Airlines ordered to cancel flights from the UK amid ‘unacceptable’ travel chaos

·4-min read
Airlines ordered to cancel flights from the UK amid ‘unacceptable’ travel chaos

The UK government has ordered airlines to cancel flights now, rather than later, to prevent last minute misery for travellers.

The demand comes after weeks of chaos across European airports, with thousands of holidaymakers facing delays, queues and cancellations.

In an open letter to airlines, The Department for Transport (DfT) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have warned carriers to trim schedules.

“Your schedules must be based on the resources you and your contractors expect to have available,” writes Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the CAA, and Rannia Leontaridi, director-general for aviation at the DfT, write.

“(We recommend) cancellations at the earliest possibility to deliver a more robust schedule are better for consumers than late-notice on-the-day cancellations.”

Many carriers have already slashed summer flight schedules to deal with understaffing. British Airways was recently forced to cancel 8,000 flights in its March-October schedule, while EasyJet has cut roughly 40 flights per day for the rest of the month.

The government’s instruction could mean further cancellations for Britons travelling in July, August, and September.

They are entitled to choose other departures - at the cost of the airline - or cancel and receive reimbursement.

How bad is the chaos facing British airlines?

Continuing airport chaos is still affecting thousands of British travellers with more widespread flight cancellations.

Yesterday, EasyJet confirmed it had cancelled all flights from the UK to Hurghada in Egypt until the end of July.

The airline apologised to travellers, blaming “industry-wide operational issues” for the decision.

Last week,Aviation strikes in Italy forced Ryanair and Jet2 having to cancel flights to the country.

The chaos came to a head at the end of the half-term holiday.

During this bank holiday weekend, almost 200 flights into UK airports were cancelled from airlines including easyJet, British Airways and Wizz Air leaving passengers stuck abroad.

British Airways has also axed hundreds of short-haul flights, stressing that passengers affected were given advanced notice as these were part of a schedule reduction in place until October.

PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS
An Easyjet Airbus aircraft takes off from the southern runway at Gatwick Airport in Crawley, Britain. - PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS

Further cancellations have added to the ongoing chaos leaving questions about whether the industry will be ready for the summer season.

Even without the scrapped flights, many travellers are facing long queues at security, baggage check-in and when reclaiming their luggage. Aviation bosses have blamed ongoing staff shortages and bad weather over the weekend for the disruption.

Who is to blame for the chaos at UK airports?

In the letter to airlines today, the DfT and CAA told airlines that current outcomes were "unacceptable."

"Our expectation is that you and all those involved in delivering aviation services will take all possible steps to prepare for and manage passenger demand that helps to avoid the unacceptable scenes we have recently witnessed."

London mayor Sadiq Khan said that Brexit was to blame for the chaos at Britain’s airports. He called on the government to relax immigration rules so that airport and airline workers from the EU could return to the UK and avoid a summer of travel “misery.”

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps rejected the claims saying opening the door to “cheap” foreign workers wasn’t the answer to relieving the pressure on the aviation sector.

ANDREW MATTHEWS/AFP
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R), Britain's Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (C) and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan sit in the carriage of an 'Elizabeth Line' train. - ANDREW MATTHEWS/AFP

He instead put the blame on industry bosses who he accused of “cutting too far” during the pandemic and not anticipating that so many people would return to international travel when restrictions were eased.

Shapps said that he will “do absolutely everything possible to make sure” that people can go abroad this summer without facing issues at airports. He added that he had already answered calls from the industry to speed up security checks for new staff and allow those in non-security related jobs to start training immediately.

A government and aviation industry working group has been formed ahead of the summer holidays to try and tackle delays and cancellations.

Should UK passengers be refunded for cancelled flights?

The Transport Secretary also said that holidaymakers should get automatic refunds for cancelled foreign holidays - much like they do for delayed domestic trains in the UK.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme earlier this month, he called for changes to allow “proper disputes resolution” with “quick and straightforward compensation” or a different flight.

“It can’t be acceptable that it is so complicated sometimes to get a flight rearranged or to get your money back. I want it to be more like [how the national scheme] ‘delay repay’ works on trains, where it is an automated process.”

Are there too many planes in European skies?

Earlier this month, Europe’s air traffic agency warned that the number of flights in the coming months is likely to exceed the capacity of control centres. The problem is worse in Munich, Reims in France and Athens.

But according to Eurocontrol, much of Europe is now operating close to capacity with the agency urging countries to review their operations or face more sudden disruption this summer.

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