Voices: Why didn’t airlines and holiday companies see the Easter travel chaos coming?

·3-min read
It’s hard to understand why airlines and tour operators failed to see this coming (Independent)
It’s hard to understand why airlines and tour operators failed to see this coming (Independent)

We should have been packing for our Easter trip to Mallorca about now. Having had a number of foreign holidays cancelled in 2020 and 2021, this was supposed to be the year that things began returning to normal.

Instead, days before we were due to fly out from Gatwick, we received a notification from Thomas Cook that easyJet has cancelled our flight home. There is a flight available the next day, but as our resort won’t have rooms for the extra night we’d need to find accommodation at our own expense.

Even if we were willing to fork out extra to solve a problem not of our own making, staying an extra day would mean my wife missing work and my son missing school, so we had to cancel.

We are not alone. As Simon Calder describes, the scenes at Manchester airport are already chaotic, and Heathrow and Gatwick – our departure point – are almost as bad, and it’s still a week to Easter. Meanwhile, the RAC is advising motorists to avoid the M25 and A303 near Stonehenge, which means we won’t even be able to repeat last year’s road trip to Cornwall.

Look, I get it. Covid has had a devastating impact not only on peoples’ lives, but on the economy, on jobs, on industries like tourism in particular. Companies like easyJet are caught in a perfect storm: having laid off people during the pandemic, they are now finding it hard to recruit people to keep things running safely, especially as Covid continues to wreak havoc.

However, it’s hard to understand why airlines and tour operators failed to see this coming.

With so many of us confined to these shores for the past two years, it was pretty obvious that as restrictions eased we would want to spread our wings and fly to foreign shores. Delightful as Blackpool and Southend may be, there’s nothing like making a fool of yourself as you attempt to order lunch in a foreign language. I have been dreaming of my walk along the Spanish shoreline, feeling surf and sand beneath my bare feet for the first time in years. (Try doing that in Britain and your toes will fall off).

I realise that enjoying a foreign holiday isn’t a fundamental human right; not when so many families are struggling to pay their bills. It seems petty to make a fuss about the fact we won’t be able to enjoy paella in the sunshine.

However, those long queues at airports, truck log-jams at Dover, rail and road chaos and empty passenger ferries seem symptomatic of something more profound: a sense that our small island is adrift, breached below the water line with no one in charge. Which wouldn’t be so bad if there was any way to get off. You get the sense that if our government of multi-millionaires had to wait in line with the rest of us, they might be a little more inclined to help.

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In order to try and get our money back I attempted to contact Thomas Cook. This proved tricky. Yesterday I attempted to explain our predicament to one of those infernal chatbots, which pinged: “Oops! I didn’t get that, I’m a new bot in town and learning with time. I’ll try connecting you!” After waiting for a geological amount of time, I was cut off. This morning I tried again but apparently Thomas Cook don’t take calls or chat messages before 10am. Maybe they’re all on holiday.

However, tempting as it might be, we cannot pin all the blame on government. Big business also has to take some responsibility for the short-termism and greed which has in part caused the current chaos.

Perhaps if airlines, for example, paid all their staff a decent salary, rather than just their executives, they might not have had so many problems filling vacancies.

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