Number of people flying to visit friends and relatives at all-time high

August 21st, 2015


New analysis by the British Air Transport Association of official travel statistics has revealed that more people are taking to the skies to visit friends and relatives (known as ‘VFR’ travel) than ever before.

Last year, there were 19.03 million VFR visits to and from the UK by air –  an increase of almost 230,000 from the pre-recession high in 2008, and a 23% increase since 2010.

  • 58% of the total visits last year (11.06 million) were made by UK residents to friends and family living abroad. Two thirds of those visits (7.26 million) were made to European destinations and one third (3.81 million) were to the rest of the world.
  • 42% of the total (7.97 million) were made by overseas residents to the UK in 2014. 68% of those visits (5.44 million) were made by people living in Europe, while 32% (2.53 million) were from the rest of the world.

VFR visits both to and from the UK have increased since 2010, but visits by UK residents overseas have increased at a significantly faster rate – 26% (from 8.8 million to 11.06 million) compared with 19% (from 6.72 million to 7.97 million) for overseas residents to the UK.

Flying is easily the most popular mode of transport for people visiting friends and relatives. 83% of all such visits are made by air. Just 10% are made by sea and 7% by rail through the Channel Tunnel. Even for journeys to and from Europe, flying accounts for 77% of visits, compared with 14% by sea and 9% by rail.

On top of the obvious social benefits of families and friends who live far apart being able to spend time together, there are also economic benefits from VFR travel. £4.07 billion was spent in the UK by overseas residents who were visiting their friends and relatives last year.

VFR travel is not concentrated at any one airport, reflecting the fact that people all across the country fly domestic, short-haul and long-haul to get to their loved ones. According to the latest CAA passenger survey data, Luton airport had the highest proportion of VFR journeys at 48% in 2013.


Airport % VFR of total airport traffic
Luton 48
Stansted 46.9
Inverness 37.8
Birmingham 36.8
Heathrow 35.9
Glasgow 31.5
Edinburgh 29.2
London City 28.2
Gatwick 27.5
East Midlands 26.6
Newcastle 25.5
Manchester 24.9
Aberdeen 23.5


Nathan Stower, Chief Executive of the British Air Transport Association said:

“While recent debate has focused on the economic benefits and environmental challenges of aviation growth, the social benefits of aviation should not be ignored. Air travel allows people who live in different parts of the country and different corners of the world to meet up with their family and friends. Communication technology may have improved and expanded in use significantly in recent years, but it’s clear that nothing can replace being with your nearest and dearest.”


21 August 2015