The recent chaotic scenes at Dover and Folkestone were the latest setbacks to hit travellers this summer. They follow hard on the heels of a litany of other issues, from cancelled and delayed flights to airports overwhelmed by queues to strikes, baggage mountains and runways grinding to a halt because the tarmac is melting in the heat. And each time it looks as though things might have stabilised, we cautiously lift our head above the parapet and another bullet comes our way.
Melting tarmac aside, it’s quite clear that the travel industry has failed lamentably to plan realistically for the huge surge in holidaymakers this summer. As a result, Telegraph Travel has teamed up with Which? and the Consumers’ Association to campaign for a long-term solution to many of the issues which have arisen.
But in the meantime, while you can’t protect yourself entirely from all this unfriendly fire, there are some things you can do to defend yourself from the worst of it. Here’s how to dodge the holiday bullets.
1. Keep an eye on the news
Forewarned is forearmed. Some things you can plan for – disruption caused by rail strikes, for example. Others, such as the delays which suddenly built up at Dover, may hit you unexpectedly. But if you check news updates regularly then you will know about them sooner rather than later, and you can at least prepare yourself for the disruption.
Airlines and tour operators will normally use email (and sometimes texts) to update you on changes to your flight. Information about a delay or cancellation could arrive at any time and at short notice, so if you aren’t in the habit of checking regularly, it might be worth keeping a weather eye on the situation.
2. Know your rights
If your flight is delayed or cancelled, then it is definitely worth being familiar with your consumer rights. Airlines are notoriously bad at taking responsibility for looking after stranded passengers and owning up to their obligations to pay compensation. Our guide is here.
3. Travel light
Travelling with hand baggage allows you both to avoid the risk of losing it – and cut out the time spent queuing at check-in and waiting in the baggage reclaim hall. Seeing the piles of unclaimed luggage stacked up at Heathrow recently and huge queues at Athens Airport check-in desks was all the incentive I needed to vow to stick to cabin baggage this summer.
4. Time your arrival
Check the airport or port website before you plan your arrival time. This summer it is probably best to arrive about three hours ahead of your flight departure – any earlier and you may just be adding to the congestion and risk an unpalatably long wait in the event of a delay. But check in advance. For ferries at Dover and the Channel Tunnel, you at least have the fallback of plenty of alternative services if you miss your booked departure time, but you still need to ensure you arrive at the advised time in the first place.
5. Be ready for delays
Some basic preparations can do a lot to mitigate the misery of a long wait in your car or the airport departure lounge. Travelling with sandwiches and a water bottle, for example, will mean you can avoid forking out for food and drink both in the airport and on the plane.
6. Get properly insured
This is not a year to skimp on insurance cover. If you get delayed or your holiday is cancelled at the last moment, or something else goes wrong, you will be thankful for the best cover you can get. Our general guide is here and dedicated advice for the over-60s here.
7. Check your passport now
The problem with the validity which has been affecting some travellers with older passports since we left the EU seems to have been largely resolved. But if your passport is getting close to its expiry date and you don’t have time to renew it before you travel, double check that it will still be valid – especially if you are visiting an EU or Schengen zone country (including Iceland, Norway and Switzerland).
Pay particular attention to the issue date and double check the latest advice at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice by selecting the country you want to visit and clicking on “Entry requirements”. To apply for a new passport see the guidance at gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-passport-office.
8. Book with cunning and caution
If you are still planning to arrange a holiday this summer, you can minimise the risk of disruption by timing your trip carefully, and also choosing your destination and departure point cannily. For example, if you were hoping to take your car across the Channel in August, you might want to think about one of the longer crossings from Newhaven, Portsmouth or Plymouth, rather than risking Dover. And you would certainly do well to avoid booking on a weekend.
Telegraph Travel has also produced a guide to minimising the risk of disrupted flights, analysing the airlines, airports, destinations and times which are least subject to cancellations and delay. Full details are here.