We like to think of Christmas as a time of year when the world exists inside a bubble of carefree happiness and light-hearted fun, but when it comes to travelling over the festive period it is highly likely you’ll be facing a world of disorder and confusion. To stop you from having one of those ‘Kevin!’ moments (you know the film we’re talking about!) we’ve put together a Christmas Travel Guide, just for you.

In the past travel disruptions over Christmas have been known to cause chaos for people looking to travel over the holidays – and there is nothing to say this year will be any different. With a number of strikes already set to go ahead (South Western Railways, we’re looking at you!), here is everything you need to know.

Disruptions to Rail Services this Christmas

South Western Strikes 2019

It’s strikes galore on the rails this year starting with South Western Railway (SWR) who are currently staging a 27-day walk-out which started on 2nd December and isn’t due to finish until the New Year. Communication between the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and South Western Railway (SWR) broke down over a dispute in regards to the position of guards. The strike has already caused disruption and we are certain it’ll continue to have a significant impact on travellers who are due to travel throughout the rest of December. Services between London Waterloo and Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth and Weymouth as well as Reading, Exeter and Bristol are likely to be affected. Operations from suburban commuter lines in south-west London, Surrey, Berkshire, and north-east Hampshire will also be affected.

London Northwestern Strikes 2019

London Northwestern Railway (LNR) is expecting disruption as Members of the RMT Union have announced they plan to walk out on every Saturday throughout December. The industrial action means fewer trains will be running and LNR has announced that there will be ‘significant disruptions and cancellations.’ A number of strikes have already taken place throughout November and December, and further strikes are expected on the following dates:

  • Saturday 21st December 2019
  • Saturday 28th December 2019

If you are travelling on either of these dates be sure to check service times on the London Northwestern Railway website as there will be a revised timetable in place.

West Midlands Railway Strikes 2019

West Midlands Railway’s will also be affected by the industrial action this Christmas. The rail company has announced that they will be providing a very ‘basic’ service. The current timetable has been revised with strikes expected to take place on the 21st and 28th December 2019.

London Underground Strikes 2019

Members of the RMT Union staged a strike on the 27th November due to a dispute with London Underground over “broken promises”. Staff working on London’s Victoria Line walked out for 24-hours and there are talks of further strikes taking place in December if the dispute is not resolved. Strikes involving the London Underground services, regardless of the station affected, are likely to cause severe travel disruption, and passengers are generally advised to allow for delays or find alternative routes.

Euro-star delays and cancellations this December

National strikes in Paris are causing severe delays for passengers planning trips over the festive period. During the second week in December Eurostar cancelled over 78 services, disrupting more than 50,000 passengers. It is not yet known how long the strike action in France will continue for. However, we do know that the majority of cancellations will affect services to and from Paris. There will also be some disruption on services to Brussels and Amsterdam. The national train operator, SNCF is encouraging customers to ‘privilege other modes of travel’.

Transport for London Travel Update for December

Transport for London (TFL) has updated their website in regards to service changes as the festive season approaches and services get busier. There are planned closures on Tube, TfL Rail and DLR routes over the Christmas period. You can check the latest travel updates by visiting TfL.

Am I entitled to compensation if my train is delayed or cancelled this Christmas?

If your train has been affected by strike action you will need to contact the rail company to discuss your options for refunds, re-booking or compensation. Eligibility and terms will differ between companies. Most rail companies will update their website with relevant strike action information, so be sure to check this before travelling to the station.

If you can no longer reach your holiday destination due to rail strikes, you may be able to submit a claim for cancellation under your travel insurance policy. This is providing the policy offers cover for industrial action and the strike was not announced before you brought your travel insurance policy. Those who have booked through a travel agent or tour operator will need to speak to the company directly, as they have a duty of care to re-book your travel or refund the holiday.

Though compensation may not be available from the rail company, most travel insurance companies will offer to pay a small amount of compensation if your departure is delayed. Amounts and time frames will differ between policies so you will need to check your travel insurance policy wording or speak to your travel insurance company directly. Read more on departure delay.

