Too many in UKa spring or summer vacation has become a “keep your fingers crossed” rather than a sure thing.
As anyone who has a flight booked in the coming weeks knows, the fear of a last minute cancellation is always present.
Several airline has made daily cuts to its schedules as we enter the summer of 2022 – some by killing dozens of departures weeks in advance, others by abolishing them hours before or even when passengers have boarded.
It is not as large-scale as the individual figures may seem Economic times recently reported that between 2% and 4% of UK flights were canceled during the first week of May.
But as cancellations continued into June, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused airlines and tour operators of “seriously [overselling] flights and vacations “in addition to the capacity they could handle.
So why is this happening, and what are airline executives planning to do about it?
Here’s everything you need to know.
Which airlines have canceled flights?
When it comes to regular, daily cancellations, easyJet and British Airways are the two main culprits – but Wizz Air, Tui and KLM have also canceled several departures.
EasyJet has canceled about 30-60 flights a day, with some scrapped in advance, but others will only cut hours before they would fly. Many Independent Readers have reported that they received emails overnight for a flight in the morning or early afternoon that they would take in the following hours.
British Airways has reduced much more – more like 120-150 per day – but in most cases this was done weeks in advance with customers informed earlier.
At the same time, Wizz Air began the spring somewhat more robustly, but recently announced that “a large number of flights” from Doncaster Sheffield Airport will be canceled as of June 10, and made several ad hoc last-minute cancellations from UK airports in June.
At the end of May, Tui made major cuts to its schedule for flights from Manchester Airport, canceling 186 flights from 31 May to 30 June.
What reasons have the airlines given for the cancellations?
Airline executives have listed a number of reasons for the cancellations and cuts in their schedules, but the overwhelming one is a lack of staff.
Together, British airlines suspended about 30,000 jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic, when travel bans and strict travel restrictions in the UK prevented the majority of flights from operating.
Now they are trying to “scale up” by recruiting new staff, but for many it has not gone fast enough.
Oliver Richardson from the Unite union says: “When you look at who performs the worst, it correlates with the companies that have made the most redundancies.
“Ryanair agreed on no redundancies and another position was taken by British Airways, which lost 10,000 employees through redundancies. They got rid of too many people.”
Ryanair has largely run its planned schedule during the spring and summer.
Several airline executives have indicated that delays in getting new staff approved have meant that there is not enough crew on hand to complete their full scheduled schedules.
On yesterday’s Business, Energy and Industrial Select Committee session on the subjecteasyJet’s commercial director Sophie Dekker blamed a number of factors for the airline’s cancellations and said delays in arranging ID cards for new crew members were part of the problem.
“It takes about 14 weeks now to get an ID card for the crew,” says Dekkers. “It was about 10 weeks before the pandemic. The ID processing has surprised us.”
She also attributed the cancellations to staff shortages in general, technical problems and – a small amount – to air traffic control problems at easyJet’s airports.
With an example on Monday, June 13, she said: “Yesterday we made 1,678 flights. Ten were canceled during the day. Two of them were due to the crew. Two were due to air traffic control and six due to technology.”
British Airways, which has also made significant cuts to its schedule, has attributed the cancellations only to “staff absence and illness”, with some of these being perceived as being caused by the crew testing positive for Covid-19.
The airline’s head of corporate affairs and sustainability director, Lisa Tremble, said at the BEIS session “we know we have a lot of work to do”.
“A lot has been written about fire and re-employment. We absolutely want our employees to feel that they are part of building this airline,” says Tremble.
“We fully accept that what has happened in the last two years has put us in a position where we need to build that relationship of trust with our unions and with our people.
“This year, we have offered our employees a 10% salary award.
“Once you have gone through a very traumatic period that we have, it takes time to rebuild trust and those relationships. That is what we are determined to do but it will take some time to do so.”
Any recruitment that works “airside” for a British airline must be referenced and approved by both the Civil Aviation Authority and the government, a process that some airline executives say will take longer in 2022 than in previous years.
Several airline sources have said that the process takes up to 14 weeks.
Wizz Air told me The independent: “Among other issues causing operational instability in the travel industry, there is a widespread shortage of staff, particularly in air traffic control, ground operations and baggage handling, security and over airports.”
The airline said that the vast majority of its flights are working as planned and that it has increased communication with passengers and tried to make necessary cancellations as early as possible.
At the same time, unions have said many potential recruits have been discouraged by poor working conditions in the travel industry – United Nations Secretary-General Sharon Graham said: “The sector suffers from a chronic inability to attract new staff because workers are not attracted to poor pay and conditions. usla. ”
Other airline insiders have pointed to operational problems at UK airports for some cancellations, especially those towards the end of the day.
