How early should you arrive at the airport this Easter to avoid travel chaos? We asked the staff

Apr 7, 2022

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If the last week or so is anything to go by, there won’t be many happy bunnies flying out of airports in the U.K. and Ireland this Easter time.

From viral clips on social media to televised national news, we’ve seen trouble erupt inside numerous terminals this week as ground staff struggle to cope with the demands of hugely increased passenger numbers.

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Spoiler alert: worse is expected to come as many more families looking to get away for the Easter break — with a surge in passengers expected and both airports and airlines still struggling with staff shortages and other pandemic hang-ups, what time should you look to arrive in the airport safely, without having to sprint for the gate?

The Points Guy spoke to staff a some of the busiest airports in the UK and Ireland and also took a close look at their online guidance to figure out exactly how early you should be arriving.  As a rule of thumb, the best advice we were given for peak-time travel was by Dublin Airport, which suggested passengers should arrive up to three and a half hours before an international flight, with an extra 30 minutes in addition if parking a car.

Passengers queue in Heathrow Airport (Photo by Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

As ever, there is always more to factor in during the school holiday hubbub. For starters, you should absolutely use this ingenious hack to see if your flight has suffered a cancellation ahead of time, and always check transport options well in advance, particularly in London this month where a host of engineering work is expected to bring certain rail services around the capital to a grinding halt during the bank holiday period.

Here’s what the people on the ground are saying…

Manchester Airport (MAN)

Let’s be honest: you know you’re in for a bit of a wait at the airport when the regional mayor (Andy Burnham, in this case) threatens to send the police to help ensure passengers make their flights safely. Having seen the result of chronic staff shortages and COVID-19 related issues already, travellers due to fly from Manchester Airport will no doubt be bracing themselves for more pre-duty-free turbulence this week.

But according to Manchester Airport officials, you shouldn’t panic too much. When TPG spoke to one spokesperson for the air hub they stressed that passengers should arrive at the airport when check-in opens for their respective airlines and not any earlier, stressing that a barrage of passengers turning up four hours before their flights could lead to even more bottlenecking.

“Passengers arriving prior to check-in for their flight opening is not advised,” they told us. “We are also encouraging passengers who haven’t travelled in a long time to reacquaint themselves with what they can and can’t pack in hand luggage, as we’re seeing a higher than usual proportion of bags requiring additional screening, which exacerbates the problem.

Related: Spain has now backtracked on plans to ease restrictions for unvaccinated travellers

“Guidance to passengers is to arrive at the earliest time their airline recommends, which is normally the time check-in for their flight opens.”

Additionally, TPG was told that passengers should stick to as few trays as possible during the security chicken run: “It also makes a significant difference if you minimise the number of trays you need to use, so please consider that when preparing to come to the airport.”

London City Airport (LCY)

Don’t expect any scuffles over security trays at London City Airport, however: a bunch of fancy new CT Scanners mean that passengers no longer need to remove their laptops and liquids from their hand luggage, promising a more efficient experience getting through security than ever.

It’s so far so good for City, which last month enjoyed its best passenger numbers since the start of the pandemic with 189,000 passengers – a figure up 54% on February. Despite the increase in custom, the City doesn’t appear to have been badly affected thus far by long queues or as many cancellations as other airports have of late.

Traditionally catering to business travellers over package holidaymakers, it’s a shrewd place to fly from if you’re in the capital, even if you’re more likely to land in Geneva than Benidorm.

Wherever you’re off to, you’ll still need to ensure you’re ready to travel to ensure a swift journey to the gate. “With pre-departure document checking still required for the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, the airport is urging passengers to come to the airport well prepared,” says London City Airport’s chief exec Robert Sinclair.

Stressing that it’s a “space-constrained airport”, Sinclair also urges fliers to arrive even earlier during the holiday rush: “Please check you have all the right paperwork for your journey and show up just a bit earlier than normal. Rest assured that we are working with our airlines and passenger handling teams to find solutions that will make your journey as stress free as possible.”

Dublin Airport (DUB) 

This week, a spokesperson for Dublin Airport warned us that the Easter period is “only going to get busier” for passengers and to expect some form of delay when they travel due to fluctuating staff levels.

“With our recruitment process for security screening staff — we are looking to add around 300 more to our existing team of 600 — still ongoing, we would advise all passengers to continue to expect their airport journey to take longer than they might expect – particularly at peak times.