Travelling by air over Christmas

Airports are notoriously busy during the Christmas period with people jetting off on holiday or visiting family, so it’s always best to be prepared for unexpected delays or cancellations. Here’s our top tips for tackling the airport chaos this Christmas:

  1. Arrive in plenty of time

Over the Christmas period arriving at the airport a little earlier than needed can make all the difference. With the sheer volume of people travelling over Christmas, queues are likely to be longer and the airport in general will be busier which will make it a lot harder for you to dash to your gate if you happen to be running a bit behind schedule. You are advised to get to the airport at least two hours before your flight is scheduled to leave (this will depend on whether you are flying short or long haul).

  1. Coping with strike action

Airport strikes and cancellations are bound to leave you in a tailspin of anger and frustration this Christmas and the best way to prepare yourself is by knowing how they are going to affect you and what you can do about it.

If your flight is affected by strike action it is the airlines responsibility to re-book you onto another flight; if there is not a flight available you have the option to fly with an alternative airline – at no additional expense to you. In some cases, refreshments and overnight accommodation may be offered, but it is unlikely those affected will receive compensation for the delay. Having said that,  if you have a travel insurance policy that covers departure delay you may be entitled to claim a small amount of compensation, but this will depend on the length of the delay and eligibility criteria stated on  your policy.

  1. Traffic Delays

Depending on where you live, you may have to contend with the dreaded motorway traffic on your way to the airport.  If you do encounter issues on your way to the airport, and miss your flight as a result, you may not be covered by your travel insurance.

Most travel insurance policies will cover the cost of an alternative flight if you are involved in an accident, the car you are travelling in breaks down or your pre-booked public transport is affected by unannounced strike action. However, very few will cover you if you are stuck in traffic due to an accident or adverse weather. Those that do offer this cover will state that you must have left enough time to allow for delays – and the accident or incident did not occur before you left home.

  1. Bad weather conditions

Flights are often cancelled or delayed with very little warning due to adverse weather. If your flight is affected, the airline will either offer you a refund of any unused tickets or arrange for you to travel on the next available flight. Compensation, however, will not be offered by the airline, but may be available under your travel insurance. Read more on departure delay.

If you are not offered an alternative flight or a refund within 24 hours you may be covered by your travel insurance policy to cancel your holiday. Read more on trip disruption.

The best days to travel over the Christmas period

Now-a-days hardly anyone lives around the corner from their loved ones, with some families even living in separate countries. This means that travel during the Christmas season can get very busy as everyone flies out for their annual festive get-togethers. To help you dodge the crowds, here’s the days you should avoid.

Rule no.1- Avoid travelling during peak times as this is when delays and cancellations are more likely to happen. December 26th – 28th are among the worst days to travel, with over 34% of flight delays happening over these days, followed closely by December 23rd

Rule no.2 – Book your tickets in advance – with such high demand, tickets at this time of year are bound to cost a little extra, but if you book your tickets a few months in advance you could end up saving quite a bit.

The cheaper flights will be available on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself, if you are willing to travel on these dates.

Travel Disasters

Let’s take a look back at the travel disasters that have affected Christmas travel over the past few years…

2015- Christmas rail chaos- engineering work by Network rail over ran into Christmas affecting over 115,000 passengers in King’s Cross and Paddington, leaving commuters confused and frustrated. Although it’s the season to be jolly, Christmas cheer has its limits so, keep on top off your travel by keeping up-to-date with what’s going on around you.

2016- Severe weather conditions- in 2016 a thick fog spread across the UK and caused chaos and hundreds of flights were cancelled. Heathrow and Gatwick airport were amongst those affected – the fog was responsible for hundred of delays and cancellations.

2017-Train cancellations for repairs- hundreds of trains were cancelled – this meant that travellers were forced to use replacement bus services or face the inconvenience of driving themselves.

2018- Gatwick drone disaster– this event caused major disruptions for thousands of travellers across the Christmas period with over 10,000 passengers affected by delays and cancellations. The disaster ruined Christmas for over 350,000 people – see what we mean? Stay prepared.

2019- Railway strikes- Finally! The year we are in is not without complications either with several rail strikes set to cause disruptions but, after reading this guide, you’ll be an expert on what to do if you face rail travel disruptions this Christmas – you better watch out!