Just when we thought travel was back on track — costly tests no longer required for most places and pesky Passenger Locator Forms ditched — along comes a new set of challenges.
With Easter looming and overseas holiday sales almost back to pre-Covid levels, airlines and airports are struggling to cope.
Blame has been attributed to staff shortages, with UK Covid cases at a record high (one in 13 people is infected). The result? Last-minute airline cancellations, long lines at check-in and argie-bargie at security. Suddenly, travel seems a tricky proposition. But you can avoid much of the chaos this Easter. Here’s our lowdown.
Travellers may face last-minute airline cancellations, long lines at check-in and argie-bargie at security in the coming weeks
Check your flight
There’s no point going to the airport only to discover your flight has been cancelled. Airlines should email you with news of any changes but keep a close eye on your booking, even if you have checked in and printed off your boarding card.
Some airports have introduced queue-tracking systems. Edinburgh has a live Security Queue Time tracker (edinburghairport.com). Gatwick’s app offers similar updates. Also, check social media such as Facebook and Twitter to see if people are complaining about long queues.
Get to the airport three hours before departure. If security is not as bad as expected, a good book or restaurant meal will help pass the time.
Don’t be shy
Get to the airport three hours before departure in case there are long queues. Above are travellers queuing at Manchester Airport earlier this month
If you’re stuck in security and likely to miss your flight, alert staff to ask if you can go to the front. If you do miss it, you will struggle to be reimbursed.
Speak to your insurer
Some travel policies may cover missed flights caused by airport delays, but most will not. They will say you should have left enough time to reach your plane. This is a grey area. Call your insurer to check.
Priority boarding schemes can seem pointless, especially when you end up taking a bus with everyone else to reach the aircraft. But upgrading means you can skip lengthy security queues.
Join the fast lane
Fast-track schemes for a speedier journey through security are available at some airports. Manchester’s is a mere £4 (manchesterairport.co.uk). Gatwick is introducing Premium Gatwick Security from April 14, costing from £5 online (gatwickairport.com). But beware: consumer magazine Which? says fast-track is not always faster.
Hand luggage only
If you want to avoid baggage-drop queues, consider bringing hand luggage only
This may sound drastic, but if baggage-drop queues are chaotic, why not avoid them by taking cabin luggage only? Make sure you know your airline’s rules for the size/weight permitted.
Night-before bag drop
Some airlines/airports offer night-before-travel bag drops. For example, Jet2 allows luggage drop-off from 3-8pm the night before at Manchester and Birmingham. And BA has a 6-9pm bag drop at Heathrow T5 for morning flights the next day.
Always be prepared
Print out your boarding pass before you arrive at the airport to make the trip go smoother
If you’ve checked in before arriving at the airport, make sure you’ve got your boarding card in either digital or printout form. Also, ensure you have your NHS Covid pass. Easy to overlook with so much else going on.
Many airlines put a sticker on your passport or provide a tag to show boarding-gate staff your Covid documents have been verified. If you’re not checking in luggage, ask staff to verify your documents before going through security to avoid complications.
Know your rights
If your flight is cancelled, as so many have been by BA and easyJet, your airline is obliged to take you to your destination as soon as possible — even with another carrier. If not, you are due a refund, voucher or a change of departure date.
Get your money back
If your flight has been cancelled, you’re entitled to compensation
Cancelled flights mean compensation. For flights of up to 1,500 km this is £220; between 1,500 km and 3,500 km, £350; and £520 for longer. See BA’s Complaints and Claims page (ba.com) and easyJet’s Compensation Claim Form (easyjet.com). Note that airlines cannot claim staff shortages are ‘extraordinary circumstances’ as a reason to refuse such payments.
Stick to plans
If you think you would rather cancel your trip: don’t. Insurance companies regard this as a ‘disinclination to travel’ and will not pay out.
Claim ferry refunds
Queueing at the Dover ferry terminal has taken up to nine hours this week because of a lack of vessels brought on by the P&O Ferries crisis. DFDS Ferries, which has been carrying P&O passengers under a mutual agreement, says it can take no more of them this weekend. Easter voyages may also be cancelled. Such P&O ticketholders are due refunds.
… and what we think
These troubles could continue throughout the spring and summer. Keeping calm and carrying on, and perhaps being a little more patient than usual, will be required.