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Updated: 23 Jun 2022

8 ways to avoid airport queues and other travel disruption on holiday

While flight cancellations are out of your control, there are some steps you can take which will make your journey run smoothly

Whether you experienced the half term misery of lengthy airport queues and flight cancellations first hand or not, you’re likely worried about your next trip abroad. But there are ways to beat the crowds and increase your chances of everything running smoothly.

Most disruption will be out of your hands. In May there were 882 flights cancelled (equating to 136,299 seats) departing the UK. While in June, to date there have been 940 cancellations departing the UK (equating to 150,931 seats) according to aviation analytics company Cirium. And while flight cancellations have started to slow down, there is uncertainty over what this means for travel during the peak summer holidays. 

We’ve shared our top tips for reducing the risk of getting stuck for hours at the airport. Most of us know to avoid peak travel weekends if we can help it, but did you know that your flight time can determine how long you’ll be queuing at security? As well as reducing the time and stress of travelling, our advice below could save you money, too.

1. Avoid school holidays

If you can, avoid booking your trip during the school holidays. This not only lowers the risk of being caught up in long queues at the airport, but you could also save money with prices for flights and hotels lower outside of these peak periods. Lots of European destinations are still hot on either side of the school summer holidays. Book in June and September and enjoy the beach all to yourself. 

2. Fly in the morning and Google before booking

We’ve found that, statistically, morning flights are less likely to be cancelled as problems and resulting cancellations tend to build up through the day. 

And savvy travellers have noticed some specific routes are more likely to be cancelled than others. British Airways repeatedly cut flights to Milan and Frankfurt in the spring and EasyJet cancelled a lot of flights from Gatwick to Venice and Bordeaux, among other trips. Before booking, Google the flight routes and airlines to find out which ones have been cancelled the most.

3. Travel light

If you can travel with just hand luggage, that’s one less queue you need to stand in at the airport. Simply check in online and walk straight through to security. 

What’s more, at the other end you won’t have to worry and wait to see if your case has been lost, a recent problem caused by a shortage of baggage handlers. If you really can’t avoid checking in a bag, keep any important medications, keys and documents on you in your hand luggage. It’s also a good idea to pack a change of clothes in your carry-on in case your suitcase does go missing.

We’ve mystery shopped suitcases ranging from £30 to £150 to find out if price really does mean quality.

4. Turn up on time, not early

Understandably, many travellers have been turning up to the airport hours before they need to be for fear of not getting through security. But this only adds fuel to the fire by worsening the queues and holding up passengers with earlier flights. Bristol and Edinburgh are among the latest airports that have pleaded with passengers not to turn up earlier than necessary. 

If you are stuck in a lengthy security queue and you’re worried you could miss your flight, make a fuss to a member of staff and ask to be moved to the front of the queue. Keep bus tickets or anything that proves you arrived at the time the airport advised, as you will need this if you miss your flight and need to claim on your travel insurance.

How long before a flight should I be at the airport?

Check your airport’s guidance before you leave, but, generally speaking, you need to be at the airport two hours before a short-haul flight and three hours before a long-haul flight. Heathrow Airport currently advises three hours before for all flights.

If the worst does happen, find out what to do if you miss your flight due to queues and delays at airport security.

5. Be organised

You don’t want to be the person scrambling around in a bag at the front of the security queue, trying to separate liquids and electronics. A bit of organisation beforehand will make the process run more smoothly.

Before you head to the airport, put your liquids in a clear plastic bag and keep them near the top of your hand luggage so you can get them out quickly at security. If you can, avoid wearing a belt or anything else that will need to be removed to walk through the scanner. While you’re in the queue, you could also get out your laptop and any other electronics that need scanning separately to save time when it’s your turn. 

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6. Book a package holiday with a flexible provider

If you’re yet to book your trip, we recommend booking it as a package holiday with a holiday provider with a good flexible policy. If the worst happens, you can rest assured that you’ll get a refund or be able to reschedule. 

If you booked your holiday in 2021, you may not be aware of the generous policies a lot of providers adopted during the pandemic which may apply to you. It’s worth reading those before you go so you know your options if you turn up to the airport and something does happen.

Get peace of mind when you book with a Which? Recommended Provider: Hays TravelJet2 HolidaysKuoniSagaTrailfinders.

7. Get travel insurance as soon as you book your holiday

With the travel industry going through such a turbulent time, we recommend getting your travel insurance sorted as soon as you’ve booked your trip. That way, you’re covered for any changes, delays or cancellations made to your holiday before departure as well as during your trip.

Need travel insurance? The best cover isn’t always the most expensive. Read our guide to getting the best travel insurance for your trip.

8. Take the train 

Why not avoid flying altogether and experience the beauty of cross-country train travel? No checking in suitcases, just you with a glass of wine winding through the countryside. There is an expanding network of rail routes across Europe, from luxury sleeper trains to high-speed cross-country and budget intercity routes. Need some inspiration? We’ve rounded up five European cities you can reach in under seven hours by train.