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UK flight services

Flight services in the UK are made up of various services provided by airport operators, tour companies and airlines as well as government bodies. Airports are managed by different groups depending on the activity concerned. Airline safety regulations are set internationally.

Main UK airports and their responsibilities

BAA (formerly the British Airports Authority) owns and operates six British airports:

  • London Heathrow
  • London Stansted
  • Aberdeen
  • Edinburgh
  • Glasgow
  • Southampton

Within these airports, the airlines are responsible for:

  • check-in
  • hold baggage handling (from check-in through to delivery at final destination)
  • cargo
  • provision and fuelling of the aircraft
  • boarding of passengers (including those with special needs)
  • passenger safety
  • onboard catering

However, many airlines contract out services, like baggage handling and catering.

HM Revenue and Customs is responsible for the import and export of goods.

The Home Office UK Border Agency is responsible for securing the UK border and controlling migration in the UK.

National Air Traffic Services (NATS) is responsible for air traffic control in British airspace.

Public transport operators run services to and from the airports.

Regulating airlines and flights

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is the UK’s aviation regulator, controlling all flight paths and aircraft routes at UK airports. The CAA regulates airlines, airports and NATS and is also responsible for setting airport charges at the London airports.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is the governing body that regulates international air transport.

Ensuring aircraft are safe

Minimum safety standards for civil aircraft are set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Each state is then responsible for ensuring that any aircraft registered or based there meets these standards.

The CAA's Safety Regulation Group is responsible for the safety regulation of UK-registered aircraft and UK-based airlines.

Aircraft that are registered or based outside the EU must apply to the Department for Transport (DfT) for a permit to operate in the UK. If DfT has reason to believe any airline or aircraft doesn't meet international standards, it can arrange for the CAA to carry out an inspection.

New security regulations

DfT issued new restrictions on hand baggage in November 2006. The regulations cover what can and cannot be taken through security and apply to anyone travelling from any UK airport. The regulations are stricter than they used to be so it may take you longer to get through security.

See 'Air travel hand baggage rules' for more detailed information.

If you are travelling to the USA, there are also restrictions on what you can buy after security and take on board the aircraft.

Booking and ticketing

The prices airlines charge are not government regulated and can vary greatly. It is always worth shopping around.

There are a growing number of ways to book flights:

  • through the airline directly
  • through travel agents
  • in person
  • over the phone
  • over the internet

Most airlines will list taxes and charges, such as fuel duty and Air Passenger Duty separately from the basic fare.

IATA aims for all tickets to be issued electronically (as 'e-tickets') in the near future.

Your passenger rights

As a passenger you are covered if a tour operator goes bust as long as your holiday is protected by Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL).

ATOL will refund you if the company goes out of business before your holiday or arrange to fly you home if you are abroad.

If you are flying from an EU airport or on an EU airline and your flight is overbooked, delayed or cancelled, you may be protected. The Air Transport Users Council (AUC) website gives full details of your rights.

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Additional links

Check flight departures and arrivals

Get live flight information from UK airports on Directgov's Journey Planner

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