Will airport chaos ruin my summer holiday abroad?

Queues at Bristol airport on Monday May 30 Credit: Twitter/@paulwtrueman

As foreign countries ease their Covid travel rules, many Brits have been looking forward to the prospect of an unmarred summer holiday.

However, months of disruption across UK airports means sunseekers are now questioning whether they'll even be able to leave the country, with the peak summer season quickly approaching.

Passengers at the likes of Birmingham airport have faced queues so long they snake out of the terminal building, while others have been hit by cancelled EasyJet, British Airways and Tui flights.

Gatwick Airport announced it will cut its number of daily flights during the busy summer months - reducing to 825 in July and 850 in August. This is compared to a reported 900 daily flights during the same time period in previous years.

Heathrow Airport said it ordered airlines to cancel 30 flights on Thursday June 30 because the expected number of passengers was more than it “currently has capacity to serve”.

Some passengers did not know that their flights were cancelled until they arrived at the airport, the UK's largest. Amid this uncertainty, ITV News looks at what's causing the disruption, whether your summer holiday is at risk, and what you can do to minimise any problems.

What is causing the chaos?

The aviation industry is suffering from staff shortages after thousands were let go during the coronavirus pandemic. Companies are now struggling to recruit new workers and get their security checks processed.

Unite, a union representing tens of thousands of aviation workers, has blamed the chaos on airlines "sacking and slashing", while some MPs say the government should have provided more financial support to airlines.

The situation worsened due to a rise in demand sparked by the half-term school holiday, the four-day Platinum Jubilee weekend and the usual busy summer period.

British Airways workers based at Heathrow will strike in a dispute over pay after members of the GMB and Unite backed action in June.

A date for the industrial action by airline workers, including check-in staff, has not yet been set but will likely be held during the peak summer holiday period.

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Will the disruption continue through the summer?

Unite, a union representing tens of thousands of aviation workers, expects delays to worsen during the coming months.

General Secretary Sharon Graham said staff shortages are "chronic".

Likewise, travel analyst Sally Gethin said disruption is "very likely" to continue for two to three months.

She added that while airports are attempting to ramp up recruitment, "most jobs at airports and airlines require full vetting as the roles require working in secure areas in the ‘airside’ part of the airport (past the immigration and security points).

"There are delays within government in vetting and approving these applicants."

I'm due to travel in the summer, what can I do to minimise the risk of missing my flight?

"There’s no way any passenger can fully future proof themselves from missing their flight, as many of the problems right now are beyond their control," Ms Gethin said.

However, she gave the following tips for reducing the risk of disruption as much as possible:

  • Book a flight to depart as early on the day as possible. "This is because it is more likely the aircraft will already be parked on the [tarmac] first thing in the morning, rather than having to wait for it landing from another country before the turnaround takes place."

  • Arrive three hours prior to your departure, unless your travel agent/airline advises otherwise. "By arriving too early you will be adding to the crowds inside the terminal and may be forced to queue outside to wait to enter the terminal. Some airlines have a special page/section on their website to advise passengers."

  • Hand luggage is preferable to checked bags if you want to improve your chances of catching the flight. "If you are checking in bags, make sure you only have essentials in your hand luggage to speed up the process of bag screening in the terminal."

  • If you are stuck in a lengthy queue and the last call is coming up for your flight, flag down an airline attendant. "They will be able to help you jump the queue to catch the flight on time."

Thousands of passengers were forced to wait in long queues outside Birmingham airport for several hours. Credit: @BobBlack1964

If I miss my flight because of queues at the airport, 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.

What are my rights if my flights are cancelled?

Travel analyst Sally Gethin said if your flight is cancelled you are entitled to a full refund or an alternative flight, even if it's not with the same airline.

You may even be entitled to compensation, provided the cancellation has been announced less than 14 days before the departure.

"If the cancellation means you need a hotel for the night or food and drink, the airline should provide vouchers or book a hotel and arrange transport," Ms Gethin added.

"If not, and you can afford to pay for it in the meantime, book these amenities yourself (don’t go overboard on luxury hotels or buying alcoholic drinks etc.) and keep the receipts to submit to the airline later."

However, she notes that issues beyond the airline’s control - for example airport problems, extreme weather or air traffic control delays - do not allow for compensation.