What role do airports play in cancellations?
UK airports have experienced their own staff shortages in the spring, as have private companies operating operations – such as baggage handling – within them.
The shortage has affected both ground personnel and, according to some sources, air traffic control.
Gatwick Airport has had some of the most cancellations this spring – in addition to being easyJet’s base, industry sources have suggested that Gatwick is experiencing its own operational problems.
Earlier this week, a senior source told the aviation industry The times that the airport in West Sussex – the second busiest in the UK – does not have the human resources to cope with the current flight schedule.
“Since the beginning of the summer, we have seen repeated problems with air traffic control restrictions coming into Gatwick,” the source said.
“The airport imposes restrictions on movements per hour, below its declared capacity, due to a lack of air traffic controllers in the approach control function.”
They went on to say that, while Gatwick typically handles about 52 “movements” in an hour, including departures and arrivals. On some occasions last week, they claim, that number had dropped to 22 per hour.
Luton Airport has also had a number of daily cancellations, as has Bristol (with a smaller number from Glasgow and Edinburgh). At the same time, the majority of BA’s preset flights are domestic and short-haul flights from Heathrow.
Wizz Air’s advance cuts in its schedule have been attributed to an operational dispute with Doncaster Sheffield, where executives say it is “a result of Doncaster Sheffield Airport indicating that it can not guarantee the terms of its commercial agreement with Wizz Air”.
Thousands of Manchester flights were blamed for “ongoing disruptions” at Manchester Airport.
Other aviation sources have pointed to Air Traffic Control problems elsewhere in Europe as a cause of delays and subsequent cancellations – France has experienced problems after installing a new ATC system at its Reims control center in April, which means that air traffic across the country has decreased.
In addition, some of the flights that would normally cross France have been diverted over Germany, causing congestion with its own ATC network.
Delays caused by air traffic control and staff shortages can lead to possible cancellations: for example, some flights have been delayed for several hours due to previous factors, which means that they would land at a European airport too late, with the airport unable to take against them after the curfew has been lifted. There is a certain impact effect.
What are airlines and ministers doing to fix this?
In recent weeks, the airlines have blamed the government, while the government has blamed the airlines and other travel companies.
The aviation industry says the UK Government’s sudden end to all travel restrictions in February – after years of complex travel restrictions and much back and forth about where travel was allowed – did not give them enough time to plan and scale up appropriately for the summer.
In turn, the ministers say that the aviation industry has received a lot of notice and should have been better prepared for the influx of holidaymakers – or simply not sold as many flights, if they could not deliver on them.
This week, the Department of Transport and Civil Aviation Authority wrote an open letter to air traffic controllers stating five “specific expectations” for the sector.
These included airlines that looked closely at their proposed summer schedules and made sure they could operate them fully; make cuts in these schedules if necessary, but weeks in advance rather than at the last minute; and ensure “adequately staffed call centers and user-friendly digital channels” in case of cancellations.
EasyJet’s cancellations will certainly continue: yesterday, the airline canceled all flights from the UK to Hurghada until the end of July, saying: “We inform customers in advance to minimize the impact on their plans.”
It also announced about 40 canceled flights per day between now and the end of June.
Chief Operating Officer Peter Bellew said: “Making these cancellations is not something we take lightly, but what’s worse is canceling our customers’ plans on the day they are ready to fly.”
Regarding the slow reference to the crew, Aviation Minister Robert Courts said in April that “we are looking at ways to help the industry speed up job reference checks” by “using our freedoms after Brexit.”
Is Brexit to blame?
Some airline executives, such as Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary and David Burling from Tui, have pointed to Brexit and said that British airlines lost European staff after the transition and that they can no longer recruit from within the EU.
There may also be an element of redundant airline staff moving to other service and hospitality roles and not returning to aviation this year.
The independents travel correspondent says Simon Calder: “[Prior to Brexit] There were many more Europeans working with hospitality here than in aviation. A large proportion of them also left the UK. And it created a large number of vacancies.
“Many excellent British aviation professionals, laid off for many months [in the pandemic] and unsure if their jobs would ever return, “fulfilled” those roles. It is unlikely that they will be lured back to a stressful role with antisocial hours. “
At yesterday’s Business Select Committee session, Aviation Minister Robert Courts said that it was “unlikely” that Brexit was partly responsible for the labor shortage that has led to disruptions.
“From the evidence we have, it looks like Brexit has not been a significant factor. I do not think the talent pool is there,” he said.
Other European countries have also experienced disruptions in recent months – the Dutch airport Schiphol and its flagship KLM have been two of the worst affected, along with Dublin Airport.