Some staff could work longer hours if they wanted to as a way to help out with current airport chaos, a business minister has said.
Airline passengers have been hit by disruption for several months, with the situation worsening due to the rise in demand sparked by the half-term school holiday and the four-day Platinum Jubilee weekend.
The aviation industry is suffering from staff shortages after letting thousands of people go during the coronavirus pandemic.
Business minister Paul Scully told Sky News there are 1.3 million vacancies across the country in various sectors but there are also “people who have recalibrated what they want to do when they were on furlough”.
He also said he wanted to make it possible that “people who can work longer – that want to work longer – can do”.
His comments come as London’s Gatwick Airport is reducing the number of daily flights during its busy summer period to help tackle staffing issues.
The airport is planning to limit its number of daily flights to 825 in July and 850 in August compared to a reported 900 daily flights during the same time period in previous years.
It said the decision was taken following a review of its operations and that it is “temporarily moderating its rate of growth” for two months to help passengers “experience a more reliable and better standard of service”.
Mr Scully told Sky News: “We want to make sure that those people that are not necessarily working full time, through Universal Credit we can get them back in to work to be more productive, if that suits them, and obviously match them up with the sectors where there are those vacancies.”
When asked whether this meant people working longer hours, he said: “I’m not talking about going out forcing people to do anything, but we just want to make sure that they’re matched up properly so that it’s just that those people who can work longer – that want to work longer – can do.”
Gatwick says the reduction allows airlines to manage more predictable timetables and help the ground handling companies during the school holidays, adding that the vast majority of scheduled flights this summer will operate as normal.
Its airport review found that a number of companies based at Gatwick are continuing to operate with a severe lack of staff resources over the summer holiday period.
The airport warned that if the issue was not addressed, passengers could experience queues, delays and cancellations.
It comes after a busy Jubilee holiday week, which saw more than 150 flights being cancelled across the UK on the eve of the Jubilee.
Downing Street welcomed Gatwick reducing flights “so they can realistically deliver over the summer”.
A No 10 spokesman said: “We want everybody to be able to travel freely and easily, which is why we continue to encourage industry to step up their recruitment so they can put enough flights for families who are looking forward to well-deserved holidays after the pandemic.”
Chief executive of Gatwick Airport Stewart Wingate said the venue had “prepared well” for the restart of international travel by successfully reopening the South Terminal.
It also has 400 new recruits to help process passengers quickly through security this summer.
He said: “We are also working closely with our airlines to avoid disruption to passengers this summer, and while more newly recruited staff will start work in coming weeks, we know it will be a busy summer.
“However, it is clear that during the Jubilee week a number of companies operating at the airport struggled in particular, because of staff shortages. By taking decisive action now, we aim to help the ground handlers – and also our airlines – to better match their flying programmes with their available resources.
“As has already been the case, the vast majority of flights over the summer will operate as normal, and the steps taken today mean that our passengers can expect a more reliable and better standard of service, while also improving conditions for staff working at the airport.”
John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, believes it will be 12-18 months before the industry can get its capacity back to pre-pandemic levels.
Mr Holland-Kaye pointed out that skilled jobs have been lost and it takes time to recruit and train people, while staffing issues around the world also have an impact at UK airports.
He told Sky News that Heathrow’s passengers had faced only minor delays, adding: “For two years most politicians and the public were calling for borders to be closed and that has had a devastating effect.”
He added: “It’s very easy to slam the brakes on the industry, lead to enormous job losses, but much harder to scale it up again.”
Mr Holland-Kaye believes enough workers will be in place to deal with the summer getaway as Heathrow’s “largest team of people are the security officers and we will have as many people in security this summer as before the pandemic”.
Ground handling companies, which deal with services such as baggage checks and cleaning the planes, have suffered big job losses.
Mr Holland-Kaye told Sky News this has been Heathrow’s key focus in serving passengers as “that’s where the problems have been at other airports.”
It is understood airports such as Manchester and Stansted have no plans to cap capacity.