn't start until they've left the airport.

But it's no wonder that Britons are so worried about making it to the gate on time - over 2.9 million travelers have missed a flight in the past, while one in five of us (20%) have had to run to the gate with minutes to spare.

The problem is exacerbated on the other side of the border, with four in ten (41%) holidaymakers struggling to find their way around foreign airports as a result of the language barrier. The evolution of flight charges, which now sees many airlines charging for checked in baggage, also has a negative impact on stress levels, as do more recently implemented security measures such as liquids not being accepted in traveller's hand luggage.

Studies have shown that the airport experience is having significant physiological effects on a traveler's anxiety levels - one previous experiment using Heathrow airport saw holidaymakers' heart-rates rise to a level equivalent to doing intense exercise. This was echoed in the CPP research, which revealed that holidaymakers who had visited more than one airport cited Heathrow as the most stressful, followed by Gatwick and Manchester.

Recent disruptions in airport services as a result of bad weather over the winter and Icelandic ash clouds over the summer also mean that flight delays and cancellations have become more common. Last summer saw one of the highest levels on record with charter flights operating on average 29 minutes late[5].

In fact airports are inherently stressful places, according to Psychologist David Moxon, who says that a number of factors combine to make airports uniquely challenging to the human psyche. Moxon comments, "Humans are wired to experience stress in situations where many feel out of control - and airports, where you have to follow instructions that are likely change at the last minute, and procedures that are unpredictable, lead many to react with a stress response. There is also what is known as an accumulation effect, resulting from other anxieties that we may be harbouring. If you head to the airport having worried about waking up on time, or what you've left behind at work, the airport itself will seem more stressful as a result."

It's not all bad news however as holidaymakers have come up with some ways that the airport could be made a more pleasant experience - popular improvements include less queuing, and cheaper and nicer food and more seats. A large proportion (40%) of travelers say a quiet environment or access to a lounge (35%) would help to reduce their stress levels while close to half (42%) would like to be treated as a first class passenger.

Joanne Gibbons, from CPP says,

"It's a real shame that holidaymakers are experiencing such high levels of stress during what should be the beginning of a period of rest and relaxation. But rather than turning away from airports altogether we'd urge families to have a strategy for staying calm prior to boarding - by checking in online, minimising the amount of luggage they check-in and taking advantage of airport lounge opportunities."

CPP's tips for avoiding airport stress

1. Choose your airport carefully. Bigger airports tend to be busier which can mean higher stress levels. So consider flying to a smaller, local airport to reduce transfer times and hassle.

2. Do as much as you can online beforehand. Many airlines now allow travelers to check in online up to forty eight hours beforehand, which can really reduce the amount of time spent queuing when you arrive at the airport. If you do choose this option, remember to print off your boarding pass.

3. Minimise parking time. Airport car-parks are huge and navigating them can be tricky, so consider dropping off all your passengers at check in and having one person park the car to avoid unnecessary stress.

4. Check in minimal luggage. With airlines increasingly charging for checked-in luggage, you can avoid queues and save cash by taking carry-on luggage where possible, especially for short breaks. This means you can go straight through to security and save time on the other side.

5. Opt for fast-track security. Some larger airports now allow passengers to pay for the opportunity to fast-track through the security gates. This can speed up the airport process and give you more time relaxing on the other side.

6. Take advantage of airport lounges. Airport lounges are a great way to relax and get that holiday feeling before boarding the plane - you'll be guaranteed a seat and get complimentary snacks. CPP's Airport Angel AirText service will even text you when your flight is boarding to ensure you get there on time.

7. Have a boarding strategy. If you have pre-booked seats it may be worth boarding last, meaning you can spend longer in the lounge and less time queuing at the gate. If you haven't got pre-booked seats, think about getting priority boarding or leaving a little more time at gate to get to the front of the queue.

Brits: Airport experience more stressful than working week
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