The Three Hour Rule

Howdy folks. Matty and I are sitting on five days till we fly. With this in mind we’ve been considering how we get to the airport for J-Day. Today’s top tip is mainly aimed at the IST, as I think most, if not all, units are laying on coaches etc. to get to the airport, whereas most, if not all, of the IST are having to make their own way there.

The important consideration here is aiming to get to the airport “at least three hours before the flight departs”. This is in quotation marks because it’s a direct lift from the insurance policy document from Unity (underwritten by Allianz).

I’ll be the first to admit that this seems excessive. When I’m flying for work we aim for about 1-2 hours to clear security, pick up a drink and walk onto the plane, we tend to go for an earlier arrival if we’re having breakfast or lunch at the airport before we fly. My sister ridicules my dad for wanting to be at the airport two hours before the flight quite frequently and has been known to pretty much walk through security and straight onto the plane (though this is absolutely not encouraged).

The Three Hour Rule does seem a bit excessive when you consider this, but there’s a really good reason behind it.

When I fly for work, nine times out of ten we fly from Glasgow International Airport, conveniently located not in Glasgow but Paisley/Renfrew. It’s 36 minutes to drive from my front door to the airport long stay carpark – guess how frequently I travel…

I flew from Glasgow to Reykjavik for the Moot in Iceland. I wasn’t paying to keep my car at the long stay, it cost me (sorry, cost work) £56 for two days a couple of weeks ago. So, my mother kindly volunteered to run me to the airport. She doesn’t like the fastest route so we took an alternate which should have taken around an hour.

My flight was 1500, so we set off at 1100, an hour to get to the airport and 3 hours in Weatherspoons…

Except that hours journey took nearly three.

There had been a fairly serious accident on the way and the road was blocked, just beyond the Junction with the airport. If I remember correctly, there were six fire engines, four ambulances, the Special Operations Response Team, the Air Ambulance and nearly a dozen police cars. Everyone from Traffic to the BTP had rolled up on this one.

This is a stock image and doesn’t reflect the accident I saw two years ago

We ended up parked with the handbrake on and engine off with nowhere to go for nearly two hours. It was frustrating, especially as I could see the airport perimeter fence from the car, but I understood the delay, it was a serious accident to have that level of response from the Emergency Services. I never found out if the accident had been a fatal, but it sadly wouldn’t surprise me if it had been.

Fortunately I made the flight, with the help of a couple of Police officers who helped me to the front of the queue, but barely in time to grab a sandwich and a drink for the plane.

Similarly, on the way down south to do my Explorer Belt back in 2014, the whole of the West Coast Mainline was held up between Carlisle and Lancaster by a person on a bridge. I was picking up the train from Oxenholme coming from Red Rose with my then Scout Troop. I was at the station with plenty of time, as I was to meet a specific train with a couple of friends on, and all the trains were delayed. Nothing ran through the station for nearly four hours and there was a total news blackout.

I, fortunately, made friends with the Station Manager and she let me into her office to charge my phone, cook a pot noodle in her microwave and have a natter. I had been travelling in uniform, Shirt and kilt, and so I think she took pity on me.

Because of the way the railway is signalled (don’t get me started here, I find it fascinating and can talk for hours about absolute block signalling…) it meant that all the disruption in t’North was causing knock on effects all up and down the country and the end result was that we were nearly 8 hours late into London Euston.

Lyndsey has a similar story about travelling to Heathrow for one of the Jamborees/Moots. Someone on a bridge delayed her train from Liverpool leading to a significant delay into London, which meant a significant delay in getting to the airport.

Fortunately, in both the cases here we had been travelling the day before, giving us plenty of buffer time for things going wrong. All it meant was that we were late to the hotels rather than missing our flights.

Similarly, Matty and I are flying from Manchester Airport on Saturday (eeeeep!) That’s about 250 miles away from me, so I’m starting my journey on Friday.

A colleague of mine was heading for Portsmouth around about this time last year to catch a ferry to the continent. We had been joking through the week running up to this that he would miss his ferry because of traffic and he should set off at midnight to miss it.

Little did we know, as we came into work the next morning, that a HGV had struck a bridge on his route. The M6 was closed whilst they recovered the lorry and sorted a temporary bridge repair (that’s still there today!)

My flight departs at about 1330 on Saturday. With the 3 hour rule and an average journey time of approximately 5 hours (4 to Matty’s and an hour to the airport), I could leave my house at 0500 on Saturday, but this doesn’t give me a huge buffer. If there’s an accident or something happens to the car, it doesn’t leave me much room for error. I’d much rather be stuck in traffic on Friday, knowing I have 20 hours before my flight leaves than fretting about missing my flight on Saturday morning.

So, to bring this to a close, what Top Tips do I have. Well…

The Three Hour Rule is there for a reason. I understand how boring airport departure lounges can be if you’re travelling by yourself, but it’s better bored than missing your flight.

