Trade welcomes cuts in summer flying as airport slot rules frozen

Agents welcomed moves to cut airline schedules at the busiest airports this summer despite the additional work required to rebook customers.

The government announced an ‘amnesty’ on use-it-or-lose-it airport slot rules on Tuesday, making it easier for carriers to cancel flights without losing slots. The amnesty came after Gatwick capped flight numbers for July and August, and easyJet – the biggest operator at Gatwick – announced a cull of more than 10,000 flights.

EasyJet capacity for July to September will now be about 90% of 2019’s level, when the carrier previously planned to operate 97% or 160,000 flights.

Chief executive Johan Lundgren declined to put a number on the cancellations, saying: “We need to work this through.” But he insisted: “The vast majority of passengers won’t be affected.”

MoreGovernment slots ‘amnesty’ aims to prevent flight cancellations

Gatwick capped capacity at 825 flights a day for July and 850 for August having previously planned to operate 900 flights a day through the summer peak, 50 shy of its 2019 capacity. It called on carriers “to implement deliverable timetables and ensure schedules are realistic”.

Fred Olsen Travel commercial head Paul Hardwick said: “The cancellations are further stretching agents but getting them in advance is preferable to leaving it late. Media reports [of cancellations] have led to numerous customers querying [whether] their holidays and flights will be impacted.”

InteleTravel UK director Tricia Handley-Hughes agreed: “Flight cancellations cause extra work, [but] it is far better to be given advance notice.”

Martyn Fisher, owner of Greenstar Travel in Surrey, added: “Clients are asking ‘Do you know if my flight will operate?’ It’s on everybody’s minds.”

In fact, the government acknowledged the concerns of agents and their customers in its slots announcement, noting: “Travel agents have reported consumers remain nervous about flying amid fears airline cancellations will continue.”

AllClear Travel Insurance chief executive Chris Rolland said: “The priority at the moment is to sustain and maintain the overwhelming enthusiasm and demand to travel abroad by UK holidaymakers, and this involves giving people clear and reliable information to help manage their expectations.

“It is absolutely essential for airports, airlines and the government to be straight with people travelling to enable them to book free from uncertainty, and to restore confidence at this peak time of year.”

Gatwick reported it cut capacity after a review found “a severe lack of staff resources” among operators at the airport. It said it would “wait to see about September” capacity.

Heathrow has already asked for cuts of up to 10% in airline schedules at peak times this summer. A Heathrow spokeswoman said: “British Airways has cancelled 10% of its flights. That was helpful. We want to reassure customers we’ll be able to get them away this summer.”

However, carriers at Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 were forced to cut schedules on Monday after a baggage-handling failure on Friday led to a build-up of bags which was only cleared on Sunday evening. BA reported it cancelled “a small number of flights” as a result.

Other major airports insisted they had no plans to cut capacity. Manchester airport reported “some ad hoc cancellations” but said: “We’re not going to impose caps.” Luton airport confirmed: “We have no plans to reduce capacity.” Bristol airport, which has suffered excessive queues, reported “a number of airlines have rescheduled or cancelled flights” but there would be no cap.

Aviation minister Robert Courts pledged to “hold the sector to account” as he announced a weekly meeting with aviation leaders. An industry source described the announcement as “partly for show” but noted: “They immediately announced the slot-use rule change. They realised airlines weren’t cancelling flights because they would lose their slots.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “The British people have made huge sacrifices over the pandemic and, for many, this will be well-deserved time away that they haven’t had in years.

“That’s why it’s crucial they don’t face disappointing last-minute cancellations and chaos at airports when the system can’t deliver. And I will do everything in my power to stop that.”


MoreGovernment slots ‘amnesty’ aims to prevent flight cancellations

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