Six ways our holidays could be improved in 2024

It was a brilliant year for holidays. Whether you joined the thousands reunited with family in Australia, India and Ireland or just lazily read a thriller over olives on some extraordinary Spanish plaza, many of us finally put the pandemic behind us in 2023.

Those wonderful feelings of finally getting away are probably what propelled us through the cancellations, the strikes and the delays in one of the most miserable years in decades to travel. Not helped by the fact some airlines seem to have utterly given up on customer service.

The issues behind the disruption we endured, from air traffic controllers with nasty colds to airlines overselling flights, look set to continue in 2024; as do several other problems, big and small. But there are solutions; here are six ways our holidays could be made better in 2024.

Travel firms need to start taking the climate crisis seriously

I thought that evacuating thousands of customers from wildfires in Rhodes would finally wake holiday firms to the urgency of climate change, but most continue to bury their heads in their bank accounts, as fares and profits soar.

There is little, if any, progress towards aviation’s goal of “net zero emissions by 2050”, beyond repeatedly writing those words down. Many airlines invest in technologies such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and lighter composites, but those will barely make a dent in a carbon footprint that they intend to grow for decades. Instead, whispered backstage at aviation conferences, is hope of a significant technological breakthrough in the 2030s or 2040s. That’s a hope we all share, but crossing your fingers is not a plan.

Meanwhile, several carriers are now using our environmental concerns as an opportunity to make money. In May, the Lufthansa group launched “green fares” – a premium ticket, bundling free rebooking, extra air miles and some ropey promises about carbon offsetting and SAF. It promised passengers could “fly more sustainably”, an advert that fast landed it an appointment with the Advertising Standards Agency. That’s the tip of the iceberg. Earlier this year, the European Consumer Organisation reported 17 airlines to the EU for greenwashing.

What travellers need is honesty. Many want to fly, but reduce their carbon footprint; that’s not mutually exclusive. Picking one airline over another can cut a carbon footprint by a third (load factors and plane types all contribute). The same can be true of package holidays. But how would you know? Airline and holiday firms should follow in the footsteps of the travel B corp companies that introduced carbon labelling on holidays. Customers can then choose the right holiday based on both the price for them and for the planet.

Night trains need to work for everyone

A deluxe cabin of the Good Night Train service, operated by European Sleeper, at Brussels Midi railway station in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, May 26, 2023. The success or failure of a new, no-frills night train service from Brussels to Berlin could set a precedent for future startup routes. Photographer: Ksenia Kuleshova/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A deluxe cabin of the Good Night Train service, operated by European Sleeper (Photo: Getty)

A good way to reduce your carbon footprint is to take the train. Several European night routes launched last year to deserved praise. Who wouldn’t want to travel from Brussels to Berlin in a comfortable bed? Well, anyone who is told it costs €300 (£260) – and that’s for a midweek February return, in a triple cabin.

Those numbers don’t add up for most people. Let’s fix that, quickly. Several EU governments experimented with state aid and subsidised public transport travel in recent years, in part to meet climate goals.

Doing the same for night trains could make a big difference, especially on holiday flight routes running from north to south Europe. The more affordable trains are, the more people will switch from the plane, which in turn creates more demand and eventually lower fares.

Our trains just need to work

Most people will be reading this in the UK, where you would need to have taken complete leave of your senses to even consider putting your annual family holiday in the hands of a train company. We’ve reached the stage where some train firms can’t even publish their timetables on time, let alone run their trains.

While fares continue their meteoric rise into unaffordability, the Government instead cut air passenger duty for domestic flights. That’s led to lots of new flight routes; brilliant for those living in London, where most routes operate, but useless if you fancy going from Burnley to Bournemouth for your holidays, or, you know, need to get to work on Tuesday.

Trains need to run on time and to be affordable. Is that too much to ask?

More French, please

There is some good news for Bournemouth. French visitors should return next year – or at least their schoolchildren. When the UK left the EU, we shortsightedly stopped accepting national ID cards for travel. Given an estimated half of French citizens don’t own a passport and use IDs to travel in the EU, it is a decision that is believed to have cost British businesses many millions of pounds.

It is acutely felt in the South East, where hundreds of French schools used to take kids on trips to seaside towns to practise their English while haggling over sticks of rock or asking what a saveloy is. Those trips are back on, after Rishi Sunak and Emmanuel Macron struck a deal to allow school children to use IDs again. Welcome progress – but what about the Belgians, the Spanish and everybody else? Let’s get them back too. British cafés, hotels and saveloy purveyors could desperately do with the business boost.

Even more French

Seeing as we are getting along so well, perhaps the French might provide more passport officers at UK ports this summer, too, so those taking Channel ferries don’t spend their holiday on the M20 sightseeing Operation Brock. If 2023 was bad, and it was pretty disastrous at times, 2024 threatens a complete collapse of the border when the EU introduces the Entry/Exit system in autumn.

As it currently stands, UK passport holders will need to submit fingerprints and face scans at the border, potentially doubling the length of already lengthy queues at peak times.

Yes, Brexit was our democratic choice, and passport stamps and third-party status are the consequence, but it has been three years. Time to kiss, make up and open some extra passport booths.

Book a B&B

Alnwick, Northumberland, England, United Kingdom, Europe
B&Bs need the support of British holidaymakers (Photo: Getty)

There has been a groundswell of support in recent years to buy a pint and save your local pub – and rightly so. But another national institution, the B&B, is also deep in crisis. Missing foreign visitors, recruitment shortages and crippling energy rates are just the headlines.

They are remorselessly squeezed by online booking sites; forced to sign up to punitive contracts or disappear from the search results through which most consumers book. It is a situation that offers no value to customers. Most times that Which? price-checks booking sites versus booking direct, going direct is cheaper. So in 2024, yes, support your local and buy a pint. But book a B&B too.

Rory Boland is editor of Which? Travel