Travel in Uniform! Especially independent travellers. I’ve found that folk make special exceptions for those travelling in Uniform, especially if you mention the Jamboree, 45,000 people attending etc. As I’ve said, two Cops saw me fretting in 2017 and took it upon themselves to get my baggage dropped off and give me a special escort through security (which was a little surreal and potentially looked like some sort of prisoner exchange…)

Likewise, back in 2014, I’m fairly sure that Virgin Trains Station Manager took pity on me because I was in uniform. To a lot of people, it’s a very familiar sight and they’ll go that little extra mile to help you. It’s also a good talking point. It’s not the first time I’ve been stopped and someone’s asked me if I’m a Scout Leader and where I’m going.

I once met a gentleman who had been to the 1957 Jamboree in the Departure Lounge in Edinburgh Airport. We had a fantastic chat for an hour about his experiences and most importantly, he bought me a pint (this was pre-Green Card days!). It’s also likely that other Scouts and Guides from other countries will be passing through the airports at the same time as us, whether they are heading to the Jamboree or not. Being in uniform signposts us to them, and them to us.

However you are getting to the airport, have a plan. If you’re going by train of public transport, be at the departure station with plenty of time (maybe not three hours, but 30 mins to an hour). Make sure you know what platform/stand you’re leaving from and listen for any announcements.

If you have to change trains, ask the ticket inspector which platform your connection leaves from. Again, because of the way the network is signalled, you’ll often find the platforms are assigned well in advance and they’ll be able to help – especially at bigger stations with 10s of platforms.

If you are changing through London and need to use the underground, look at the map in advance. I’ve stuck it below so you’ve got no excuse! I know to get from Euston to Paddington (for the Heathrow Express), I need the Northern Line (or to walk) to Kings Cross/St. Pancreas, then the Circle or Hammersmith and City Line to Paddington. But what if those lines are out of service?

Similarly, and Heathrow is a fantastic example, what if the primary mode of linking the airport to the national infrastructure is out of service? What if the Heathrow Express is shut down? There are likely multiple routes to an airport, between busses, trains, trams and if push really comes to shove, taxi. National Express run a coach service out of Victoria Bus Station to Heathrow, the Underground runs out to Heathrow as well (The Piccadilly Line, and it’s about a quarter of the price of the Heathrow Express). There are also local service busses that run from the nearby towns and stations on the National network.

Have a plan A, and plan B just in case. And a plan C, just in case just in case. etc. Hopefully you don’t need them, but they’re worth having.

Similarly, if you’re driving or being driven. Look at the route before you go. Have a couple of alternates. Know where you can escape if the roads are blocked. In the modern age of in-built Sat Navs and Google maps, this may seem redundant, but I’m the sort of guy who still has a road atlas in my car. Sometimes you can’t avoid choke points without going silly routes, but it’s worth looking. Likewise, the Local Authority website will list any planned roadworks/road closures etc. so look at those in advance.

If you’re getting a lift, have a chat with the driver. Make sure they know times and places. There’s nothing worse than standing on the pavement outside your house fretting for your friend to come and pick you up because they thought you said 10pm rather than 10am etc. It’s good practise to have people repeat things back to you to confirm they’ve heard, digested and understood what you’ve said.

If you need to use the M25, add an hour to your journey. It’s going to be a nightmare. Without fail, anytime I’ve driven on the M25 it’s been more stressful than the rest of the journey combined It’s what happens when it’s a satanic symbol…

I Googled “M25” and this was the leading image. Can’t think of a better way to describe it…

Almost finally. Posting on Social Media is a very good tool for an insurance claim. Because everything is date and time stamped, it provides pretty irrefutable proof that you did set off with the intention of getting to the airport three hours in advance of your flight.

I started posting photos of me leaving, with lyrics from a John Denver song (no not that one, the other one!) as a laugh, but actually, having it time and date stamped meant that I had missed my flight, there was evidence of when I’d left my house. Likewise, if you do get delayed, put it on facebook or twitter (#traveldelays), with a photo of the running board at the station etc. as this can also be submitted in evidence to the insurance company.

Yes, *that* John Denver Song!
And yes, I am wearing black socks rather than Lovat Green. I dislike the colour. Shoot me.

You do need to use a wee bit of common sense here. You don’t necessarily want to advertise that the house is going to be empty for three weeks, but if there are folk staying behind whilst you’re away it’s probably not a bad thing.

If you do miss your flight, the first thing to do is speak to the airline. If it’s genuinely not your fault, and you’re in uniform, and threaten the waterworks, they may be able to sort you out. If you’re an independent traveller, refer to your own airlines policies and/or insurance. It would also be worth letting the contingent know. Maybe not through the emergency number, but I’m sure a general contact/enquiries number was sent out. I’m not sure what they can do, but this has been guidance in the past.

And finally, if the plane is delayed, remember you can claim compensation from the airline under EU Law. They’re also obligated to feed you if the flight is delayed by a certain amount of time. There should be a customer services desk you can go to to get the forms and information/vouchers. Don’t expect a three course meal, the last time it happened to me I managed a WHSmiths sandwich and a bag of crips. The voucher didn’t stretch to a bottle of diet coke…

But hopefully, it won’t be an issue!

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