Airport disruption expected to continue through summer

Waves of airline schedule reductions should ease airport congestion and reduce last-minute cancellations but it is feared they will not end flight disruption this summer.

Leading industry sources warn rising Covid levels, endemic staff shortages at airport ground handlers and “massive” air traffic delays around Europe will continue to cause delays and cancelled flights.

An aviation source told Travel Weekly: “Flight cancellations will help deal with the ground handling challenge. But we’re going to have a huge issue with air traffic control over Europe through the summer, causing delays to arrivals. That is the real challenge.”

MoreAnalysis: Will we see an end to summer flight disruption?

Flight disruption ‘a blip’ but summer challenges remain, head of easyJet says

Government’s disruption plan ‘looks impressive but offers nothing new’

The source also warned: “The rising rate of Covid will be a factor in the coming weeks.

“Sickness rates are up at a time when ground handlers are already short-staffed.”

An airline source agreed: “European air traffic control is a significant challenge. There are massive air traffic delays and loads of flights coming in over schedule, overloading border control and baggage reclaim.”

Heathrow set a daily cap on departing passenger numbers until September 11 on Tuesday, forcing airlines to cancel additional services.

The move came on top of wholesale cancellations last week in response to the government’s temporary relaxation of rules on airport slot use, with British Airways alone cancelling 10,300 flights, taking the total it has cancelled over the summer to 30,000.

Yet on Monday, Heathrow ordered carriers to cancel 61 flights at short notice because ground handlers at Terminals 2 and 5 could not cope.

Heathrow said cancellations following the slot amnesty had not gone far enough, saying: “The maximum number of daily departing passengers the airport can serve is no more than 100,000. Despite the amnesty, daily departing seats over the summer will average 104,000.

“We’re asking airline partners to stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact. We recognise this will mean journeys will be moved to another day, another airport or be cancelled.”

The airline source explained: “Each airport has to evaluate their ongoing resilience. The industry would have liked the government to offer the slot amnesty sooner. The objective was to clear the schedules so operations are more resilient. It doesn’t mean it will be enough.”

The source insisted the disruption “is not because airlines laid off too many people but due to a complex series of issues, any one of which can cause difficulties. The worry is the combination.”

An airports source suggested: “The big thing will be ‘can we get through the first weekend of the school holidays?’ That would help still people’s concerns and calm things down a bit.”

The source noted: “Scotland’s school holidays started [in late June] with no reports of disruption.”

However, consumer group Which? called on Heathrow to work with airlines to quickly provide clarity on specific flights that are going to be cut.

Acting Which? Travel editor Guy Hobbs said: “While this cap may ease the unacceptable chaos passengers are facing at the UK’s biggest airport, thousands of people will now be worrying about whether their flight or holiday plans are about to fall apart.”

Airlines need to be upfront with those passengers affected about their right to be rebooked at the earliest opportunity, including on services from other airlines.

Hobbs added: “This daily drip-feed of disappointment will be hugely unsettling for individuals and families. Airports and airlines need to be held to account for the unacceptable disruption travellers have faced in recent months.”

In a rare piece of good news, BA check-in staff at Heathrow are to begin voting on a deal to end their threat to strike over a demand to restore a 10% pay cut.

The Unite and GMB unions declined to give details of the deal with BA. But Travel Weekly understands BA has agreed to restore the pay cut, pay a 5% rise from September backdated to January, add a further 3% rise from December and an additional one-off 5% payment.

MoreAnalysis: Will we see an end to summer flight disruption?

Flight disruption ‘a blip’ but summer challenges remain, head of easyJet says

Government’s disruption plan ‘looks impressive but offers nothing new’

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