British Airways and easyJet canceled more than 150 flights to and from the UK on Wednesday as holidaymakers faced further delays ahead of the Queen’s extended Platinum Jubilee holiday, amid news recriminations between ministers and the aviation industry over who is responsible for the disruption.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps met industry bosses on Wednesday afternoon after learning BA had canceled at least 124 short-haul flights at Heathrow Airport, despite the airline saying that passengers had been notified in advance.
Low-cost airline easyJet has also cut at least 31 flights at Gatwick Airport, including those scheduled from Bologna, Barcelona, Prague, Krakow and Edinburgh.
Tour operator Tui has canceled six flights a day from Manchester Airport throughout June. Manchester Airport blamed the move on understaffing at Tui and its ground operator Swissport, which handles its check-in and baggage handling.
On the latest day of flight cancellations and airport disruptions, an easyJet passenger tweeted a photo taken shortly after 4am at Manchester Airport which showed a long queue of people in the car park from the terminal.
Describing the situation as ‘carnage’, the passenger wrote: ‘It took two hours and 45 minutes to get through – most of it was baggage drop. Now on the plane, but due to lack of ground crew there is going to be another delay of about 50 minutes.
Manchester Airport expects over 330,000 passengers to pass through the airport between Thursday June 2 and Sunday June 5. The airport apologized for the disruption and advised passengers to arrive three hours before their flight.
Another easyJet passenger complained he had to wait over two and a half hours to collect his luggage after landing at Gatwick shortly before 3am. He called it “just not good enough”.
Travelers have faced several weeks of delays and disruption at UK airports as overseas travel demand rebounds after all UK Covid travel restrictions were eased.
Many workers in the aviation industry have been laid off or left the sector during the pandemic, when international travel has been blocked for months at a time.
Shapps criticized travel agencies, saying they had “severely oversold flights and holidays relative to their ability to deliver”. Following Wednesday’s meeting with senior aviation industry executives including airports, airlines and ground handling companies, he warned there could be no repeat of such disruptions during the summer.
He said: “We are grateful to the airlines and operators who have continued to provide good service despite the current pressures and we recognize that not all operators have been affected in the same way. I also understand the resource constraints on the aviation industry, but that does not excuse poor planning and overbooking flights they cannot service. Companies that have experienced the most disruption need to learn from those that have run services smoothly. »
He said he had “made the necessary changes to allow the sector to prepare for the summer, but now we need the industry to do its part”.
Airlines and airports said they repeatedly asked for specific financial support for the sector during the pandemic, as the government’s Covid travel restrictions made international travel difficult and expensive.
Willie Walsh, the chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, chimed in earlier on Wednesday, blaming midterm vacation delays on delays in getting clearances for new hires.
Walsh, the former chief executive of British Airways owner IAG, said it now took up to three months to obtain security badges for new hires in the UK, about triple the time previously required .
The government disputed that. A Cabinet Office spokesman denied that screening applicants was taking longer and said applications from the aviation industry were given priority.
“It is up to the aviation industry to manage airport resources and staff absences, especially during busy times of the year,” the spokesperson said.
The mid-term holidays in May usually mark the start of the peak tourist season, and unions are warning that this week’s chaotic scenes at airports are likely to be repeated throughout the summer.
Unite warns that Ryanair flights from Stansted could face severe disruption as workers responsible for baggage handling, check-in and other services demand higher wages.
Employees at ground handling company Blue Handling took a 10% pay cut in 2020 during the pandemic and rejected the company’s current offer of a 4% pay rise. Unite is threatening possible strikes unless the company responds to soaring inflation and offers a better deal to the 750 workers.
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