Europe airport chaos: tips to manage long queues and delays

Passengers flying in Europe face significant disruptions as airports report serious delays and long lines due to staff shortages and increased demand ahead of the summer holidays. If you’re planning to fly this summer, here are some tips to help you make it through long airport wait times and potential delays and cancellations.

Security screening, airline check-in, and bag-drop lines got so long at major airports across Europe this weekend that many passengers didn’t even make it inside the terminal buildings to catch their flights. Images posted on social media  on Sunday reveal long lines snaking outside airports including Dublin, London Gatwick, Amsterdam Schiphol, and Lisbon, with some passengers reporting that they were waiting for hours just to get into the terminal buildings.

As a result, Dutch carrier KLM was forced to temporarily stop selling tickets for most of its flights out of Amsterdam from Thursday through Sunday. While Dublin Airport officials estimate that more than 1,000 passengers missed their flights on Sunday due to long lines and apologised for the “obvious frustration and inconvenience” this caused. 

Delays are being blamed on staff shortages brought about by the pandemic and increased passenger numbers as travel returns. The International Air Transport Association expects total passenger numbers in Europe to reach 86% of 2019 figures in 2022, before making a full recovery in 2024. But it seems many companies were not anticipating travel to return so fast and are scrambling to recruit and train new hires.

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Following the chaotic scenes witnessed over the past few days, some airports have issued advice for passengers including arriving early, preparing your liquids and laptops for security checks before getting to the airport, and ensuring passports are up-to-date.

While officials need to work on long-term solutions to manage queues as summer travel approaches, here’s what else you can do to help the process run a little smoother if you are flying from a European airport.

Download your airport and airline apps

This will save you a lot of hassle. Many airports share security screening wait times with their apps so you can see live wait times before you even get to the airport, allowing you to plan your arrival time accordingly.

Similarly your airline’s app will also help you anticipate any disruptions. When you download the mobile app, you’ll generally get immediate alerts and some airlines will offer re-booking options and notifications through the app when facing delays. 

App alert from KLM informs passenger of new flight connection mid-flight © Sasha Brady / Lonely Planet

Take a screenshot of your boarding pass

Take a screenshot of your boarding pass so you can easily access it as soon as you get to the airport. You can also save it on your Apple Wallet on iOS, or PassWallet on Android. Having a scannable, offline version of your boarding pass can save you scrambling to access it when the airport WiFi is patchy and frustration is mounting behind you at the check-in queue.

Bring a portable phone charger

If your boarding pass is stored on your phone, you don’t want to be caught short with a dead battery when you finally reach your gate. Pack a portable battery charger and necessary cables in your hand luggage so you can power your phone when you need it.

Drop your bags off early

Airlines like British Airways and Jet2 allow customers to check their bags in a day before departure. Find out if this is a service your airline offers to ease pressure at check-in desks when you fly.

Ask LP experts: top tips for summer travel 2022 

Purchase fast passes or priority boarding if possible

Some airports offer fast-pass access that can help you get through security quicker for an additional fee. It’s not always available, particularly as demand for it has increased in recent weeks. And there have been widespread complaints that these ‘fast lanes’ have been equally as slow as regular ones of late, but it’s a good idea to enquire before you get to the airport. It’s also worth asking your airline about advance check-ins or priority boarding access.

Long queues at security checks and check-in counters at Hamburg
Long lines at security checks in Hamburg airport © Getty Images

Pack snacks

With passengers typically spending more time in the airport than usual to get ahead of the queues, many shops, cafes and restaurants are running low on food and drink options to meet increased demand. Passengers traveling through Dublin Airport on Monday reported that fast-food chain Burger King ran out of fries before 11am, while on Sunday some retailers sold out of pre-packaged sandwiches and meals on the afternoon. In the UK, people traveling on TUI flights have been told that they may need to bring their own food and drink onboard in the coming weeks as staffing shortages at the company’s catering supplier have meant that hot or cold meals cannot be served on short- and mid-haul flights for now.

Bring snacks that you know you can check through security screening, any drinks over 100ml will have to be purchased on the other side.

Wear comfortable clothes

Passengers in London Stansted and Manchester airports were camping on the floor on Sunday night as flights were pushed out until Monday, according to LBC. While you may not experience the same bad luck, it’s likely you’ll be spending more time in the airport this summer than you’d like. Loose fitting clothes that you can stretch your legs in and a scarf/shawl/sarong that you can roll up into a ball to rest your head on might make the wait a little more bearable.

Find out what compensation you’re entitled to if you miss your flight

When thousands of passengers missed their flights in Dublin this weekend due to mismanaged queues, the DAA told Lonely Planet that many of their airline partners offered passengers the ability to amend their bookings to the next available flight without additional charges. Those who missed their flights and incurred additional charges were directed to the airport’s customer support team to claim for vouched expenses incurred.

This isn’t something that every airline or airport will offer you so make sure you know what options are available before you fly. It’s also a good idea to take out a travel insurance policy that covers you for missed, delayed or cancelled flights.


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