Why are easyJet and British Airways cancelling flights?

People queuing at Heathrow, one of the airports hit by cancellations and delays in recent weeks. (PA)
People queuing at Heathrow, one of the airports hit by cancellations and delays in recent weeks. (PA)

Travellers are continuing to face major disruption after thousands of UK flights were cancelled in recent days.

Heathrow and Gatwick were among the worst affected airports for cancellations on Friday, with British Airways and easyJet scrapping more than 100 flights.

Meanwhile, flights which haven’t been cancelled have been subject to delays and disruption.

Manchester Airport has also been badly affected in recent weeks and was forced to issue a warning on Friday for travellers to arrive at least three hours ahead of their flights to avoid missing them, amid reports of queues up to 90 minutes long.

Watch: British Airways and easyJet cancellations: UK airports are thrown into chaos as airlines ground flights

Unease is growing in the aviation sector, with the Civil Aviation Authority, the industry’s regulator, warning airlines that late-notice cancellations and excessive delays are “not just distressing for affected consumers, but have the potential to impact confidence levels across the industry”.

So what exactly is causing this “chaos”? The key reasons are interlinked and Yahoo News UK explains all here…

Coronavirus redundancies

The onset of the pandemic saw a 97% reduction in air travel by mid-2020, according to the House of Commons transport committee.

Restrictions - such as travel from banned “red list” countries - then continued until early this year. Heathrow Airport, the UK’s busiest, recently revealed how 2021 saw its lowest passenger numbers in 50 years.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: International passengers walk through the arrivals area at Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport on November 26, 2021 in London, England. A heavily-mutated new variant of the Covid-19 virus, currently called B.1.1.529, has been detected in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong. The U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said from 12:00 GMT on Friday all flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini are being suspended and the countries added to the UK's travel Red List. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Passenger numbers plummeted during the pandemic, resulting in widespread job losses in the aviation sector. (Getty Images)

All this paints a picture as to why the pandemic resulted in thousands of redundancies across the aviation sector.

In March last year, one analysis for the Unite union found 62,000 jobs had been lost in aviation and related industries, including 12,000 at British Airways and 1,260 at easyJet.

Recruitment difficulties

In January, the government began easing COVID regulations for people arriving in England. As of last month, people have not had to take any tests or fill in a UK passenger locator form.

However, after cutting so many jobs, the aviation industry has been experiencing difficulties recruiting the necessary amount of staff to meet renewed demand. Part of this is linked to waiting times for security checks to be passed on new employees.

Manchester Airport, arguably the worst culprit for disruption over the past couple of weeks, admitted this is the case on Friday.

Travellers using Manchester Airport have suffered major disruption. (PA)
Travellers using Manchester Airport have suffered major disruption. (PA)

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Charlie Cornish, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group, said: “The simple fact is that we don’t currently have the number of staff we need to provide the level of service that our passengers deserve.

“Despite our efforts since last autumn, the tight labour market around the airport has meant we have just not been able to hire people quickly enough to establish a full-strength team.

“Practically, staff shortages mean that we cannot open all the security lanes we need and, at times, this results in longer queues than we want to see.”

Former Monarch Airlines boss Tim Jeans told the BBC on Wednesday: “You have to plan to recruit to train, in a very difficult labour market, many many many months in advance - and it would appear that Manchester, for whatever issues they have had, simply didn't do that."

The airport’s managing director, Karen Smart, resigned on Tuesday.

COVID sickness

More than two years on from the first lockdown, COVID has never been as prevalent across the UK - albeit in a population that has high vaccine uptake.

Last week, the Office for National Statistics' weekly infection survey - considered the gold standard for monitoring the prevalence of the virus in the community - found a record 4.9 million had COVID in the last full week of March.

Inevitably, this has translated into COVID-related staff absences in already-stretched aviation workforces.

This is continuing to result in major airlines such as British Airways and easyJet cancelling flights at the last minute.

Easter getaway

Combine the above factors with a surge in demand for air travel during the Easter school holidays and you have a perfect storm.

These school holidays, after all, have provided the first two-week window in more than two years in which families haven’t faced any air travel restrictions.

It’s why Civil Aviation Authority chief executive Richard Moriarty has told airlines it’s “very important” that they set schedules “on a basis that is deliverable”.