Just when we thought travel was back on track – expensive tests no longer needed for most locations and pesky passenger locator forms dropped – a new set of challenges arise.
With Easter approaching and overseas holiday sales nearly back to pre-Covid levels, airlines and airports are struggling to cope.
The blame has been placed on staff shortages, with Covid cases in the UK at an all-time high (one in 13 people are infected). The result? Last minute airline cancellations, long lines at check-in and argie-bargie at security. Suddenly, traveling seems like a tricky proposition. But you can avoid much of the Easter chaos. Here is our truth.
Travelers could face last-minute airline cancellations, long lines at check-in and argie-bargies at security in the coming weeks
Check your flight
There is no point in going to the airport only to find that your flight has been cancelled. Airlines must notify you by email of any changes, but keep a close eye on your booking, even if you have checked in and printed your boarding pass.
Some airports have queue monitoring systems in place. 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.
Meet at the airport three hours before departure. If security isn’t as bad as expected, a good book or a meal out will help pass the time.
Do not be shy
Meet at the airport three hours before departure in case there are long lines. Above, travelers queue at Manchester Airport earlier this month
If you get stuck in security and are in danger of missing your flight, alert the staff to ask if you can go to the front. If you miss it, you will have a hard time getting a refund.
Talk to your insurer
Some travel policies may cover missed flights due to airport delays, but most will not. They will say that you should have allowed enough time to reach your plane. It’s a gray area. Call your insurer to check.
Priority boarding systems can seem pointless, especially when you end up taking a bus with everyone else to the plane. But the upgrade means you can skip the long security queues.
Join the fast lane
Accelerated programs for faster travel through security are available at some airports. The Manchester one costs just £4 (manchesterairport.co.uk). Gatwick is launching Premium Gatwick Security from April 14, from £5 online (gatwickairport.com). But beware: consumer magazine Which one? says that the accelerated procedure is not always faster.
Hand luggage only
If you want to avoid the queues to drop off your luggage, consider bringing only hand luggage
This may sound drastic, but if queues to drop off baggage are chaotic, why not avoid them by taking only carry-on baggage? Make sure you know your airline’s rules regarding size and weight allowances.
Baggage deposit the day before
Some airlines/airports offer luggage storage the night before travel. For example, Jet2 allows baggage drop off from 3pm to 8pm the day before in Manchester and Birmingham. And BA has a 6-9pm bag drop at Heathrow T5 for morning flights the next day.
Always be ready
Print your boarding pass before arriving at the airport for easy travel
If you checked in before arriving at the airport, make sure you have your boarding pass in digital or printed form. Also make sure you have your NHS Covid pass. Easy to ignore with so many other things to do.
Many airlines put a sticker on your passport or provide a tag to show gate staff that your Covid documents have been checked. If you don’t check your bags, ask the staff to check 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 required to get you to your destination as soon as possible, even with another carrier. If this is not the case, you are entitled to a refund, a voucher or a change of departure date.
Get your money back
If your flight has been cancelled, you are entitled to compensation
Canceled flights mean compensation. For flights up to 1,500km it is £220; between 1,500km and 3,500km, £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 that staff shortages are “extraordinary circumstances” as a reason for withholding such payments.
Stick to the plans
If you think you’d rather cancel your trip: don’t. Insurance companies see this as “reluctance to travel” and won’t pay.
Request ferry refunds
The queue at the Dover ferry terminal took up to nine hours this week due to a shortage of ships caused by the P&O Ferries crisis. DFDS Ferries, which carries P&O passengers under a mutual agreement, said it could take no more this weekend. Easter trips may also be cancelled. These P&O ticket holders need to be refunded.
… and what we think
These disturbances could continue throughout the spring and summer. Keeping calm and carrying on, and maybe being a little more patient than usual, will be necessary.