How to survive the Easter travel chaos

·8-min read
easter travel queues chaos airports eurostar holidays flight cancellations - Claire Irvin
easter travel queues chaos airports eurostar holidays flight cancellations - Claire Irvin

With testing rules eased and face mask mandates finally removed, holidays were supposed to be returning to normal. But as the Easter break arrives, flight cancellations, airport queues and technical issues are threatening travel’s triumphant return. Elsewhere, there continues to be disruption at the docks and snaking queues for Eurostar trains as staff shortages and the ramp-up in demand take hold.

Here we run through how to minimise your chance of getting caught up in the chaos, and what to do if your flight, ferry or train is delayed or cancelled this Easter.

Which airports are facing the most chaos?

Passengers have been forced to contend with queues, flight delays and cancellations over the past few days, ruining family holidays and causing high levels of travel anxiety. Here is what to expect at the UK’s largest airports.

Manchester

The UK’s third busiest airport has received the most attention in recent days after reports of seven-hour security queues, with passengers forced to navigate stifling heat and piles of uncleared vomit. The dramatic decision to place the police and fire officers on standby showed just how serious the situation had become, as did the resignation of airport director Karen Smart to “pursue fresh opportunities”.

However, Telegraph Travel’s report on the ground showed that at the end of last week things had calmed down somewhat. Nevertheless, Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has warned that disruption might continue for two months and with passenger numbers set to spike over the Easter weekend, chaos could well return.

Manchester airport flight cancellations travel - Emma Beaumont
Manchester airport flight cancellations travel - Emma Beaumont

Heathrow

While Manchester has seen the most severe check-in and security delays, more passengers at Heathrow have had their flights unceremoniously cancelled. British Airways scrapped 58 flights to and from the airport on April 11, with a further 50 cancelled on April 12, once again citing staff shortages. Major queues have been reported by passengers at check-in and security, though experiences seem to vary wildly.

Gatwick

Certainly not immune from the chaos, Gatwick has also seen a string of cancelled flights. On April 12, EasyJet has so far cancelled 32 services from the airport. Last weekend, the airline cancelled more than 200 departures.

The airport has warned that it will be busy over the coming weeks. A spokesperson said:
“The terminals may be busy during peak periods, such as weekends and the Easter holidays, when we see the airport returning to 2019 [passenger] levels, and Gatwick is advising passengers to arrive at the earliest time their airline allows to check-in – and to make sure they know what they can and cannot carry through security before arriving at the airport.”

When should I arrive at the airport?

Airlines and airports have taken to emailing customers advising them to arrive three hours before departure, even for short-haul flights. Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham echoed this advice in a statement on Wednesday. However, many passengers have gone one step further – most holidaymakers Telegraph Travel spoke to at Manchester Airport on April 7 had arrived four hours early, or even more. Early birds should be warned that some airports will only allow you to go through security, or to drop your bags, four hours before departure.

For those determined to arrive at the crack of dawn, Heathrow’s check-in desks and security usually opens at 4am, while at Gatwick’s North Terminal security opens at 2am.

For those worried about potential queues, certain airports allow passengers to pay for fast-track security (which costs £4 at Manchester and £5 at Stansted). However, in the current circumstances there is no guarantee you’ll sail through – passengers at Manchester last weekend reported two-hour waits, even in the fast lane.

What should I do if security delays mean I miss my flight?

Many passengers at Manchester claimed to have missed flights due to security delays in recent days. However, the airport has now reportedly put in a procedure to call passengers with only an hour to spare to the front of the line – a common practice across most UK airports.

Unfortunately, airports are not legally required to help or compensate passengers who miss flights due to security delays. They may try and transfer you to another flight, though there is no guarantee of this.

More robust travel insurance policies might cover your predicament, if you can prove you travelled to the airport sufficiently early.

What shall I do if my flight is delayed or cancelled?

For delays of three hours or more which are the fault of the airline, you are entitled to a cash payment of £220 for short flights and £350 for a flight of 1,500–3,500km. For flights over 3,500km you should receive £520 for a delay of three to four hours. You don’t have to take the flight if it’s delayed for five hours or more, and will be entitled to a full refund within seven days. However, compensation does not apply in all cases.

Are ferries running normally?

The ongoing suspension of P&O Ferries’ services between Dover and Calais has caused lengthy delays on the south English coast. It is understood that P&O will resume services in due course (check Twitter for updates) but for now they remain suspended.

Those with a confirmed P&O Ferries booking to travel on April 12 have been advised to arrive at the port for the sailing time booked. Once at the port they should head to the DFDS booths (Dover) or P&O booths (Calais).

If you are looking to travel to France by ferry in the coming weeks, you will be able to book with DFDS (dfds.com), which runs ferries across the Channel every 40 minutes or so, or Irish Ferries (irishferries.com).

Can I get a refund for ferry delays or cancellations?

Some services remain cancelled; for those with a confirmed P&O Ferries booking to travel on April 12, P&O Ferries has advised for passengers to arrive at the port for the P&O sailing time booked. Once at the port passengers should head to the DFDS booths (Dover) or P&O booths (Calais).

As for delays, ferry passengers can get back a quarter of their ticket price if they are delayed by an hour, for a journey of up to four hours. For journeys of between four and eight hours, the delay must be more than two hours. For eight to 24-hour journeys, customers can claim compensation after a three-hour wait.

If the delays are more than double these wait times, the compensation jumps to 50 per cent of the ticket price.

As with airlines, ferry operators do not have to compensate passengers if the causes of delays were outside their control, such as adverse weather.

Are Eurostar services running normally?

Eurostar services are so far running normally, but the company has put out a warning on its social media channels that services will be busy over Easter and advising passengers to arrive at the station “at the recommended time stated on your ticket” to “allow time to complete all pre-departure checks.”

Passengers would be wise to heed this advice, and perhaps arrive even earlier – at the end of last week, queues for the trains were snaking outside of St Pancras station.

When will UK roads be busiest over the Easter period?

Staycationers may be feeling smug about missing out on various flight and ferry delays but they may still have to contend with extremely busy UK roads over the Easter holidays.

New figures from the RAC suggest an estimated 21.5 million leisure trips will be made between Good Friday and Easter Monday, making it the busiest weekend on Britain’s roads in at least eight years. Meanwhile, data from transportation analytics specialists INRIX suggests that early starts or postponing journeys until later in the day this weekend could be the best way of avoiding any queues, with major roads expected to be particularly busy between 10am and 3pm.

Rod Dennis, an RAC traffic spokesman, said: "After two years of relatively quiet Easter bank holidays on the roads, our research suggests a return to traffic levels that are much more typical of this time of year.

To break up what may be a painful journey, why not take a leisurely stop at one of Britain's best service stations.

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