Grounded! What to do at an airport if your flight is delayed by one, three, six or 12 hours | Travel

Tit was going to be a glorious summer. With Covid largely receding, it was the first year since 2019 that we were all able to pack our bags and fly to warmer climes. Obviously that didn’t happen.

Several factors play a role here. The UK’s cost of living crisis has made international travel unattainable for many; the rail strikes have made it difficult to get to the airport; A new wave of Covid has kept people from leaving their homes and – most importantly – airports themselves are an absolute nightmare.

Around 5,000 Heathrow passengers had to cancel their flights as a result. Additionally, staff shortages mean Gatwick will operate up to 50 fewer flights a day over the summer months, with EasyJet alone canceling 11,000 flights. And to make things even more interesting, British Airways check-in staff could go on strike next month. In other words, the odds of being stranded at the airport are incredibly high.

So what can you do? The sensible thing to do would be to stay at home, but if that’s not possible, here’s a handy guide to killing time at an airport.

If your flight is delayed by one hour

If you only have to wait an hour, why not head down to the soft play facilities?
Slide away… if you only have to wait an hour, why not head to the soft play facilities? Photo Credit: FamVeld/Getty//iStockphoto/Provided by Models

Normally this would be a cause for some frustration. This year, however, you get off lightly. Basically, the airport is your oyster. Just do the usual: stretch your legs with a few laps around the terminal, grab a bite to eat, or indulge in some light shopping. If you have young children, now is the time to explore the airport’s soft play options. Likewise, you could just find a seat and kill time on your phone, assuming the wifi works. Of course there is also the pub. An hour in the pub certainly can’t hurt. Either way, everything will be fine.

If your flight is delayed for three hours

With three hours of Bluey, your child will hardly notice the delay.
Screen not heard… with three hours of Bluey, your child will hardly notice the delay. Photo: jacoblund/Getty/iStockphoto/posed by models

Now is the time to think smart, because three hours is a particularly frustrating stretch of time: too long to fill it idly, but too short to take drastic action. For example, snooping around shops becomes a real agony. Additionally, unless you have ruthlessly sharp elbows, any phone charging points will be snatched up by other disgruntled passengers, meaning you risk draining your battery with unnecessary scrolling.

However, if you have children, the tablets are made for that. Find a seat wherever you can, put on your headphones, and let them stuff you with as many episodes of Bluey as you’re willing to consume. Yes, sure, screen time sucks, but this is an emergency.

This is also the period when stress management becomes a problem. You can mitigate this in a number of ways. For example, if you’re at Heathrow, you’ll find a spa in Terminal 5 where weary travelers can get massages and facials. Elsewhere, buy a book or opt for a large, leisurely meal. A three-hour pub crawl could be risky, so proceed with caution.

If your flight is delayed six hours

Lounges might not be all they are, but they keep you clean and they welcome bored kids.
Shower power…lounges may not be what they’re meant to be, but they can keep you clean and refreshed. Photo: Jan Mika/Alamy

Let’s start with the good news: a delay that long entitles you to compensation. Any delay of more than three hours entitles you to between £110 and £520 in compensation and Money Saving Expert has a free tool to help you claim this. You are also entitled to food and drinks, which are usually issued in the form of a voucher.

But that won’t solve everything. After six hours in an airport, you’ll be driving insane from equal parts stress and boredom, and your kids, if you have any, are long gone. Free pastimes are still available (all airports have prayer rooms that offer at least some rest). But if you do get compensation, it might be time to shell out a lounge. They have food and drink and often showers too and don’t shy away from children. While they are relatively expensive and not always as luxurious as they claim; Also, they usually kick you out after three hours – but you have to, and if you’re nice, they’ll probably extend your stay for free. Whatever you do, definitely don’t spend six hours in the pub.

If your flight is delayed for 12 hours

If you are 12 hours late you should swap that for your bed and try again next year.
Catch the flight…if you’re going to be 12 hours late, seriously consider trading that in for your own bed. Photo: Alex Segre/Alamy

Oh god, go home. Look at you. You’re at the seams. If your delay extends into the next day, the airline will technically provide you with accommodation. But if not, what will you do? You’ve explored every godforsaken corner of the airport. All your electronics ran out of juice six hours ago. The lounge staff can’t stand the sight of you. Your children won’t stop crying. All you will remember from this vacation is the awful time you had there. A delay of this length also qualifies you for a full refund, so cut your losses, go home and try again in a less hellish year. Alternatively, go to the pub.