How half-term holiday hell destroyed hopes of Great British summer getaway

After seemingly endless Covid travel restrictions, this year promised a summer of fun packed with long-delayed foreign holidays. 

Yet an influx of enthusiastic holidaymakers keen to ditch the staycation have instead been hit with chaos at airports, railway stations and ferry ports. In a repeat of the Easter holiday mayhem, hundreds of flights abroad have been cancelled.

Experts have warned the travel mayhem, combined with the cost-of-living crisis, could sound the death knell for the great summer getaway.

Abandoning holidays 

Consumers risk being forced to abandon well-earned overseas holidays just as they experience the biggest squeeze on finances in a generation.

Flight searches for June, July and August were up 21pc week-on-week last month, according to travel booking site Skyscanner. Meanwhile, summer bookings for holiday lets in some European countries were tracking 200pc higher than last year, according to data company AirDNA.

On Wednesday, however, British Airways and EasyJet cancelled at least 150 short-haul flights from Gatwick and Heathrow, following holiday operator Tui cancelling a quarter of its June flights – 43 journeys – from Manchester Airport. 

Travellers escaping to France for the long weekend, meanwhile, have waited in mammoth queues for the Eurostar and at Dover.  

Frustrated passengers queue for the Eurostar at St Pancras International

Credit: Eddie Mulholland

The staycation boom – brought on by travel restrictions amid the pandemic – was forecast to cool this year in favour of international destinations.

That has not materialised, however, with the current travel issues potentially forcing millions more households to rethink their plans and turn back to the coasts of Dover or Kent. UK holiday let bookings between June and August this year are more than 50pc higher than last summer, when the country was emerging from its third lockdown, according to property management platform Guesty.

Vered Raviv Schwarz, president of the company, says: “This could partly be a sign that UK travellers are looking to avoid the queues and delays at UK airports, which could last well into the summer.”

Yet soaring demand for domestic holidays has also triggered huge price jumps just as the cost-of-living crisis bites. Average summer rates for UK holiday lets this year are 8pc higher than in 2021, and a fifth higher than before the pandemic, according to Guesty. 

Raviv Schwarz says this, in turn, could make international holidays more appealing: “Inflationary pressures and higher prices may deter some UK travellers from booking domestic staycations in favour of cheaper European package holidays.”

For some, however, foreign holidays are still far too expensive.

Joe Nockels, 24, has been planning his holiday to Amsterdam since 2020, which he has already postponed twice because of the pandemic. This week, however, he says easyJet cancellations put an end to his trip. The PhD researcher was due to fly out of Edinburgh airport, but the flight was delayed twice on the day before it was cancelled half an hour before the original departure time. 

“Now I’ve just given up getting there. Everything else – ferry, Eurostar, other airlines – are just too expensive,” he says.

“I would have appreciated knowing [it was cancelled] before having to travel to the airport and instead of waiting around. There was absolutely no communication from easyJet, we were told over the tannoy we couldn’t go to the check-in desk as they didn’t have the resources to talk to us.

“I called but got no response and had to use the clunky EasyJet app to request a refund.” 

An easyJet spokesman said the flight had been cancelled at the last minute because of a technical issue, and those passengers who had not rebooked would be offered a full refund.

Airlines are locked in a blame game between themselves, airport chiefs, ministers and ground handling operators over responsibility for the fallout. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has accused travel companies of “seriously overselling flights and holidays” that they were unable to deliver.  

Airlines, meanwhile, have blamed the Government, claiming they were given only weeks to prepare for the summer season after the pandemic. 

Cost of living squeeze

While some travellers have been hit with a logistical nightmare, others were already scaling back holiday plans in response to the escalating cost-of-living crisis. 

Two in five British adults have not booked a holiday this year because of the rising cost of living, according to market researcher Appinio. It also found half were heading closer to home to manage costs.

The squeeze on finances, which has forced many to give up luxuries, will curb appetites to book future holidays. Almost three quarters said they would be unlikely to book a trip for next year if the cost of living crisis escalates further. 

“Holidays abroad may well still be on the cards for many this year, but as purse strings continue to tighten that disposable income will soon dry up,” says consumer campaigner Jane Hawkes. “It is very likely households will downscale holiday choices and this could see more ditching overseas plans to favour staycations in the UK instead.”