How to survive getting stuck at the airport

Delayed Plane

Snow, fog, high winds... the reasons we want to escape the British winter are the very things which are likely to cause miserable flight delays and cancellations this Christmas. And of course, all at a time when the airports are heaving with people like us, trying to get away for the holidays.

Being stuck at an airport at any time is grim but at Christmas - it puts the Hell in Noel: if you manage to bag a seat, they're uncomfortable - but not as cold and uncomfortable as the floor if you don't! Restaurants are packed with angry people fighting over the last sandwich; the toilets are a war zone .. and well, EssentialTravel.co.uk can attest to the dangers of killing time in duty free

So - make like a boy scout - and be prepared this Christmas. Here's EssentialTravel.co.uk's Christmas Airport Survival Guide - our Top Ten Tips to avoiding and surviving airport delays.

  • Do

    1. Phone the airline or check their website before you set off to the airport, to make sure there are no delays and everything's running on time (remember - it's not just UK weather that can affect your flight). If there are serious delays the airline will most likely know in advance.

    2. Use a smaller airport. If you have a choice between flying through a major or regional airport, choose the smaller one - they are far less prone to congestion and delays.

    3. Fly early. If possible book onto the first flight of the day:- any delays will get worse as the day goes on (and the airport gets grimmer with each cancelled flight). Also preferably make sure it's an 'originator' flight (meaning that it is the first timetabled flight for that airplane for the day, and originating from the airport you are flying from), so you're not waiting for it to arrive in from anywhere else. Always avoid the last flight of the day, so that if your flight is cancelled there's a good chance you'll be able to catch a later one.

    4. Research your airline. If there's more than one airline flying to your destination, check each individual airline's reliability - some have a more 'laid back' attitude or are just generally more prone to delays and cancellations than others.

    5. Make sure your travel insurance policy covers flight cancellation and delays. If you're not covered, you could end up missing your holiday or competing with all the other delayed passengers to buy an expensive flight home. At the same time check what coverage you are entitled to - booking yourself into a Five * hotel to wait out the delay, only to find you're not entitled to that money back, quickly turns bad tempers super-nuclear.

    6. Take snacks to the airport with you so in the event of a short delay, you not having to fork out for airport food. If you find yourself delayed for more than a couple of hours you may be entitled to a food voucher from the airline - check at the flight desk (or ring your insurance help line to check your rights).

    7. Think about buying a lounge pass. Or, if you travel regularly from the same airport, it's worth getting a membership card which gives you priority access to airport lounges. Believe us, if you're in for a long delay, you'll be thankful.

    8. If you're travelling with children be sure to carry something (or several somethings) to keep them amused in the event of a delay, such as a colouring book or handheld games console. Also, tie a brightly coloured scarf on their jacket and put a card in their pocket with your mobile phone number on in case they wander off and get lost.

    9. Avoid peak travel times: Monday to Fridays between 7am - 10am and 4pm to 8pm are the worst. The best days to travel are Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Last Updated: December 2008