Prepare for delays and cancellations on European flights this summer — how to make sure your trip runs smoothly

5d ago

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You know those airport queues you’ve seen stretching so far outside the terminal that they’re practically in another time zone? It looks as though they’re not going away any time soon.

A new study by ACI (Airports Council International) has found that 66% of Europe’s airports expect flight delays to increase well into summer — that’s a two-thirds of European airports.

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The research into flight forecasts came as European airports posted a two year high in air passenger traffic. The ACI found that a lack of financial aid during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic was a key reason behind current and upcoming issues ranging from a lack of ground staff to lengthy waits through security.

EasyJet is just one U.K. based carrier to have cancelled thousands of flights this year (Photo by Christoph Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images)

“Coping with this sudden increase and concentration of air traffic has been challenging for airports and their operational partners — in particular ground handlers,” read a joint statement between ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec and Fabio Gamba, MD of the Airport Services Association (ASA).

“This has resulted in an increase in flight delays and cancellations, and more generally a degraded passenger experience at many airports.”

Related: What to do when you miss your flight and it’s the airport or airlines’ fault

Indeed, one of the biggest reasons behind the continued disarray at leading airports has been the security vetting procedure that bosses must go through to hire new staff. With thousands of job losses at the peak of the pandemic — both as airlines and airports cut jobs and hospitality workers simply moved to more viable industries — the wait to re-fill many of those positions has been lengthy.

Interestingly, however, this may not quite paint the full picture of what is going on behind the scenes as the ACI also found that uncompetitive salaries, long hours and poor working conditions also contributed to the reasons why it’s been so tricky for airports to solve their staffing woes. The problems, it would seem, go back much further than the pandemic, which simply served to exasperate these issues.

Given the pandemonium faced by air passengers in U.K airports over the recent Easter break, it would be easy to assume this is a very British problem as shown in the report, the rest of the continent is blighted by just as many unprecedented problems, suggesting you may encounter a hold-up when returning home as well as on your outgoing flight.

Just this week, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (AMS) was hit by major delays and increased wait times as major staff shortages and increased footfall strangled the airport’s operations. There are already plans afoot for the airport to cancel flights ahead of summer to help alleviate the ongoing hubbub.

But what does this mean if you’ve got trips and holidays coming up? What measures should you take? Read on to find out…

In This Post


How can I check my flight won’t be cancelled before it is?

If you’re worried that a dream holiday or big business trip could be scuppered by the ongoing travel craziness then be sure to stay ahead of the curve with this travel hack.

As revealed by TPG Senior Points & Miles Editor Nick Ewen, there is a way to discover whether your flight is going to be cancelled before the airline does. Simply search for your flight as a new (paid) reservation. If the flight doesn’t appear in the search results, the airline is likely to cancel it. Alternatively, you can use ExpertFlyer and check to see if your flight has been “zeroed out” across all fare classes.

Beyond that, you can also try refreshing your airline app in the day or two before you fly to see how similar services are faring. If there are issues across the board and a pattern emerges, it might be worth making a plan B.

What time should I arrive at the airport to avoid chaos?

We recently asked airport workers up and down the land what time passengers should arrive at check-in to avoid missing their flights, and there was a real mixed bag of answers. Some towed the lines for the two or three-hour mark, while others went as far as saying four hours was a good time to arrive.

What they could all agree on, however (and this is advice well worth adhering to as we move into the summer holidays) is that you’ll need to allow yourself much more time than the typical two hour for domestic and three hours for international flights.

The best advice we were given for peak-time travel was by Dublin Airport, which suggested passengers should arrive up to a minimum of three and a half hours before any flight, with an extra 30 minutes in addition if parking a car.

How can I protect my booking?

Be sure to use a credit card or visa debit to make the booking wherever possible, which gives you protection under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 when the purchase price is over £100 as per the Visa Chargeback scheme.

Shot of queue of passengers waiting at boarding gate at airport. Group of people standing in queue to board airplane.

If you’ve not already taken out travel insurance before your trip, then do so while you can. Compensation for flight cancellations will differ depending on the insurance company you book through and what type of insurance you take out.

If your flight is delayed for over 24 hours and the airline doesn’t rebook you on an alternative flight in that time you will most likely be covered, but always check your small print when taking out travel insurance.

Related: Understanding your credit card’s complimentary travel insurance

With such uncertainty in the travel industry it might actually be worth paying more for travel insurance this year, giving you extra battle armour should you be hit by cancellations from airlines to hotels. Having the right sort of insurance could also help you recover costs if unprecedented circumstances mean you need to cancel a trip abroad yourself. Check out our guide to travel insurance.

What can I claim for?

If your flight is delayed, and it’s the airline’s fault, you can apply for compensation under the UK261 rule. You can read more about it here, but in short, this is based on the European Union’s similar EU261 rule – which offers passengers on flights shorter than 1,500km (932 miles) a minimum of £220 for delays of more than two hours. Then, for flights of between 1,500km and 3,500km that are more than three hours late, it offers £330. And it’s £520 for four-hour hold-ups to flights more than 3,500km.

A passenger approaches a facial recognition gate at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol

However, if an airline can prove the delay was down to “extraordinary circumstances”, they may try to deny your claim. These circumstances could include staff strikes, security threats, bad weather and, crucially, long customs queues.

What about cancellations?

As for outright cancellations, you are entitled to a full refund of your ticket or a replacement flight. If you received less than 14 days’ notice of the cancellation, you may be able to claim compensation of up to £520 depending on the timings of your alternative flight.

For more information on that, and the amounts of compensation you can claim, check out the CAA’s web page on cancellations.


If you miss a flight because you are not at the gate in time, it is deemed to be your fault.

“Unfortunately, it will be difficult to get the airport to reimburse you,” advises consumer watchdog Which? “No large UK airport has a policy to compensate passengers who have missed flights because of long security queues. In law, passengers could possibly claim frustrated contract and argue the airport is at fault for them missing their flight – but this would almost certainly require going to court.”

However, if the queue is at the airline check-in desk or bag drop, that is the airline’s responsibility and you could be able to claim under the consumer rights act. But that could prove long-winded process, and potentially a day in court.

Bottom line

If the latest reports are anything to go by, it’s not looking good for airport users across the continent this summer, so expect cancellations, delays and general wait times to remain the norm for a while yet.

This may put a dampener on thousands of current travel plans, but there are ways to foolproof yourself from cancellations and delays in advance. For more information on how to protect yourself from a bad travel experience be sure to read our list of what to do right here.

Honestly, if this is where we’re at with short-haul flights, how will we fare when we’ve got space hotels to visit in 2025?

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