Aer Lingus planes seen grounded at Dublin Airport (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“At peak times, this can mean up to three and a half hours before your departure time. If parking a car, allow a further 30 minutes.” Again, a solid rule of thumb for travel to any airport right now…

Expect trips into and out of Dublin to be faster post-Easter and into summer, as DAA added that they are “committed to having “the optimum number of security lanes open in both Terminals 1 and 2 commensurate with expected passenger forecasts for a very busy summer season ahead.”

London Gatwick (LGW)

Not even clearing the cobwebs from Gatwick’s South Terminal following the worst of the pandemic has saved the Sussex hub from significant delays and snaking queues of late. Yesterday alone saw EasyJet, whose hub is at Gatwick, cancel 30 flights due to COVID-19 related staff shortages, and you wouldn’t bet against further issues.

As well as keeping an eye on flights, be sure to get ahead on transport issues too. All Southern trains operating between London Victoria and East Croydon are set to be halted for engineering work in the coming weeks, which is sure to have a knock-on effect for passengers heading towards Gatwick Airport. Bus replacement services are expected.

One source told TPG: “We would advise passengers to arrive at the airport as soon as check-in opens for their flight. Typically, this is three hours for long-haul and two to two-and-a-half for short-haul.”

Related: 9 Things To Know About Gatwick’s Reopened South Terminal

On the official Gatwick website, meanwhile, a statement reads: “The terminals may be busy during peak periods, such as weekends and the Easter holidays, when we see the airport returning to 2019 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.

“Passengers are also reminded to check that their passports are still valid — and have enough time left on them for the country being visited — and to check the foreign travel advice for all countries they will visit, or pass through, well in advance of travel.”

London Heathrow (LHR)

Far from immune to the pandemonium, London’s iconic Heathrow Airport is another airport that has looked vulnerable to the stampede of families bound for warmer climes.

Surprisingly for an airport that has suffered some of the most delays and cancellations in the last fortnight (with over 70 British Airways flights axed on Wednesday alone), officials at Heathrow have remained tight-lipped on travel advice outside of the usual ‘check travel requirements’ and ‘don’t attempt to carry a 3L Jeroboam in your carry-on’.

London Heathrow Airport (photo by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy)

However, one of the ways the airport’s website says you can combat queues and make your journey that bit easier is to download the official Heathrow app, enabling you to “reserve parking, maps of the terminal, pre-order food and receive live flight updates from wherever you are, all at the touch of a button”.

Word of warning: during the Easter bank holiday there are plans by TFL bosses to suspend Piccadilly Line to Heathrow terminals. So do your homework ahead of any trips.

London Stansted (STN)

To borrow a popular internet phrase, when it comes to London’s third busiest airport, we stan. It’s just a great, no-fuss place to fly from.

Punching above its weight for some time now, over 1.3 million passengers are expected to use London Stansted Airport in the coming month, including 240,000 holidaymakers in the four-day Easter Weekend alone. By comparison, last year only 8,000 flew in and out of Stansted in the same four-day weekend.

This huge surge in passenger numbers has already started to bite, although airport officials were loathe to give TPG an exact time on when to arrive for security, only that passengers should arrive at the terminal “at the earliest time their airline allows them to check-in”.

Warning of delays on their website, Steve Griffiths, Managing Director at Stansted said that while “queues may be longer than people are used to at times”, passengers can “definitely help us by arriving in good time”.
“We are also keen to remind people how they can minimise any unnecessary delays at the airport,” he continued.

Related: How To Learn If Your Flight Has Been Cancelled – Even Before The Airline Knows

“The usual restrictions on liquids, sharp items, and electronics carried in hand luggage continue to apply, and although hand sanitiser is also allowed through security if it’s under 100ml it too needs to be included in a clear, resealable bag with all other liquids, so we urge passengers to prepare properly before they leave home.

“We also recommend that passengers check for any road or rail disruptions that could affect their journey to the airport, and arrive at the terminal at the earliest time their airline allows them to check-in.

“To prepare for the summer, we began a major recruitment drive in January to fill hundreds of roles in our security operation, and partner organisations like airlines, ground handlers and Border Force have also been recruiting.”

Also, be aware that for some of the coming holiday time, buses will replace trains for part of the journey between London and Stansted Airport.

Bottom line

Well, there you have it. No matter what the airport, or indeed the final destination this Easter time, keep your eyes peeled for changes to your flight and plan your journey to the airport with plenty of time.

All going well you’ll arrive with plenty of time, giving you an excuse to put those points to good use and bag yourself a nice lounge at the very least.

You’ll have earned it…

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