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Why you shouldn’t arrive too early for your flight, and more expert advice to beat airport queues

Passengers can expect long airport queues this summer, but there are ways to minimise delays
Passengers can expect long airport queues this summer, but there are ways to minimise delays   -   Copyright  Canva
By Lorna Parkes

Widespread enthusiasm for the return of unrestricted travel in Europe has been overshadowed by airport chaos in recent weeks, leaving passengers anxious and confused.

Thousands of travellers have been left to battle airport queues of up to three hours in some destinations.

In the UK, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds Bradford airports were among those caught out by staff shortages and increased traffic again this week.

Some passengers have missed flights.

Similar scenes of passenger queues overwhelming the terminal were reported at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on the weekend. And the Airports Council International (ACI) has advised it is “inevitable” that these delays will continue throughout summer.

Despite large recruitment drives at airports this spring, ACI Europe and the Airport Services Association (ASA) have warned that the "extremely tight labour market" across Europe means that airports are going to find it difficult to scale up staffing to the levels needed this year. 

In a joint statement on 6 May, the industry bodies said, "The fact that security and ground handling jobs have for many years stood at the lower end of pay scales and also involve working in shifts 7-days a week is a clear handicap in attracting people in the current inflationary environment." 

Which begs the question: what can travellers do to minimise the risk of airport delays?

When should I arrive at the airport?

On Tuesday, UK travel expert Simon Calder told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme that airport problems are being exacerbated by anxious passengers turning up hours early for their flights.

He said, "It sounds absolutely mad, but an awful lot of these queues are people who have got a flight at 10am turning up at 5am.”

This means that passengers who arrive within the timeframe specified by their airline are now being caught in queues that are swelling with travellers who have arrived too early.

Manchester Airport has launched a new customer campaign urging passengers to arrive three hours before their flights.

But in a statement last Thursday, the airport’s interim managing director Ian Costigan added, “The airport is asking passengers not to come any earlier than this because they will not be able to check-in with their airlines, which could cause unnecessary waits in the terminals.”

Most airports are confident that security queues will improve as large recruitment drives start to reduce staffing pressures over the next few months. But on 6 May a joint statement from ACI Europe and the Airport Services Association (ASA) warned that ground handling problems could persist for much longer. 

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Arrive at the airport too early and you could make queues worseCanva

What can I pack in my hand luggage for airport security?

Since passenger pile-ups began in March, airport bosses have also been pleading with passengers who may not have flown for a long time to refamiliarise themselves with security rules.

Manchester Airport in particular has been lambasted for its strict security scanning regulations.

European airport regulations state that passengers must ensure all liquids, gels and pastes in their hand luggage are under 100ml and are packaged into one clear resealable bag to go through the airport security scanners.

Pockets also need to be emptied and large electricals should be taken out of hand luggage and put into a tray.

Some airports also insist on passengers removing belts and boots, so where possible it is worth packing these in hold luggage rather than wearing them to fly.

“Rejected bags and trays can add, on average, an additional 12 minutes to a person’s security process, which when multiplied by the thousands of passengers flying through soon adds up to lengthy delays that can easily be avoided,” said Costigan.

When is the busiest time to fly from an airport?

It is a misconception that flying early is a good way to dodge the worst of the airport queues.

In fact, the biggest queues at Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds Bradford airports are being reported in the early hours, between around 4am and 7am.

A spokesperson for Yorkshire's Leeds Bradford Airport speaking to Leeds Live yesterday said that the longest security queues were being experienced during peak travel times, from 4am to 8am and 1pm to 4pm.

Typically, airports also experience increased passenger traffic between Friday and Monday. This is due to weekend leisure trips and commuting patterns.

So if you’re looking to book a flight sometime soon, travelling at lunchtime during the week could be your best bet.