Many of us have had high hopes of travel returning to normal this summer. After two years of COVID restrictions forcing millions of holidaymakers to stay home, 2022 was meant to be the year when we could all spread our wings again.
As travel restrictions were lifted, bookings went through the roof. Cooped up for so long, and with a new determination to enjoy ourselves having come through the trauma and loss of a global pandemic, people have been flocking to get involved in the Great Summer Getaway.
Except that it hasn’t exactly gone to plan. The first signs that things were not quite right in the travel industry came at Easter, when a flurry of flight cancellations at some UK airports left passengers grounded. At the time, the restrictions were mainly confined to two carriers – British Airways and EasyJet – and a couple of airports.
But since then, the problems have spread, not just to other UK airports but across Europe. Returning holidaymakers have been stranded trying to get home when their flights back to the UK have been cancelled. Queues at airports have been so long passengers have missed their flights. Luggage handling has descended into chaos, with thousands of people separated from their bags en route.
The reason why is that airlines and airports are facing a staffing crisis. Having laid off so many staff when whole fleets were grounded by the pandemic and international travel ground to a practical stand still, operators have struggled to recruit fast enough to cope with the sudden surge in demand since restrictions were lifted.
Key functions like baggage handling and security have been overwhelmed, leading to long delays. In order to protect air traffic schedules, airlines have resorted to cancelling flights on a daily basis.
For passengers, this has turned the prospect of enjoying a long overdue dream holiday into something of a nightmare. Although many people booked onto cancelled flights are being offered replacements within two or three days, for some the change of dates just doesn’t work. Cancelled flights for many people are leading to cancelled holidays.
And then there is the stress of potentially facing long queues and delays at the airport – a big concern if you have young children or have mobility issues. And what if your luggage ends up going missing?
All of the uncertainty surrounding travel is causing holidaymakers a great deal of anxiety. One industry figure has been quoted as saying that half of all calls to travel agents at the moment are from panicked travellers seeking reassurances about their trip.
Holidays are meant to be an opportunity to escape the stresses and strains of daily life, not pile more worries on top. So what can you do to ease the anxiety ahead of your holiday this summer?
Keep an eye on your flight
Airlines are cancelling flights anything from weeks in advance to the day before departure. An early cancellation gives you more time to make alternative plans. And to that end, you want to know about any changes at the earliest possible opportunity.
If you download your airline’s app, or a flight tracking app like Flightradar24, you can check for real time updates, or else get alerts if anything happens with your flight.
Opt for early mid-week flights
If you haven’t yet booked anything, you can reduce the risk of running into severe disruption at airports by choosing the earliest available flights on weekdays. Weekends are always the busiest (and most expensive) days to fly, and many people choose afternoon or evening flights because it makes things easier travelling to the airport.
For the sake of avoiding the worst of the queues and potential disruption, choosing flights at the quietest times makes sense. Most airports are still reporting normal service for their early morning flights in the middle of the week.
Plan to arrive in plenty of time
Whatever time your flight is, arrive early. Forget whatever the advice says about arriving two hours before a short haul flight, three for long haul – get there in as good time as possible to get to the front of whatever queues there might be.
Plan your transport with a view to arriving early, too. For example, driving and parking at the airport might work better than catching a train, especially for early flights. Or even consider booking a hotel close by the night before. Airlines like Jet2 have introduced ‘Twilight Check-In’ which lets you check your luggage in the evening before your flight, saving one job (and potentially a big queue) the next day.
Take out a comprehensive holiday insurance policy
Apart from having your holiday plans disrupted and potentially having a nightmare at the airport, the biggest fear for many holidaymakers is losing money on their holiday. If an airline or tour operator cancels your flight, by law they must offer you a rebooking or a full refund. But if you have booked flights and accommodation separately, the refund will only cover the cost of the flights. If you can’t use your accommodation booking, you would have to seek a refund separately, and there are no guarantees you will get one.
That’s why, in the current environment, holiday insurance is absolutely essential. But don’t just go for the cheapest policy you can find – look for insurance with a comprehensive level of cancellation cover that you know will cover all the costs associated with your holiday should the worst happen. As well as giving you peace of mind if your holiday ends up being cancelled, you will also get financial protection for things like lost luggage and missed departures, too.