The year in travel: Simon Calder looks back at the highs (and mostly lows) of 2022

What a year it’s been in the world of travel.

Year three of the Covid era began dismally, with tough testing and quarantine rules for arrivals to the UK – imposed hurriedly late in 2021 as a hopeless attempt to stem the spread of the Omicron variant.

To demonstrate that other governments could make ludicrous decisions too, 2022 began with France continuing its near-total ban on British visitors. It successfully wiped out New Year ski trips, in the same way that Australia and New Zealand banned family visits from British travellers.

By March, the UK finally got rid of futile rules aimed at international arrivals – though the Brexit ban on European visitors with ID cards succeeded in suppressing inbound tourism for the remainder of the year.

As the brakes came off, the travel industry unravelled. Airlines and airports had been crushed more comprehensively in the UK by pointless rules than in any other major European nation. And when they opened up in the hope of cashing in on a surge of demand that lasted for the rest of the year, the wheels came off too.

Random short-notice flight cancellations have continued ever since. Those sensibly seeking to travel to Europe by sea or rail found that another Brexit consequence – the UK’s insistence on creating an EU external frontier in Kent and at London St Pancras International – caused massive delays and constrained capacity.

Holidaying at home was hampered all the way from Midsummer’s Day to the end of the year by the biggest series of rail strikes since the 1980s.

Long-haul air fares, meanwhile, soared to unprecedented levels as airlines kept a lid on available seats across the Atlantic and the Chinese ban on international travel took huge chunks of capacity out to Asia and Australasia.

Having said all that, tens of millions of us found passion for travel rekindled as Covid restrictions eased around the world. As 2022 draws to a close, let’s hope that the New Year brings more freedom and more joy. Meanwhile, here is a look back at the biggest story each month – with an apology for any flashback anxiety it brings on.

January

Taxpayers spent £500,000 so that the-then foreign secretary, Liz Truss, didn’t have to fly to, from and within Australia on Qantas. Instead, she and a handful of officials travelled 22,000 miles by private government Airbus A321, creating almost 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

As The Independent revealed, scheduled flights that matched her timetable perfectly were available at a fraction of the financial and environmental cost.

February

Australia (well, most of it), finally opened up to overseas visitors after two years of Covid closure and some pretty dismal hotel quarantine arrangements for those allowed to enter. Air-traffic controllers arranged for a Qantas flight from Los Angeles to be the first to touch down in Sydney after the ban was lifted – and a promotional film claimed it was “full of tourists”. But the Opera House area and the rest of the city was entirely absent of international visitors – and a New South Wales rail strike made moving around difficult.

At home, Storm Dudley and Storm Eunice caused delays and cancellations for travellers by road, rail and sea – and made a star out of Big Jet TV’s Jerry Dyer, whose colourful commentary accompanied live pictures of piles attempting to land at Heathrow airport in high crosswinds.

March

The lifting of international travel restrictions for arrivals to the UK was overshadowed on 17 March by the extraordinary behaviour of P&O Ferries in sacking around 800 crew and replacing them with lower-paid agency staff.

The company told staff: “We’re expecting all our ports to experience serious disruption today so please bear with us and we will give further information in an all-colleague announcement later today.

“If you’re in a customer-facing role further information with follow separately on how we would like you to work with our customers. Thank you for your patience and support.”

April

On 17 April, public transport chaos scuppered many journeys to London’s airports. “Aiming for the big four London airports on public transport today?

“Heathrow: Tube closed, use TfL rail instead. Gatwick: Victoria closed, Thameslink a shambles.

“Stansted: Express not running, take the bus. Luton: Forget Thameslink from St Pancras.”

And there wasn’t even a strike on.

May

With airlines and airports shockingly short of staff, extreme cancellations began at Manchester and Gatwick airports, with Tui and easyJet axing hundreds of half-term flights.

“All affected passengers are due £220, or for flights above 1,500km, £350 in cash compensation,” The Independent reminded travellers.

June

As airline and airport bosses pinned the blame for staff shortage on Brexit, the-then aviation minister, Robert Courts, insisted it was “not likely” that leaving the EU played a part in the chronic staff shortages afflicting aviation.

But easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “Pre-pandemic we would have turned down 2-2.5 per cent [of workers] because of nationality issues. Now it’s 35-40 per cent.”

At home, the first national rail strikes since the 1980s begin.

July

“The rift that keeps on taking,” as financial expert Paul Lewis calls Brexit, triggered massive queues at Dover and Folkestone at the start of the main holiday season.

The British demand that French officials must stamp every UK passport on the way out of Kent was the root cause – along with a serious road accident and delays in frontier police travelling over from France.

Why Brexit made Dover gridlock inevitable,” was The Independent headline.

August

Brexit fall-out continued to dominate travel headlines, with Eurostar announcing it had been forced to end its decades-long link from London St Pancras International to Disneyland Paris due to the UK asking to become subject to the EU’s Entry Exit System.

The cross-Channel rail firm also confirmed it will not open its stations in Kent until 2025 at the earliest for the same reason.

The government responded with a spurious comment saying the new system “will help to protect and strengthen the security of our borders”.

September

By the ninth month of the year, sterling had lost 25 per cent of its value against the US dollar – pushing up the cost of everything from a coffee in Times Square to a tonne of aviation fuel.

Among the poundstretching advice offered by The Independent: avoid “Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC)”.

“When the waiter asks, innocently, ‘Would you like to pay in sterling?,’ he is hoping that you will choose pounds, thereby boosting the restaurant’s profits.

“The merchant and a bank give you a terrible rate of exchange and split the profit – typically a margin of 5 to 6 per cent – between them.”

October

Remember Covid travel restrictions? Spain finally got rid of its “jab or test” insistence on 21 October – just in time to infuriate families who had spent a fortune on tests ahead of their half-term holidays.

Outside Europe, travel into a number of countries remained difficult without proof of vaccination – notably the US, which still was not allowing in tourists who had not been double-jabbed.

November

More Brexit misery: European nations warned that new fingerprint and face checks on arriving in the EU could take “up to four times longer” than the present system – with the processing time increased by up to two minutes per person.

The UK helped develop the Entry Exit System while part of the European Union – then, with the Brexit withdrawal treaty, asked to become subject to the new system. An EU document revealed how much longer the tougher border checks could take.

December

Omnishambles: that sums up the travel chaos in the final days of 2022. On Christmas Eve, Network Rail at Euston station in London warned passengers not to attempt to travel by train until 9 January 2023.

All 43 Eurostar departures on Boxing Day were cancelled by the latest RMT strike, wrecking the plans of more than 20,000 travellers.

When national services resumed on Tuesday morning, 27 December, overrunning engineering work caused massive delays and cancellations from Exeter to Edinburgh.

We can only hold out hope that 2023 will prove a brighter year for travellers…

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