Airlines ordered to review summer schedules after thousands of flights cancelled

·4-min read
Passengers queue for flights at Heathrow Airport (Ben Smith/PA) (PA Wire)
Passengers queue for flights at Heathrow Airport (Ben Smith/PA) (PA Wire)

Airlines have been ordered by the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority to review their summer timetables to ensure they are “deliverable”.

Tuesday’s move comes after travel chaos over the half term when hundreds of flights were cancelled and holidaymakers faced delays and queues that resulted in some missing their flights.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has said there cannot be a repeat after blaming the industry for overbooking flights that they could not deliver and failing to anticipate demand.

EasyJet passengers were badly affected as it cancelled 64 flights on Monday from its main hub Gatwick as well as Luton, Bristol, Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham, leaving many people stranded abroad.

Rannia Leontaridi, director general for aviation at the Department for Transport and CAA boss Richard Moriarty wrote a joint letter to the aviation sector stating that companies must "take all possible steps to prepare for and manage passenger demand" to "avoid the unacceptable scenes we have recently witnessed".

It went on: "We think it's important that each airline reviews afresh its plans for the remainder of the summer season until the end of September to develop a schedule that is deliverable.

"Your schedules must be based on the resources you and your contractors expect to have available, and should be resilient for the unplanned and inevitable operational challenges that you will face.

"While cancellations at any time are a regrettable inconvenience to passengers, it is our view that cancellations at the earliest possibility to deliver a more robust schedule are better for consumers than late notice on-the-day cancellations."

Passengers queue for flights at Heathrow Airport (PA)
Passengers queue for flights at Heathrow Airport (PA)

It comes after MPs were told on Tuesday that the aviation industry and the Government must “shoulder the responsibility” for the chaos suffered by airline travellers.

Sue Davies, head of consumer rights at consumer group Which?, said the cancellation of thousands of flights and long queues at airports in recent months were caused by the impact of staffing shortages being “underestimated”.

She told the Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee: “Both the industry and the Government need to shoulder the responsibility for the chaos that we’ve seen.”

Ms Davies acknowledged the sector has been “particularly affected” by the Covid pandemic but stressed consumers have “lost money and suffered huge emotional stress”.

She went on: “Particularly appallingly, we’ve been hearing from lots of people who have just had very little information about actually what’s happening on the ground.

“The airlines and the Government were encouraging people to travel again, and we think they’ve just underestimated the capacity issues, and the shortages both within the airlines and the airport services, including baggage handlers.”

Ms Davies accused airlines of selling tickets when “they don’t know for sure that those flights are actually going to be able to go”.

She told the committee that passengers “haven’t really been given proper information about their rights”.

“There’s just blatant flouting of consumer rights and a failure to put passenger interests first,” she added.

Oliver Richardson, national officer for civil aviation at trade union Unite, said a ranking of the airlines making the most cancellations “almost exactly corresponds” with the number of job cuts they made during the pandemic.

He said Ryanair, which made no compulsory redundancies, is in a “different position from the likes of British Airways” which has been forced to cancel more than 100 daily flights due to staff shortages after cutting 10,000 jobs.

“They did get rid of too many people in a number of instances,” Mr Richardson said.

“The terms and conditions for those remaining were lessened, and when it comes to attracting people to the industry, it simply isn’t as attractive as it was.”

British Airways refused to say job cuts are contributing to cancellations.

Labour MP Darren Jones, who chairs the committee, repeatedly questioned the airline’s corporate affairs director Lisa Tremble on the issue.

He asked her: “Do you think there was a connection between sacking 10,000 members of your staff using aggressive fire-and-rehire tactics, and now cancelling the most flights per day?”

Ms Tremble said in response: “It’s very complicated.” She stated the company “had to protect as many jobs as possible”.

Mr Jones responded: “We’ve asked you a very direct question, I think three times, and you’ve chosen not to answer it.”

EasyJet chief operating officer Sophie Deckers said it is typically taking around 14 weeks for new cabin crew recruits to obtain their security passes, compared with 10 weeks before the pandemic.

This is due to the requirement for individuals to obtain references for all the jobs they have done in the past five years, she explained.

She said: “In many cases, people have had 10 jobs in the last couple of years. Maybe some of them were only for a couple of weeks, but we’re required to get a reference from each of those, so that’s what’s taking the length of time.

“We have today 142 crew ready and trained to go online that don’t have their ID passes.

“So we have planned for this (increase in demand for travel) and we’ve planned for the ramp up. The ID processing I think has caught us by surprise and it’s taken longer than we had ever planned or anticipated.”

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