It’s been another week of chaos at UK airports, with hundreds of flights canceled and holidaymakers facing long queues, with reports of waits of up to eight hours.
Pent-up travel demand and staffing shortages have combined to put pressure on airports and airlines.
Headlines for this week’s ‘Midterm Travel Chaos’ followed those of ‘Easter Travel Chaos’, and will have left many people with summer vacations booked – especially those involving flights – fearing that their plans are disrupted.
The consumer organization Which one? says he’s hearing more and more people asking questions like ‘can I cancel’ and ‘what are my rights’, and in some cases say that with all the chaos they don’t feel like canceling anymore ‘go.
So, what is the prognosis for this summer? The Prospect union, which represents thousands of aviation workers, warned on Tuesday that “things could get worse this summer before they get better”. He says there are staff shortages in the industry, with a huge reliance on overtime to get by on a day-to-day basis.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, says it’s worth remembering that the vast majority of people don’t have their flights canceled or miss their plane due to long queues. But he adds: “This disturbance will continue during the summer. Staff shortages affect almost the entire sector.
Paul Charles, managing director of travel consultancy The PC Agency, doesn’t see things improving overnight, but says: ‘I think in June we’ll see a gradual improvement in the hiring of workers … Consumers can be reassured that by the peak summer period in July, many of these issues will be resolved.
However, he says that “the government must step up the approval of security passes [for workers] faster”.
Of course, no one knows for sure what will happen. Admittedly, at the moment it is difficult to predict when things will calm down.
Haven’t booked your trip yet?
“Make sure you book where there is free cancellation, or at least the ability to move the vacation or accommodation reservation,” says Boland. “Many companies allow you free cancellation or the ability to move the vacation.”
Do you have to go in July or August? Many people haven’t booked their summer vacations yet, perhaps because they were waiting to see how things turn out.
As for holding on, Boland says, “I would definitely say that if you don’t have school-age kids [for example], do not plan to go there before September. Save yourself the pain. It’s still better in Europe in September. You’ll also get better prices and should have less risk of disruptions, he adds.
Some people change their plans
A survey last month found that 45% of UK holidaymakers had changed their holiday plans this year in the face of reduced availability, higher prices, queues and ongoing travel restrictions. One in 10 respondents said queues at airports caused them to change their plans, according to the survey by travel extras company Holiday Extras.
Travel light and travel early
Paul Charles says if you haven’t settled for your flights yet, try to book “as early as possible in the morning” – ideally leaving between 6am and 8am – as you’ll avoid a lot of queues.
He also advises people to “travel really light – if you can avoid checking your bags, it will make a huge difference”. Also minimize hand luggage, if possible.
Boland makes the same point – he says that in addition to the problem of queues at check-in, many bags go missing. “If you can get by with carry-on baggage, do it.”
Think about passports
There are two issues with passports that cause problems. If you’ve booked a trip or are thinking about one, get everyone’s passports out this weekend to check the dates.
Most people are probably aware that a backlog of passport applications and renewals has caused months of delays. The Passport Office was telling applicants this week to allow up to 10 weeks to receive their passports. If you have already applied, you can track your application.
The other issue concerns the validity of the passport and revolves around the date it was issued. Earlier this year The Guardian reported on how holidaymakers were caught up in confusion over Brexit rules which mean some people with up to 12 months on their passports could be barred from traveling to many countries in the EU.
The European Commission indicates that two rules must be respected at the point of entry. The passport must have been issued within the last 10 years and it must be valid for at least three months after the date you plan to leave the EU country you are visiting.
With all this chaos, it’s more important than ever that people get travel insurance.
Boland says ideally you should pick it up at the same time you book your trip. Don’t wait a few days to go, as disruptions can occur at any time from when you’ve booked, he adds.
Ceri McMillan on the GoCompare website says most policies will offer cover for delayed outward or return journeys; however, the requirements for the length of the delay and the compensation available may differ.
The best (usually more expensive) policies often include coverage for missed departures – for example, you miss your flight due to something like a strike. However, the fine print will vary and it’s unclear if they would cover something like this week’s mayhem.
In addition to cover for medical treatment, cancellations, personal liability and lost or stolen luggage, most policies now have a level of cover for Covid that will pay for emergency treatment and repatriation, says McMillan.
You will certainly not be able to claim because you no longer wish to travel and wish to cancel your holiday.
Timing of cancellation is important
Your rights in the event of a flight cancellation depend to some extent on when you receive the bad news. When an airline gives more than 14 days notice that a flight is cancelled, it does not have to offer compensation, but must offer a refund or a new flight.
If you had booked a return flight, he must reimburse you for both legs of your trip if this is the option you choose. You should recover the full cost of the tickets.
For flights canceled within 14 days of departure, you have the same options, and compensation may also be due if you opt for an alternative flight – the amount depends on how far you were going to travel, as well as how long after the new flight takes off and arrives.
Compensation is set by law: it ranges from £110 for a short-haul flight of less than 1,500km (937 miles) replacing a flight canceled between seven and 14 days in advance and arriving less than two hours later than the original booking, at £520, payable on a long-haul flight over 3,500km canceled less than seven days before travel where the new flight arrives more than four hours later than the original booking. Departure time is also a factor.
If your flight is canceled while you are at the airport and you are rebooked for a later trip, the airline is required to provide you with what the law describes as “a reasonable amount of food and drink”, a means for you to communicate, accommodation if you are rerouted the next day, and transportation to and from the accommodation (or home).
Meanwhile, when a flight is delayed for more than three hours, passengers are entitled to compensation of between £220 and £520, unless the cause is “extraordinary circumstances”. This is not clearly defined, but could include bad weather and terrorism. Any delay of less than three hours does not justify compensation.
Sometimes the airlines don’t pay. If that happens, some Guardian readers said a complaint to the Civil Aviation Authority worked.