How to avoid missing your flight because of airport queues and your rights if you do

Could staffing problems across the travel industry mean a summer of disruption for holidaymakers? ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi reports on what the shortages could mean

Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Suzanne Elliott

A critical staff shortage across the travel industry and increased demand are causing hours-long queues at airports that have led to passengers missing flights despite arriving in plenty of time.

Airline passengers have faced queues so long they are snaking out of the terminal building at several UK airports in recent weeks, including Birmingham, Heathrow and Manchester. Passengers have been left in tears after missing holidays because of the delays at the airport.

With the lifting of Covid restrictions around the world, summer 2022 looks set to be a bumper one for holidaymakers, putting further pressure on an industry grappling with a recruitment crisis and the chaos seen at several airports recently is likely to continue.

But what are your rights if you are affected by long queues and how can you protect yourself?

I missed my flight because of the queues at check-in or at security, can I claim compensation?

According to consumer champions Which? the answer is "probably not". They do say that passengers could claim "frustrated contract and argue the airport is at fault for them missing their flight". This, however, would most likely require going to court, which could be costly and time-consuming.

Consumer expert Jane Hawkes told ITV News: "It would be at the discretion of the airline because technically it's your responsibility to ensure that you do check in on time. What is advisable is that you follow to the letter what the airline tells you.

"So if the airline tells you that you need to be there three hours before, and you are there three hours before and you miss your flight, then that gives strengths to your argument."

While security comes under the airport, check-in is the airline's responsibility.

Which? say you may have a cause if you've arrived at the airport on time (this will vary from airline to airline and where you are flying to) but still missed your flight because of long queues at check-in or bag drop. But, again, they say any compensation claim is likely to involve legal proceedings.

Passengers have complained about 'absolute chaos' at Birmingham Airport. Credit: BPM Media

Will my insurance cover me if I miss my flight due to queues or delays?

It depends on the travel insurance policy you take out. Which? warns that while some policies do cover missed departures, it is often not straightforward and it may not cover you for queues. Check the terms of your policy and speak to an adviser if you're unsure.

Which? advises you will need to provide proof of having arrived at the airport on time - for example a train or bus ticket, a parking stub or a receipt for food or drink (it might be worth your while buying a coffee when you get there). Bear this in, mind and be sure to keep anything that may be used as part of your claim.

Make yourself heard

Don't queue politely in silence as departure time creeps nearer. Tell airport staff you're about to miss your flight and they may prioritise you and move you towards the front of the queue.

However, during the current issues, with queues of frustrated passengers all facing a similar delay, this might not get you far.

Which? also advises you contact your airline if you're worried about missing your flight as soon as possible.

If I do miss my flight, will the airline rebook me on another one?

Again, that depends on the airline. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will try and get you on another flight if you have missed the one you were booked on due to "circumstances beyond your control".

EasyJet and Ryanair will rebook you for a fee provided you arrived at the airport on time (again, you'll need proof).

What are my refund rights?

If the airline can't get you on the next flight or the flight they have offered you will get you to your destination too late, can you claim a refund?

In general, the answer is no, you are not entitled to a refund if you miss your flight because you are not at the departure gate in time.

A beach in Portugal. Credit: Nick Ansell/PA

Ms Hawkes says: "It's a bit of a grey area because some airlines will honour that and some will just refuse it. So the actual process, of going through security and stuck in those queues, it isn't an automatic right to a refund."

Flight Delayed says: " What most people don't realise is that airlines will most likely deny you boarding if the long queues cause you to not arrive at the check-in desk or gate on time, despite what airport personnel may tell you."

British Airways has cancelled thousands of flights in recent weeks due to staff shortages Credit: Steve Parsons/PA

If you miss your flight, you can try and claim Air Passenger Duty back from your airline, although some airlines, like Jet2, charge for this service which can be more than the refund you're entitled to. You can claim £26 for short-haul flights and £150 for long haul.

Ms Hawkes says it is worth complaining to the airport authority itself if you experience long queues.

Consumer expert Jane Hawkes top tips on avoiding problems at airports

  • Follow to the letter airline guidance - be at the airport at the time the airline gave you to check in

  • Know your rights. If a flight is cancelled and you are offered one that is not at the same time or route that you originally booked, you are not obliged to take it

  • Have the right documentation ready. Not only will this allow you through security and passport control quicker, but it will also speed up the process for everyone

  • Have comprehensive travel insurance. Have a 'belt and braces' approach - too much is not possible this year. You have to invest in travel insurance and make sure you have every base covered. Which? has an excellent guide to the best and worst travel insurance

  • Book through a travel agent if you can. Travel agents have been navigating the nightmare that is pandemic travel for two years and they are very well equipped to be deal with all the issues

  • Be prepared delays, inconvenience, upset and stress. I know that's a horrible thing to hear when you're going on holiday, but it is important to be aware it's not an easy, straightforward process.

What time should I arrive at the airport?

This will depend on the airline; always check to see what time the check-in desk opens.

As a general guide, you will need to have checked in and be ready to go through security at least two hours before your flight departure time.

Earlier this month after chaotic scenes, Manchester airport asked passengers to arrive three hours before their flight is due to depart and to ensure hand luggage is packed in accordance with security rules.

Is it worth booking the express lane or fast track passes?

Most airports provide a designated lane to enable those who've paid a bit extra to bypass the queue through security.

Airport express lanes can be booked from £4 in advance, although some do allow you to buy from a vending machine on arrival.

In theory, these lanes will get through airport bottlenecks quicker than the general scrum but if many people are using them, you will still face a queue.

Demand for these express lanes has been so overwhelming in recent weeks that some airports have put their fast track option on hold.

Birmingham Airport - where queues through security over the May bank holiday weekend were up to three hours - is not taking new bookings for the "foreseeable future" while Manchester Airport has also not currently offering security fast track.