Beat the airport queues this summer
Ten tips to skip the airport queues, both home and abroad, as you set off on your summer break
Before you book your trip
Step 1: Pick a hassle-free destination
It matters a lot where you're going, because airport delays aren't just here, they're worldwide. If you go to (most of) Europe, you'll be going through the 'other countries' passport queues, and that's going to hold you up at both ends of the trip. If you go somewhere with airport or rail strikes, that could spoil your trip. And if you go somewhere experiencing extreme weather events or even a volcanic eruption, that could hold you up too.
So where's truly hassle-free? Most places are pretty easy to get in and out of now, but if you want our top three picks we'd go to Türkiye, Portugal or Albania this summer. Albania is outside the EU but the Adriatic Riviera offers spectacular, affordable beaches. Portugal, even though it's in the EU, is happy to let Brits use the electronic passport gates at Lisbon, Faro, Punto and Funchal airports, so if you go to Portugal (with an ePassport) you won't be stuck in the 'other countries' queue. And Türkiye is a bit further away but also outside the EU, not planning any strikes, very cheap after an extensive currency crisis and a great pick for a hassle-free break.
Step 2: Pick the best date and time
Fly when it's less busy. Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be quieter, and most of the queues seem to be in the mornings so if you can fly mid-week and mid-afternoon it's likely to be quieter. Of course not everyone can fly whenever they want – school holidays fall when they do and you may need to make full use of your leave Saturday to Saturday. But if you have the option, don't just default to flying first thing on a Saturday when everyone else is and the queues seem to be worst.
Google has a handy tracker for many of the airports that shows how busy they normally are every hour of every day. You can check before you book that you're not heading into rush-hour.
And picking the right time to fly is doubly important if you're going somewhere with queues at the other end – Spain seems to have queues during high season, so don't fly in or out of Spain on a Saturday if you can avoid it.
Step 3: Pick your flights
You might just want the cheapest tickets, in which case your choice is going to be straightforward. But if you want to minimise the chances of getting stuck in a queue, there are two things you can do.
One is pick your airport. Check out the news, see which airports are experiencing the worst queues, and if you live somewhere that has multiple options, pick accordingly. Strikes have been called off at Heathrow and Manchester this summer, but at Birmingham they're still going ahead so you may prefer to choose accordingly.
The second thing you can do is pick the right airline. Some will let you jump the queues for a fee or for having bought more expensive tickets. Some have much more generous hand-luggage allowances as well, so if you think you can make the trip with just a cabin bag, see which airline will make that easy. BA lets you carry 23kg as hand-luggage, Ryanair will let you carry two bags as hand luggage for between €6 and €32.
Before you head to the airport
Step 4: Check your flight isn't cancelled
Check your flight is going ahead. Your airport or airline website will have up-to-date information, and there's no point setting off in a rush if the flight's been cancelled.
Step 5: Check in online
Check in online before you go, and have your boarding passes ready on a phone or printed out.
Step 6: Take hand luggage if you can
Don't check bags if you don't have to. Lots of airport delays are people waiting for baggage or arguing with staff whether their bag is just over or just under the size limit, so skip that whole palaver and take a rucksack instead.
Step 7: Don't forget your...
Don't forget your passport, visas, driving licence, money… Actually, if you haven't flown since 2019, and you can't remember how you used to do it let alone what's changed in the last few years, you might be better off with a checklist. We've got a handy one below that you can use.
The ultimate holiday checklist
If you've not been in the air for a few years, it's easy to forget somethingDon't forget your...
At the airport
Step 8: Don't turn up too early
Check how long your airport and airline recommends. It's on their website and normally updated on their social media if it changes. Most airline desks don't open until three hours before departures, so there's no point getting there sooner than that. If you do, you'll just be part of the problem as the airport fills up with people waiting around with nothing to do until their check-in desk opens.
Consider downloading the Waze app to help you pick the best route to the airport. If you're driving to the airport, this free navigation app shows real-time road conditions and helps you find the ideal routes to avoid traffic or unexpected hazards along the way.
Step 9: Treat yourself to a lie-in
Save yourself a lot of hassle and queuing by driving to the airport the night before, parking up and sleeping at an airport hotel. Roll out of bed in time for your flight, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, check what the queues look like and go through check-in whenever it looks like it's about to start filling up.
Then on the other side you might want to treat yourself to an airport lounge. Our research shows that most people spend more on snacks, drinks, wifi and shopping while they hang around for a flight than a lounge would have cost them. And once you're in the peace and quiet of your lounge, the food and drink is free.
Step 10: Remember to tell everybody else
Make sure you tell your whole party! If you have everything ready and your liquids in a see-through bag but your kids have buried their iPads at the bottom of the suitcase, you're all getting held up while they dig them out again. So make sure everyone you're travelling with knows what they need to do.
What to do if things go wrong
If your flight is delayed or cancelled, you may be entitled to compensation and various other remedies. If you get stuck at the airport, within certain conditions you're entitled to food and drink. If you're stuck overnight you're entitled to a hotel. If the delay is substantial you're often entitled to compensation and/or a refund.
The best guide to your rights if your flight is delayed is the one at Money Saving Expert.
Prepare for a hassle-free summer
Strikes, queues, delays in Europe, even volcanoes - we keep up with the latest problems so you don't have to.Find out more...