Heathrow Airport Busy Times: How big are the queues today?

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Since March, Manchester Airport has regularly been in the news due to excessive queues and general chaos due to poor management and a shortage of staff, both for the airport itself and airlines.

No one is accepting responsibility for the problems; airlines blame airports and the government, airports blame the government, and many politicians have blamed airports and airlines.

Getting new staff in is proving to be difficult, many people have realised that low wages with irregular unsociable hours are not all that appealing. The people that do apply then have to wait months for security clearance and quite frequently find employment elsewhere during this time.

It seems like a problem that is going to extend many more months than these companies have suggested.

As summer approaches, the problems have gotten worse, and the combination of half term and the extended Jubilee bank holiday has brought things to a boiling point.

Media Scaremongering

I'll admit I am likely fueling the scaremongering. I originally wrote my Manchester Airport queue times post due to my own anxiety about flying to Porto from Manchester.

Due to all the bad press, I had hoped I could identify the likelihood that the airport would be excessively busy when I got there. Unfortunately, nothing I did offered much groundbreaking insight into the best ways to work out how busy it was or will be.

However, the media is adding fuel to the fire, and you should at least consider this when panicking about your flight. I got through security in 5 minutes at the start of May, my partner flew from T3 in Manchester at mid-day yesterday and said that check-in and security were about 80 minutes maximum.

It was the terminal itself that was insanely busy.

Half term and Jubilee Flight Cancellations

The biggest concern in recent days is a large number of flight cancellations. TUI has been particularly bad for it, not only cancelling a lot of flights but giving short notice.

TUI has already announced it will be cancelling six flights a day until the end of June.

EasyJet has cancelled over 200 flights over the coming weeks, with a large number including Gatwick Airport. It proactively cancelled 240 flights in the 10 days up to June 6, so that passengers were given advance warning.

On Wednesday, this issue was the biggest problem at Gatwick Airport, rather than check-in and security.

This is supposed to be the busiest week since before the pandemic, yet, it has been reported that airlines have 30,000 fewer staff and that doesn't include staff employed by the airports.

If your flight is cancelled last minute, you are due an alternative or a full refund. Plus, if it's less than 14 days before departure, you could be owed additional compensation.

The minimum compensation for a flight is £125, and that's if it is a short-haul flight where you have rebooked and the new flight lands two hours later than you originally were supposed to land. The compensation can go up to £600 for long haul flights with longer delays.

Under Staffed Luggage Check-In

If your flight isn't cancelled, the big issue seems to be that airlines have limited staff for luggage check-in. With this normally opening 3 hours before the flight, it can mean that some travellers are queueing for an hour plus for check-in then having to get through security, leading to missed flights.

Many travellers have seen no compassion from airlines or the staff, with people reporting that they are told they should have got there sooner, even though this would have been impossible.

No compensation and likely rebooking fees

If you miss your flight due to queues, it is typically classed as your fault (or at least the airport, not the airlines' fault). The airline there isn't liable to pay compensation or refund.

If you can prove you were in the airport at least two hours before the scheduled departure time, you will be entitled to rebook the flight. British Airways and Virgin have been reported to do this free of charge. Affordable airlines such as EasyJet and Ryanair will charge a fee. In the case of Ryanair, this is £100 per person.

This also assumes you can find a flight with available seats for the day you want to fly out.

London Heathrow Airport

London Heathrow is the UK's busiest airport, but there have not been as many reports of problems with queues.

A spokesperson for London's Heathrow airport said there were queues but that the airport was flowing.

Google Live & Popular Times – Not that bad at Heathrow

Heathrow Airport at 6 am on the 2nd of June 2022

I originally wrote about airport queue times as I thought it might be possible to use Google live data and its historical popular times to predict how bad it was going to be.

Unfortunately, this wasn't that useful as the historical data doesn't correlate very well with the current issues. The live data normally just tells you it is busier than normal, which was already obvious.

However, in the case of Heathrow Airport, as I write this, the live data appears to indicate it is not too busy. Though the historical trend indicates, it is not until 7am that it reaches peak businesses.

In comparison, Birmingham and Manchester airports, it is already reported that it is busier than usual.

Manchester Airport at 6 am on the 2nd of June 2022

Twitter is not reporting long queues

While I have grown to hate social media in recent years, you can still rely on it for live information from furious customers.

At the moment, if you search for Heathrow Airport and then filter by the latest Tweets there are not many angry Tweeters.

There appears to be no one complaining about check-in or security queues. However, there were some angry tweets about the airport not unloading baggage from incoming planes.

Some travellers were also reporting that there are large queues getting through customs as you return to Heathrow.

Gatwick airport estimated security waiting times

One of the few things Manchester airport has done right recently is implementing a basic system of reporting estimated security waiting times.

At 5 am, Manchester is porting 60 minutes security queue times for all terminals, which is the busiest I have seen it, yet Google live data only says it is business than normal.

Sadly, it doesn't look like any other airport has implemented this system, including Heathrow.

Overall Advice

For the Jubilee week, my best advice would be to assume the absolute worst-case scenario.

In the case of Heathrow Airport, the biggest issue currently appears to be flight cancellations, which you can't do much about.

It appears airlines are woefully understaffed, so I would try and avoid checking in luggage if at all possible. We paid for checked luggage to Porto, then decided to use hand luggage and accepted that we wasted money paying for checked.

Twitter is your best bet for live reporting. News websites (including my own) will always lag behind what actual travellers are experiencing.

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