10 ways to avoid holiday hell this summer

First there was the travel ban. Then there was the stop-go brinkmanship of the traffic light system. Then came the stress and confusion of ever-changing testing and vaccination regulations. And now… now we’re finally free of virtually all limitations, what do we get? Chaos.

The last week has witnessed the most chaos and general holiday misery I can recall in over 30 years of writing about travel. Queues snaking out of airport terminals, hundreds of last-minute cancellations, people stranded and unable to get home, airlines ignoring their legal responsibilities to passengers.

The causes seem to be quite simple and essentially lie in a chronic lack of trained personnel at both airlines and airports. You can blame the travel industry — for laying off too many people, not acting quickly enough to rehire them, and then taking on more bookings than they could handle. The government could be blamed for speeding up the layoffs because of what the Association of Independent Tour Operators calls a “complete lack of industry-specific support for the travel industry over the last two years” – an industry that, let’s face it, has been hit harder was like no other by the pandemic.

But what matters now for the millions of people who have booked holidays and flights for the remainder of the summer is whether the travel industry comes together in time to prevent the current chaos from continuing into the high season.

The good news is that while summer is obviously the most popular time to travel, the pressure is spread out over at least six weeks and is usually not quite as intense as during the week-long May semester. The bad news is that airports and airlines are still short of thousands of cabin crew, ground handlers and security guards and there are only seven weeks left before schools close. Few in the industry are confident that it can turn things around in such a short amount of time.

So what can we, the traveling public, do to not ruin our vacation this summer? Here’s our handy guide.

Pay attention to the pinch points

Hopefully there will be some respite in the next six or seven weeks as demand falls and the industry regroups. During this time, problems at airports should lessen and while there may well be more cancellations, hopefully passengers will be given adequate advance notice. The actual test will be the weekend of 23/24. July can be when government schools close – it’s traditionally one of the busiest of the year. The holiday week in August will also be a big stress point.

If you haven’t booked yet, try to avoid weekends

The thousands of vacationers whose plans have been canceled and the many more who have yet to arrange a plan now face a dilemma. Should you still book a holiday abroad? It’s a tough question to answer, especially when you’re one of the many who haven’t traveled in a few years and were really looking forward to guaranteed sunshine this summer.

Certainly it seems very likely that the problems will continue into the autumn, so the safe option is to duck and book a holiday in the UK instead. But if you’re determined to travel, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of disruption. First, try to travel during the weekday and middle of the day when airports are relatively quiet. Second, fly to smaller airports that have less pressure on numbers. This also applies to ferry travel – on the longer Channel crossings from Portsmouth, for example, you’ll probably find it easier than trying to drive through Dover.

Don’t rush to cancel flights

You might be tempted to cancel your flights and take the train or ferry instead, but I would think twice before rushing into anything. It’s true that some airlines like British Airways allow you to change your flights without penalty due to more flexible terms and conditions introduced due to Covid – but you can’t get a refund and it may cost you more to book new flights because of the Tariffs are likely to have increased. There’s also no guarantee you won’t encounter long queues at St Pancras and Dover – both the Eurostar terminal and cross-channel services were exceptionally busy last week.

Book a package…

You will be in a far stronger position booking a package that includes flights and accommodation through a tour operator rather than just buying airline tickets and arranging your hotel or villa separately. TUI – Britain’s biggest operator – may have been in the news last week for canceling thousands of flights and holidays, but its customers are in a stronger legal position than with an airline.

An airline has a legal obligation to look after you and if your return flight is canceled while you’re away they must arrange for you to get home and find somewhere to stay in the meantime. Also – if your holiday is canceled entirely, you will get all your money back at once. If you booked all your arrangements separately, not only do you have to reclaim your airfare, but you also have to fight to get money back for your accommodation, car hire, etc.

… or book flights through a travel agency

If you are only buying air tickets, be sure to book them direct with the airline or with a reputable travel agent that is a member of Abta ( You can find a deal on the internet through a cheap online agent, but you probably won’t have much protection or support if something goes wrong and if the flight is canceled you may have to fight a long time to get your money back.

Pay with a credit card

It won’t solve the problem of delays or cancellations, but you have far more protection against the financial failure of an operator or airline when you pay with a credit card than you do with most debit cards. Paying by direct bank transfer is the most insecure method of all.

Get your timing right

When it comes to avoiding queues and delays, check your local airport’s website the day before your flight to see how far in advance you should check in. You may need to allow more than the usual two hours, although passengers arriving early (sometimes more than four hours before departure) have also compounded problems at half-time. Also, consider paying for fast-track security. In Stansted for example it costs £7 per passenger and takes away the stress of long queues to get into the departure lounge.

Travel with hand luggage only

Of course, that’s not always possible, but by leaving those big suitcases at home you’ll significantly reduce your wait time at the airport – you won’t have to queue at check-in or wait at the baggage carousel on arrival – and you’ll also avoid the risk of loss or the delay. Plus your airfare is likely to be at least £30 cheaper.

Stay informed of any delays

One of the worst parts of delays is not knowing how long you’ll have to wait. Airports and airlines are notoriously bad at providing passengers with timely and reliable information. However, there are ways to get around this. Flight tracking apps and websites – like – allow you to track the progress of your arriving aircraft used for your outbound flight. They will tell you if and when it took off and when it will land. By adding (at least) half an hour to the landing time, you can estimate the likely delay. If the delay is more than three hours and the airline is at fault, you may be able to claim compensation. Not counted e.g. B. Congestion caused by bad weather or air traffic control problems.

know your rights

If your airline gives you more than 14 days’ notice of a cancellation, they only have to offer you a refund of the fare you paid – but they don’t have to pay any additional compensation. For shorter-term cancellations, you may be entitled to compensation of between £110 and £520, depending on the destination and the reason. If you are already at the airport by this time, your airline is also required to provide you with food and drink, book accommodation if necessary and organize an alternative flight for you.

Here you will find all the details about your rights in the event of both long delays and cancellations. 10 ways to avoid holiday hell this summer

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