AA Legal Documents
Law guide

UK flight services


Flight services in the UK are made up of a number of individual services, including airport operation, tour companies and airlines as well as Government involvement. Airports are managed by different groups depending on the activity concerned.

Main UK airports and their responsibilities

BAA (formerly the British Airport Authority) owns and operates six British airports: London Heathrow, , London Stansted, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Southampton. BAA agreed to sell London Gatwick to Global Infrastructure Partners on 21 October 2009. BAA is responsible for almost all aspects of the day to day running of all of the airports it operates. This ranges from the airport security to fire support for the airside aspects of its operations. There are certain functions which BAA is not responsible for which are discussed below.

Within UK 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 and catering on board the aircraft
However, many airlines contract out services such as baggage handling and catering.

HM Revenue and Customs is responsible for the import/export of goods, while the Home Office Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) is responsible for passport control and asylum issues.

The National Air Traffic Services (NATS) are 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 is the UK's aviation regulator, controlling all flight paths and aircraft routes at UK airports. As well as regulating airlines, airports and NATS, the CAA are 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. Their website can be accessed by clicking on the following link: IATA

Security regulations

The Department for Transport 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 our 'Air travel hand baggage rules' section for more 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

Airlines are mostly free to charge whatever prices they like, as prices are not regulated. 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, the international trade body which represents most of the operating airlines, implemented a plan for all tickets to be issued as electronic tickets in June 2008. Paper tickets are still in use but only if requested.

Your passenger rights

As a passenger, you are protected from losing money if a tour operator goes out of business, if your holiday is Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (ATOL) protected.

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

For more information see our 'Consumer bodies for holiday complaints' section.

If you are flying from any EU airport or on any EU airline, and you find your flight overbooked, delayed or cancelled, you may have more rights than you think.

For more information, see our 'Denied boarding' section.