More than 150 extra flights from Heathrow and Gatwick have been cancelled today by British Airways and easyJet, while Wizz Air has axed at least seven flights due to serve UK airports. Meanwhile, hundreds of BA check-in and ground staff at Heathrow are voting on strike action.
Thousands of airline passengers are facing fresh disruption as more than 150 extra flights have been cancelled from Heathrow and Gatwick today. Travel agents have been inundated with calls from customers worried that the chaos will carry on and ruin their summer holidays.
EasyJet cancelled at least 35 flights on Tuesday, with Gatwick the worst affected airport, while the Hungarian carrier Wizz Air axed at least seven flights due to serve UK airports.
British Airways cancelled 124 Heathrow flights, though the airline said affected passengers were given advance notice.
The prospect of a strike by staff at Heathrow is expected to compound the disruption.
Hundreds of check-in and ground staff employed by BA at Heathrow have started voting on strike action.
Members of the Unite and GMB unions are being balloted in a dispute over pay that could cause chaos at the UK’s busiest airport during the summer holidays.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, which represents independent travel agents, said: “About 30% of all calls that they’re receiving now are from customers that are reading the headlines, have bookings for July and August in the school holidays, and they are worried.”
She acknowledged the situation is “hideous and disappointing” for passengers whose flights are being cancelled, but added travel agents are trying to reassure customers that “in the vast majority of cases flights are departing and arriving”.
There has been a “significant surge” in demand for holidays this year, she said, creating a “bottleneck” in the system.
The number of people taking school half-term breaks last week was 21% higher than in 2019 and summer holiday bookings are at around 80% of normal.
“I’m confident that the industry will get to a point where these bottlenecks will be sorted,” she said.
Diego Garcia Rodriguez, 32, a Spaniard who lives in Brighton, said there had so far been no changes to his Barcelona flight, but other passengers have been left in tears at Gatwick.
“I have seen lots of people whose flights have been cancelled, some crying and stressing out and they only got the news after having gone through the security control so they didn’t know how to get out,” he said.
“There was no information and it was all very chaotic.”
One passenger told Sky News: “I’ve been queuing here for over an hour and a half now, because they’ve only got one person doing check-in for Wizz Air. Our flight leaves in an hour and I’m not sure if we will be able to check in on time.”
He added: “The queue is not moving. We’re going to be here all night.”
Another passenger said she is almost out of pocket after flight delays and cancellations.
“I’m just quite upset that I already booked one plane and now have to pay for another one to reach my destination. My plane leaves in 40 minutes and I am yet to check-in despite arriving early.”
Another passenger said they were annoyed that their first holiday since the pandemic may face disruption.
“If we knew it was going to be cancelled in advance, we could’ve made other plans. I was really looking forward to this holiday – first one in ages and now it’s looking like it won’t happen.”
The cancellations today come after months of disruption at UK airports, leaving the holiday plans of tens of thousands of travellers in disarray.
The chaos is also affecting passengers flying back to the UK, with many thousands of British holidaymakers finding themselves stranded across Europe after hundreds of flight cancellations.
The aviation industry is struggling to recruit new workers after letting thousands of people go during the pandemic, and a blame game has broken out over who is responsible for the shortages.
Airlines, airports and ground handling companies repeatedly called for sector-specific financial support during the COVID-19 crisis as lockdowns and travel restrictions suppressed demand.
Airlines are now suffering from staff shortages and say government red tape is delaying security checks on any new recruits.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has rejected calls to open the door to more “cheap” overseas workers to relieve the pressure on the sector.
He has claimed airlines and travel firms have “seriously oversold flights and holidays relative to their capacity to deliver” despite government warnings, and accused bosses of “cutting too far”.
Mr Shapps has answered industry demands to speed up security checks for workers and allow some staff in non-security related jobs to take up training immediately.
But he has said it is up to the sector to fix the issues after it received £8bn of state support and had access to furlough money to keep staff on the books while COVID travel restrictions were in place. / sky news