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

Jhis summer was supposed to be glorious. With Covid largely waning, this would be the first year since 2019 where we could all pack our bags and fly to warmer climes. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

There are several factors at play here. The UK’s cost of living crisis has put overseas travel out of reach for many; rail strikes have made access to the airport more difficult; a new wave of Covid has kept people from leaving their homes and – more importantly – the airports themselves are an absolute nightmare.

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

So what can you do? The most sensible thing would be to stay at home, but failing that, here’s a handy guide to killing time at an airport.

If your flight is delayed by one hour

if it's only an hour wait why not head over to the soft play facilities
Get away…if you only have an hour to wait, why not head to the soft play facilities? Photography: FamVeld/Getty//iStockphoto/Posed by Models

Usually this would be a cause for frustration. This year, however, you’re getting away with it slightly. Basically, the airport is your oyster. Business as usual: you can stretch your legs with a few laps around the terminal, grab a bite to eat, or do some light shopping. If you have young children, now is the time to explore all the soft play options the airport has to offer. Likewise, you can just find a seat and kill time on your phone, provided the wifi is working. Of course, there is also the pub. An hour at the pub probably won’t hurt. Either way, everything will be fine.

If your flight is delayed by three hours

with three hours of Bluey, your child will barely notice the delay.
Unheard screen…with three hours of Bluey, your child will barely notice the delay. Photography: jacoblund/Getty/iStockphoto/posed by models

Now is the time to start thinking smart, because three hours is a particularly frustrating amount of time: too long to fill in unnecessarily but too short to start taking drastic action. For example, this is when snooping around in stores will truly become torture. Plus, unless you’re ruthlessly sharp, all of the phone’s charging spots will have been grabbed by other disgruntled passengers, meaning you run the risk of draining your battery with non-essential scrolling.

However, if you have kids, that’s exactly what their tablets were made for. Find a seat where you can, put on their headphones, and let them binge on as many episodes of Bluey as they’re ready to consume. Yeah, sure, screen time is bad, but it’s an emergency.

It’s also the length of time that stress management starts to become a problem. You can mitigate this in several ways. If you’re at Heathrow, for example, you’ll find a spa in Terminal 5, where weary travelers can get massages and facials. Everywhere else, buy a book or opt for a hearty, leisurely meal. A three-hour pub visit can be risky, so be careful.

If your flight is delayed six hours

the lounges might not be all they're supposed to be, but you can keep it clean and they accommodate bored kids.
The power of the shower… living rooms may not be all they’re made out to be, but you can stay clean and refreshed. Photograph: Jan Mika/Alamy

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

But that’s not going to solve everything. After six hours in an airport, you’ll be mad with equal parts stress and boredom, and your kids, if you have any, will long have gone wild. Free time options are always available (all airports have prayer rooms, which provide at least some tranquility). But if you have compensation coming up, it might be time to consider shelling out for a salon. These will have food and drink, and often showers, and they will not flinch at the sight of children. Admittedly, they are relatively expensive, and not always as luxurious as they claim; also, they usually kick you out after three – but needs 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 by 12 hours

if you are 12 hours late, consider swapping it for your bed and try again next year.
Fly away…if you’re 12 hours late, seriously consider swapping it out for your own bed. Photograph: Alex Segre/Alamy

Oh my God, go home. Look at you. You collapse at the seams. Technically, if your delay extends into the next day, the airline will provide you with accommodation. But if not, what are you going to do? You have explored every hidden corner of the airport. All your electrical appliances broke down six hours ago. The salon staff can’t stand to see you. Your children can’t stop crying. All you will remember from this vacation is the terrible time you had to get there. A delay of this length also entitles you to a full refund, so cut your losses, go home and try again in a less hellish year. Otherwise, go to the pub.

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