This was supposed to be a glorious summer. With Covid largely abated, it would be the first year since 2019 that we would all pack our bags and fly to warmer climes. Clearly, that didn’t happen.
There are several factors at play here. The UK’s cost-of-living crisis has put overseas travel out of reach for many; railway strikes made access to the airport difficult; a new wave of Covid has prevented people from leaving their homes and – most importantly – the airports themselves are an absolute nightmare.
About 5,000 Heathrow passengers had their flights canceled as a result. Additionally, a shortage of staff means Gatwick will be running up to 50 fewer flights a day during the summer months, with EasyJet cutting 11,000 flights. And, just to make things even more interesting, the British Airways check-in team could go on strike next month. In other words: the chances of being stranded at the airport are incredibly high.
So what can you do? The most sensible thing would be to stay at home, but failing that, here’s a practical guide to killing time at an airport.
If your flight is delayed by an hour
Normally this would be a cause of some frustration. This year, however, you’re coming off lightly. Basically, the airport is your oyster. Just do the usual: you can stretch your legs with a few turns around the terminal, grab a bite to eat or do some light shopping. If you have young children, now is the time to explore the fun options the airport has to offer. Likewise, you can just find a seat and kill time on your phone, as long as the wifi is working. Of course, there is also the pub. An hour at the pub probably won’t hurt. Anyway, all this will be fine.
If your flight is delayed by three hours
Now it’s time to start thinking smart, because three hours is a particularly frustrating period of time: too long to fill up idly, but too short to start taking drastic action. For example, this is when rummaging around in stores becomes genuinely excruciating. Plus, unless you have a ruthlessly sharp elbow, all of your phone’s charging points will have been captured by other disgruntled passengers, meaning you risk draining your battery with nonessential scrolling.
However, if you have kids, that’s exactly what tablets were made for. Find a seat anywhere you can, put on their headphones, and let them enjoy as many episodes of Bluey as they’re willing to consume. Yes, sure, screen time is bad, but this is an emergency.
This is also the period of time when stress management starts to become an issue. You can mitigate this in two ways. If you’re in Heathrow, for example, you’ll find a spa in Terminal 5, where weary travelers can get massages and facials. Anywhere else, buy a book or opt for a hearty, relaxed meal. A three-hour visit to a pub can be risky, so proceed with caution.
If your flight is delayed by six hours
We’ll start with the good news: such a long delay qualifies you 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, which will normally be issued in the form of a voucher.
But that won’t solve everything. After six hours in an airport, you’ll go crazy with equal parts stress and boredom, and your kids, if you have them, will have gone wild a long time ago. Free options to kill time are still available (all airports have prayer rooms, which at the very least offer some silence). But if you get compensation, it might be time to consider spending on a lounge. They will have food and drink, and often bathe, and do not flinch at the sight of children. It is true that they are relatively expensive and not always as luxurious as they say; also they usually dump you after 3pm – but necessities must, and if you’re nice, they’ll likely extend your stay for free. Whatever you do, definitely definitely don’t spend six hours at the pub.
If your flight is delayed by 12 hours
Oh God, go home. Look at you. You’re coming apart at the seams. Technically, if the delay extends to the next day, the airline will provide accommodation for you. But if it doesn’t, what are you going to do? You explored every godforsaken corner of the airport. All your electrical appliances lost power six hours ago. The salon staff can’t bear to see him. Your children won’t stop crying. All you will remember from this holiday is the awful time you went through to get there. A delay of that size also qualifies you for a full refund, so cut your losses, go home and try again in a less hellish year. Alternatively, go to the pub.