10 ways to avoid vacation hell this summer
First there was the travel ban. Then there was the stop-and-go on the brink of the traffic light system. This was followed by the stress and confusion of the ever-changing rules for testing and vaccination. And now…now we are finally free from virtually all restrictions, what do we get? Chaos.
Last week saw the biggest shambles and general misery of vacations that I can remember in over 30 years of travel writing. Queues coming 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 stem essentially from a chronic shortage of qualified personnel in both airlines and airports. You can blame the travel industry – for laying off too many people, not moving fast enough to re-hire them, and then taking on more bookings than they could handle. You could blame the government for catalyzing layoffs over what the Association of Independent Tour Operators calls its “complete lack of industry support for the travel industry over the past two years” – an industry that, let’s face it- the, was hardest hit. than almost everyone else by the pandemic.
But what matters now to the millions of people who have booked holidays and flights for the rest of the summer is whether the travel industry mobilizes in time to prevent the current chaos from continuing. throughout the high season.
The good news is that while summer is obviously the most popular time to travel, the pressures are at least spread over six weeks and are generally not as intense as they are during a mid-term week in May. The bad news is that airports and airlines are still short of thousands of cabin crew, ground attendants and security personnel and there are only seven weeks left before schools close. Few people in the industry are convinced that she will be able to change things in such a short time.
So what can we travelers do to prevent our vacation from being ruined this summer? Here is our practical guide.
Be aware of pinch points
There will hopefully be some respite for the next six or seven weeks as demand drops and the industry regroups. Meanwhile, problems at airports should ease, and while there may be more cancellations, we hope passengers will be given reasonable notice. The real test will be the weekend of July 23/24 when the public schools go their separate ways – it’s traditionally one of the busiest of the year. The August holiday week will also be a major stress point.
If you haven’t booked yet, try to avoid weekends
The thousands of holidaymakers whose plans have been canceled and the many others who have yet to organize one now face a dilemma. Should they still go ahead and book a holiday abroad? That’s a tough question to answer, especially if you’re one of the many who haven’t traveled in a few years and have been looking forward to guaranteed sunshine this summer.
Admittedly, it seems very likely that the problems will continue into the autumn, so the safe option is to step aside and book a UK holiday instead. But if you’re determined to travel, there are several things you can do to reduce the risk of disruption. For starters, try to travel mid-week and mid-day when the airports are relatively quiet. Second, fly to smaller airports, where there is less number pressure. This is also true for ferry travel – you’ll probably find it easier on long Channel crossings from Portsmouth for example, rather than trying to get 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’d think twice before rushing in. It’s true that due to looser conditions introduced due to covid, some airlines such as British Airways allow you to change your flights without penalty – but you won’t be able to get a refund and it may cost you more. to book new flights because fares have probably increased. There’s also no guarantee you won’t face long queues at St Pancras and Dover – the Eurostar terminal and cross-Channel services have been exceptionally busy over the past week.
Book a package…
You will be in a much stronger position if you book a package that includes flights and accommodation through a tour operator, rather than buying flight tickets only and arranging your hotel or villa separately . Granted, TUI – Britain’s biggest operator – made headlines last week because it canceled thousands of flights and holidays, but its customers are in a stronger legal position than they would be with airline company.
An operator is legally obliged to look after you and if your return flight is canceled while you are away, they must ensure that you get home and find accommodation in the meantime. Plus, if your vacation is canceled completely, you’ll get all your money back at once. If you have booked all your arrangements separately, in addition to having to collect your plane ticket, you will have to fight to collect money for your accommodation, car rental, etc.
… or book flights through a travel agency
If you are buying air-only tickets, make sure you book them directly with the airline or a reputable Abta member travel agency (abta.co.uk). You can find a deal on the web through a cheap online agent, but you’re unlikely to have much protection or support if things go wrong, and if the flight is cancelled, you may have to deal a long struggle to get your money back.
Pay with a credit card
It won’t solve the problem of delays or cancellations, but you’ll have far more protection against operator or airline financial default by paying with a credit card than with most debit cards. Paying by direct money transfer is the least secure method of all.
Find the right timing
To avoid queues and delays, check your local airport’s website the day before departure and see how far away you need to check in. You may need to allow more than the usual two hours, although passengers arriving too early (sometimes less than four hours before departure) have also compounded mid-term issues. Also consider paying for expedited security. At Stansted, for example, it costs £7 per passenger and eliminates the stress of long queues to enter the departure lounge.
Travel only with hand luggage
Of course, that’s not always possible, but leaving those big suitcases at home will significantly reduce your wait at the airport – you won’t have to queue to check it in or wait by the baggage carousel at arrival – and you will also eliminate the risk of losing it or delaying it. Plus, your plane ticket is also likely to be at least £30 cheaper.
Master the delays
One of the worst things about being late is not knowing how long you’re going to have to wait. Airports and airlines are notoriously bad at giving passengers timely and reliable information. There are, however, ways around this. Flight tracking apps and websites – like flightstats.com – allow you to track the progress of your inbound aircraft, the one that will be 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 assess the likely delay. If the delay is more than three hours and the delay is the airline’s fault, you may be able to claim compensation. Delays caused by bad weather or air traffic control problems, for example, do not count.
Know your rights
If your airline gives you more than 14 days’ notice of cancellation, they only have to offer you a refund for the fare paid – but they don’t have to pay any additional compensation. For short-term cancellations, you may be entitled to compensation of between £110 and £520 depending on destination and cause. If you are already at the airport when this happens, your airline is also required to provide you with food and drink, book you accommodation if necessary and arrange an alternative flight for you.
Find full details of your rights in the event of long delays and cancellations here.