Easter 2022 was always going to be a landmark moment for the travel industry. For the first time in more than two years, the school holidays have come around with no official COVID restrictions on travel to and from the UK.
While British holidaymakers still face COVID tests and proving their vaccination status before they are allowed into many countries, the message at home is clear – holidays abroad are very much back on. As the first opportunity for families to take advantage of their new-found freedom, bookings over the Easter break have soared.
But things haven’t exactly run smoothly. Having run at a fraction of their capacity for the past two years, airports have struggled to cope with the sudden surge. Having fewer staff than they did pre-pandemic and faced with difficulties tempting workers back into the industry, airports are also having to cope with the extra time it takes to process entry requirements for different countries at departure.
The problems have been so bad at Manchester Airport that holidaymakers have missed their flights while queuing for hours to get through check-in and security.
There’s been a similar story at several UK ports, where the suspension of P&O’s licence over its mass redundancies scandal has left other ferry routes over subscribed and massive tailbacks on approach roads, particularly at Dover.
To add to the sense of chaos engulfing what should have been the great Easter escape, delays processing passport renewals have forced many holidaymakers to cancel breaks because they haven’t received their documents in time.
HM Passport Office says it has been inundated with applications as up to five million people delayed renewing their passports in 2020 and 2020, due to not being able or not wanting to travel abroad. The rush to renew in time for Easter has caught the Passport Office cold, while there have also been reports of long delays caused by the department’s contracted courier, TNT.
So what does all of this mean for travellers who have missed flights or had to cancel holidays because of one delay or another?
Thousands of travellers have also been caught up in flight cancellations by BA and EasyJet, who say they have been hit hard by COVID-related staff absences. But in many ways these holidaymakers are in a better position, as they are entitled by law to a full refund and compensation for the inconvenience.
This doesn’t apply if you miss your flight (or ferry) because of delays on the roads, trains, getting through passport control or even having your passport delivered on time. Consumer protections for holidaymakers don’t extend this far. If you’re stuck in a queue inside the airport, it is treated the same as missing your flight because you are caught up in long road delays. In law, your airline or travel operator bears no responsibility, so they have no obligation to offer a refund or an alternative flight.
The most realistic option for getting your money back is making a claim against your travel insurance. Your policy will need to have a missed departure clause. This is not something most budget policies will include, but is common on more comprehensive insurance.
Even then, though, you will have to check the policy wording carefully. Many missed departure clauses, for example, specify they will pay out if you miss your flight because the vehicle you are travelling in breaks down or has an accident, but not simply because you got stuck in heavy traffic.
The question of whether a policy will pay out because of delays in the airport is a grey area, too. Largely because it is a rare occurrence and hasn’t been tested. Few policies will explicitly state airport delays as a valid reason for missing your departure, anyway.
The same goes for delays receiving your passport. Generally, if you haven’t renewed your passport in time to travel, the fault is laid at your door for not doing it sooner. But in the current unprecedented situation of so many passport applications being held up not just in processing but by delivery too, travel insurance companies are likely to be bracing themselves for a challenge on this.
If you feel the reasons for missing a departure or having to cancel a holiday were through no fault or choice of your own, and you have a policy that offers what you consider a comprehensive level of cover for similar circumstances, you could take your claim to the Financial Ombudsman Service if your insurer refuses to pay out at first.
The FOS has the power to force your insurer to pay out if you can demonstrate you took reasonable steps to avoid delay, like sending your passport renewal months before your planned departure date, or arriving at the airport at the time advised ahead of departure.