Plans to relax rules on night flights to help ease travel chaos over the summer holidays risk igniting a fresh row with unions, The Telegraph can reveal.
Airlines are given quotas for the number of flights that can run between the hours of 11.30pm and 6am at major airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.
These limits can lead to flights being cancelled if they are delayed.
However, amid mounting concern over travel chaos in the summer, the Department for Transport said it will consider temporarily suspending rules on night flights to mitigate disruption at airports during the peak season.
Holidaymakers have already suffered months of cancellations, delays and missing baggage.
But last night, unions said they would "oppose any plans to force members to work anti social hours".
A GMB union source accused aviation companies of having caused the problem by “imposing cuts on workers during the pandemic”.
“It’s not fair to force our members to work nights to pick up the slack for their mistakes,” they added.
Huw Merriman, chairman of the transport select committee, said he was interested to find out more about lifting the night ban as he felt it was a “novel suggestion”, however cautioned that it “raises concerns about how there aren't enough members of the work force and it would annoy the heck out of residences around airports”.
“I don't see what good that would do and can see what damage that would do,” he added. “I don't know if crew will want to fly at two in the morning."
Paul Charles, a travel expert, said the fundamental problem regarding the delays was “about the people not the planes”.
“Lifting the night ban won't alleviate staff shortages, some people aren't turning up, you still need people to be able to service the aircraft, make sure they are able to take off,” he said.
“It would be a welcome step to alleviating some of the summer issues, but obviously it still needs Government and industry to attract more people to work in the sector.
"Whilst it's good to have more planes taking off, you need more people to make sure they are capable of taking off.”
He added that “night times are a tried and trusted way of getting more people away, faster”.
Staff shortages have already caused queues at security and check in desks at airports across the UK as the travel industry picks up after the pandemic lockdowns.
Chaos continued at Stansted Airport in Essex on Sunday after a weekend of snaking queues at Heathrow, which is expected to bear the brunt of more cancellations this week.
On Saturday, The Telegraph revealed that airlines using Britain’s busiest airport were this weekend racing to rework their schedules.
They have to tell officials which flights will no longer be running by Friday – just as schools begin breaking up for the summer holidays, and the situation is set to get worse during the summer after more than 700 British Airways staff at London Heathrow voted to strike.
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “We are focused on minimising disruption for passengers this summer, and working with airports on when it could be appropriate to use their powers to allow additional night flights in certain circumstances.
“These powers would allow airports to minimise serious disruption and hardship to passengers, while making sure local residents are not unduly affected by noise.
“Any changes to overall night flight quotas would be subject to consultation.”
However, Paul Beckford, a spokesman for HACAN - the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise - said: "The recent disruption at some airports is entirely of the industry's making, therefore, it would be completely unacceptable for them to be rewarded for their own incompetence.
“Flights during the night period are the most intrusive for local communities and there is clear evidence that they cause significant harm to physical and mental health - to increase this harm should be unconscionable. The Government must stand firm and make clear that it will not permit any relaxation or extension of current night flight limits."