Everything to remember if you’re flying away this Christmas

Welcome to Christmas at Gatwick airport’s North Terminal (Simon Calder)
Welcome to Christmas at Gatwick airport’s North Terminal (Simon Calder)

Millions of passengers will travel through UK airports over the Christmas and New Year spell: being reunited with loved ones or making great escapes to warmer or snowier destinations.

Yet the end of December is shaping up to be easily the busiest festive season since the Covid pandemic – and a series of obstacles stands between you and your destination.

These are the seven key hurdles.

Sort out your holiday money in advance

Organise the most economical way to spend abroad ahead of time. Changing money at your departure airport will deliver a dreadful rate of exchange, while using your normal bank card abroad could trigger significant charges. Read our guide to holiday money to find out how to stretch your pounds.

Research the customs rules for your destination

The Brexit decision means British travellers are subject to normal customs rules for countries outside the European Union. All products of animal origin – meat and dairy – are banned from personal luggage. This extends to items such as cakes that contain fresh cream and confectionery “made with high levels of unprocessed dairy ingredients”. Most fruit is also banned.

Other countries, including the US, Australia and New Zealand, also have strict rules on foodstuffs.

Can you reach the airport?

With all trains cancelled nationally on 25 December and very few on Boxing Day, reaching your airport by public transport could prove tricky.

Coach companies – National Express, FlixBus, Megabus and Scottish Citylink – will be running hundreds of airport services, but for many of them it is essential to book in advance. The alternative could be an astronomically expensive taxi.

The UK’s busiest airport, London Heathrow, will be disconnected by rail between 24 and 27 December inclusive. The Heathrow Express and Elizabeth Line will not be running to the airport due to engineering works for the HS2 high-speed rail line. The Piccadilly Line of the London Underground is operating normally (with no services on Christmas Day) but is likely to be very busy.

Allow for long security queues

For people hoping to breeze through airport security, Christmas and New Year comprise a perfect storm. Fellow passengers:

  • May be infrequent travellers and understandably unfamiliar with the rituals and rules on sharp objects and liquids

  • Are carrying fragile and/or non-compliant gifts, eg bottles or snow globes as gifts, slowing things down further

  • Tend to have coats, hats and scarves because it’s cold outside, adding to the quantity to be scanned

While a few UK airports have new scanners that allow liquids to be taken through security in larger quantities, the vast majority do not. If you want to buy a bottle of something, buy it in duty free; if you have connecting flights, make it the last airport before your destination.

Wrap presents after security

Checkpoint staff may need to take a look at unfamiliar items. It will not be a great start to your festive journey if you have to stand and watch someone tear apart all your careful wrapping to examine the gift.

Leave Christmas crackers out

Some airports and airlines let them fly as cabin baggage, and some do not.

One celebratory drink is enough

Sorry to nag, but please don’t drink too much before or during your flight. Signs at Gatwick and other airports warn: “It is an offence for you to get on and be on an aircraft when drunk.”

Jet2 says it “will not permit any person to enter or be in an aircraft when suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the extent that the safety of the aircraft or its occupants are likely to be endangered”. Other airlines have similar policies.