15 Jun

Ask the Expert: Heather Pennock, Destinations Manager – Health, Safety, Crisis & Operations

The following article was originally published in the June 2022 edition of ABTA Magazine here.

Have a burning question you can’t find the answer to? Send us your query for an expert response. This month, it’s over to ABTA’s Heather Pennock, Destinations Manager – Health, Safety, Crisis & Operations

Following media reports of long queues at airports over the half term holidays and continuing ‘travel chaos’, many of my customers have been asking me when they should get to the airport. What should I advise them? 

Firstly, it’s important to say that, whilst media coverage of this issue has had a high profile in recent weeks, our research has found that the vast majority of customers travelling at this time were able to go through the airport process without any problem. However, as people navigate ongoing COVID-19 rules in destinations as well as the changes brought in from the UK leaving the European Union, as we have seen the restart of international travel is not without its challenges. Unfortunately, for some this has resulted in cancellations and changes to their travel plans, which has added an additional layer of complexity for Members and disappointment for those customers affected.  

Adding to these challenges, perhaps understandably, after seeing these news stories many anxious customers have responded by arriving at the airport five, six or more hours before their flight departs. This is not only unnecessary, but actually creates an additional problem leading to overcrowding at departure terminals. 

So, what should you advise customers? 

The standard industry advice to passengers is to get to the airport two hours prior to departure for short haul flights and three hours before for long haul flights. As a rule of thumb this still works well, it allows time for check-in, immigration and security, and usually means that customers have time to do some shopping and have something to eat or drink. 

Over busy periods, such as the recent the school holidays, certain UK airports have been recommending getting there three hours before departure for all flights. As the industry continues to move back to business as usual in the coming weeks, I would recommend that you tell customers to follow their airline’s recommended check in times and also check whether their airport is making any additional recommendations for their day of travel. 

There are also some other ways to ensure a smooth process. Checking in online really helps, as well as using baggage drops. You might also want to remind your customers of the rules around liquids in hand luggage as the number of bags being manually checked at security has apparently significantly increased, with hand sanitisers being one of the main culprits.

It’s also worth remembering that similar considerations apply when returning home, as other airports around the world are also facing similar challenges. As the summer progresses the current recruitment of a significant numbers of new staff will ease these challenges. But in the meantime, following these simple tips will help ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience for your customers.   

Finally, I would like to remind readers that ABTA provides a range of materials to Members on this subject, including information and advice on customers’ rights when they experience delays or cancellations to their travel plans.  You can find details on abta.com in the Member Zone – Running Your Business.