the should have been a glorious summer. Now that Covid has largely abated, it would be the first year since 2019 where we would all pack our bags and leave for warmer climes. That clearly didn’t happen.
Several factors play a role here. The cost of living in the UK makes traveling abroad out of reach for many; the railway strikes have made it more difficult to reach the airport; a new wave of Covid has stopped people from leaving their homes and – most importantly – airports themselves are an absolute nightmare.
As a result, approximately 5,000 Heathrow passengers have had their flights cancelled. In addition, a staff shortage means that Gatwick will operate up to 50 fewer flights per day during the summer months, with EasyJet alone a reduction of 11,000 flights. And to make things even more interesting, British Airways check-in staff may go on strike next month. In other words, the chance that you will get stuck at the airport is incredibly high.
So what can you do? It would be wise to stay home, but if you can’t, here’s a handy guide to passing the time in an airport.
If your flight is delayed by an hour
Usually this would be a source of frustration. This year, however, you come off lightly. In short, the airport is your oyster. Just do the usual: stretch your legs with a few laps around the terminal, grab a bite to eat or do some light shopping. If you have young children, now is the time to discover the soft play opportunities the airport has to offer. Likewise, you can just find a seat and pass the time on your phone, provided the wifi is working. Of course there is also the pub. An hour in the pub can’t hurt. Anyway, this will all be fine.
If your flight is delayed by three hours
Now it’s time to start thinking smart, because three hours is a very frustrating amount of time: too long to uselessly fill, but too short to take drastic action. This is, for example, when snooping around stores becomes really torturous. What’s more, unless you have a relentlessly sharp elbow, all the phone’s charging points will have been grabbed by other disgruntled passengers, meaning you risk draining your battery from non-essential scrolling.
However, if you have kids, this is exactly what their tablets are made for. Find a seat wherever you can, put on their headphones and let them read as many episodes of Bluey as they want. Yes, of course, screen time sucks, but this is an emergency.
This is also the length of time when stress management starts to become a problem. You can reduce this in a number of ways. For example, if you’re in Heathrow, you’ll find a spa in Terminal 5, where weary travelers can get massages and facials. Buy a book elsewhere or opt for a large, relaxed meal. A three-hour cafe visit can be risky, so proceed with caution.
If your flight is delayed by six hours
We’ll start with the good news: such a delay will make you eligible for compensation. Any delay of more than three hours entitles you to between £110 and £520, and Money Saving Expert has a free tool to help you claim it. You are also entitled to food and drink, usually in the form of a voucher.
But this isn’t going to solve everything. After six hours in an airport, you will be going crazy with stress and boredom, and your kids, if you have them, will be feral long ago. There are still options to kill free time (all airports have prayer rooms, which offer at least some peace of mind). But if you’re getting a refund, now might be time to consider shelling out a lounge. These will have food and drink, and shower often, and they will not flinch at the sight of children. Admittedly, they are relatively expensive and not always as luxurious as they claim; also they usually kick you out after three hours – but they have to, and if you’re nice they’ll probably extend your stay for free. Whatever you do, don’t spend six hours in the pub.
If your flight is delayed by 12 hours
Oh God, go home. Look at yourself. You fall apart at the seams. Technically, if your delay extends into the next day, the airline will arrange accommodation for you. But if not, what are you going to do? You’ve explored every godforsaken corner of the airport. All your electrical appliances were out of power six hours ago. The lounge staff can’t watch you. Your kids won’t stop crying. All you will remember from this vacation is the horrible time you had to get there. A delay of this length will also qualify you for a full refund, so cut your losses, go home and try again in a less hellish year. Otherwise, go to the pub.