It’s been two years and five months since I was last able to book a trip, pack my bags, and set off for the airport feeling excited. That trip was to Mexico, in January 2020 – a reasonably planning-heavy affair with a 10-hour flight, several stops and internal connections. Yet, although there has always been a possibility your flight could be cancelled, back then it felt like a slim chance, hardly worth contemplating. Instead, I flung summer dresses, sandals and a big old sun hat into my suitcase, and made my way to the airport with only excitement on my mind.
Flash forward to my most recent trip, to New York in early June. We had booked flights from generally well-performing Heathrow, but kept a close watch on our inboxes for the dreaded “Your flight has been cancelled” email – the one that (despite the statistics) seemed more of a certainty than a rarity during those first days of June. The days ticked down until the flight date, each morning laced with the possibility of a cancellation notice.
At that point we still had to take an antigen test on the day before a flight to the US, so I couldn’t even get half-excited until my Randox confirmation – also known as “£40 out of my cocktail budget” – pinged into view at 5pm the night before. Even then I woke at the crack of dawn and dashed to the airport hours earlier than I usually would have, picturing hundreds of harried, bickering holidaymakers battling to get through security queues trailing out of the terminal door. Excitement, to be frank, was low on the list.
Summer 2022 may be the dawn of many long-closed travel destinations reopening to us Brits – but it’s mainly the summer of travel anxiety or, as we at The Independent have dubbed it, “travxiety”. If your airport isn’t one of the many that have been plagued by hours-long queues and missed flights, it’s probably one of the ones where flights have been cancelled last-minute. You’ll probably have a small meltdown over whether to bring a checked bag, as some airlines and industry folk have warned people not to, or try to cram in as much as possible to a carry-on just in case your hold luggage ends up elsewhere.
And that’s if you’re generally ready to go, passport in hand. Many British travellers who applied for their passports in the first half of 2022 found themselves waiting weeks longer than usual for their renewed documents – an issue that became so pressing that the government lengthened its recommended waiting time for a new passport to 10 weeks, and had heated debates about the delays in the Commons.
If you have got hold of your passport in time to fly, congratulations – just queues, cancellations and delays to worry about. Even if everything goes smoothly at the UK end, don’t think you can relax over that first G&T at 3,500 feet, either – you might land at a Spanish airport to find hours-long passport control queues (hello Brexit my old friend) or have your onward flight cancelled from the Netherlands’ beleaguered Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. So just queues, cancellations, delays and arrival issues, then.
Oh, and strikes. Following this month’s industrial action across the UK’s railways, members of easyJet and Ryanair’s Spanish staff, and British Airways’ Heathrow ground staff, have voted with their unions to walk out on various days over the next month. Even without strikes, airlines have been limping through unmanageable staff shortages, causing flights to be cancelled due to a lack of crew or being unable to offer catering onboard. Yet more absences do not bode well for the calm and pleasure of a trip abroad.
Losing your luggage also feels like more of a looming threat this season. Following weeks in spring where abandoned cases piled up at Manchester Airport, earlier this week Heathrow was asking airlines to slash their schedules by 10 per cent as a “sea of bags” appeared in a chaotic backlog of lost pants, souvenirs and medicines. Tired returnees waited three hours for their belongings as staff struggled to sort out the mayhem.
In a way, every trip taken in travxiety summer feels like it has two possible, parallel timelines ahead. In the first, the queues move smoothly, you get on the flight, it takes off on time and your luggage makes it with you. But it’s hard to stop picturing the second, where you’re still in the check-in queue five minutes before your flight begins boarding, you get in a slanging match with stressed-out passengers in the never-ending security queue, leg it to the gate and board your plane only to have your flight cancelled just as you settle into seat 17K. (You might laugh, but some of the reader stories we’ve heard on The Independent’s travel desk lately make this journey look like a picnic.)
Airlines and travel companies have pleaded for patience as the industry attempts to scale up from practically no travel to a stampede on the UK’s airports, but it’s tough to take when you booked your flight back in February, paid the money, booked the ground arrangements and have done everything right on your end. “They knew we were coming!” is the exasperated war cry of many loitering for hours in a snail-trail security queue.
The cruel thing is, many of us are gasping for a good holiday. Most people I know have pushed aside thoughts of mega-adventures and hopping between bucket-list sights in favour of a simpler formula: somewhere sunny they know and love, a swanky hotel, a pool and a giant bucket of something involving ice and rum. Relaxation is top of the agenda. But with so much going wrong, from airports to airlines, trains and passports, there’s seemingly no “chaos-free” package option – short of perhaps hoping for good weather somewhere a 20-minute drive down the road.
Travellers have saved up and waited out lockdowns and vaccine rules, and done their bit during a universally tough time. They deserve a holiday that doesn’t feel like a relentless obstacle course pocked with potholes of stress and misery. Let’s hope that, by the end of summer, the travel process has been whipped into shape and full-tilt “travxiety” is just a grim memory.