London's Gatwick and Amsterdam's Schiphol airports slash summer flights

Staff shortages have caused chaos at airports since Covid travel restrictions were lifted

Passengers queue at Gatwick Airport on June 7, 2022. The airport has announced a limit on travellers this summer. PA
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Travel chaos has forced London's Gatwick Airport and Amsterdam's Schiphol to limit the number of travellers this summer and cancel flights to avoid congestion following long queues in recent weeks.

The airports have been struggling due to staff shortages since Covid-19 travel restrictions were removed.

The industry has faced criticism for the scale of lay-offs during the pandemic and the slow speed of recruitment once the skies reopened.

Several European airports, including France's Charles de Gaulle, have struggled to cope with passenger flows due to staff shortages as the travel industry recovers from the pandemic.

Manchester and Heathrow airports have been hit by huge queues of passengers.

Up to one in 10 flights will be dropped at Gatwick in advance, after passengers complained at not being given notice early enough that their holidays were being affected.

Gatwick's largest operator is easyJet while British Airways and package operator Tui are among others to use the airport.

Gatwick, Britain's second largest airport, is planning to cap its number of daily flights to 825 in July and 850 in August, compared to about 900 daily flights during the same time period in previous years.

It said the decision was taken following a review of its operations and that it is “temporarily moderating its rate of growth” for two months to help passengers “experience a more reliable and better standard of service”.

Gatwick said the reduction would allow airlines to manage more predictable timetables and help ground-handling companies during the school holidays. The vast majority of scheduled flights this summer will operate as normal, it said.

Its airport review found that a number of companies based at Gatwick are continuing to operate with a severe lack of staff resources over the summer holiday period.

European airports hit by queues — in pictures

The airport said if the issue was not addressed, passengers could experience queues, delays and cancellations.

The developments comes after a busy Jubilee holiday week, during which more than 150 flights were cancelled across the UK on the eve of the Jubilee. At Gatwick, 52 departures and 32 arrivals were cancelled in one day.

Julia Lo Bue Said, chief executive at Advantage Travel Partnership, the UK's largest network of independent travel agents, said capping flights appeared to be a “pragmatic solution” as the biggest frustration for passengers was last-minute cancellations.

Earlier this week, airlines were urged to review their summer timetables to ensure they were “deliverable” after weeks of queues and cancellations.

The Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority issued a joint letter to the aviation industry calling on companies to take every step possible to “avoid the unacceptable scenes we have recently witnessed”.

Airline passengers have been hit by disruption for several months, with the situation worsening due to the rise in demand sparked by the half-term school holiday and the UK's four-day platinum jubilee weekend.

The aviation industry is suffering from staff shortages after letting thousands of people go during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gatwick said it operated around 800 flights a day during the Jubilee week.

Chief executive of Gatwick Airport Stewart Wingate said: “Gatwick prepared well for the restart of international travel by successfully reopening our South Terminal and we have now successfully recruited 400 new colleagues to help us process passengers quickly through security this summer.

“We are also working closely with our airlines to avoid disruption to passengers this summer, and while more newly recruited staff will start work in coming weeks, we know it will be a busy summer.

“However, it is clear that during the jubilee week, a number of companies operating at the airport struggled in particular, because of staff shortages. By taking decisive action now, we aim to help the ground handlers — and also our airlines — to better match their flying programmes with their available resources.

“As has already been the case, the vast majority of flights over the summer will operate as normal, and the steps taken today mean that our passengers can expect a more reliable and better standard of service, while also improving conditions for staff working at the airport.

“I am immensely grateful to all our staff for their tireless work over the last few months to get the airport back up and running, and for helping get passengers away on their travels.”

easyJet said: “We are now reviewing the details to assess what this means for easyJet’s Gatwick operation.

“Given the high frequencies of our services to and from Gatwick, we expect to be able to reaccommodate the majority of customers whose flights are affected by the cap.”

Amsterdam's Schiphol plans to limit flights to ease summer queues

Amsterdam's Schiphol airport also announced on Thursday a reduction in its operation.

“Not intervening would mean unmanageable queues and many travellers would miss their flight. That would lead to unsafe situations for both travellers and staff,” the airport said.

“Schiphol has let airlines and travel organisations know that a limit needs to be placed on the number of travellers that can depart from the airport every day.”

A tight labour market has meant there are too few security staff to carry out the necessary checks on all travellers, a situation replicated at other European airports.

Schiphol believes the maximum number of travellers it can handle a day rises to about 72,500 in August.

But it said consultations with airlines over new limits had now been completed, with the maximum passenger limits set for the period from July 7 to July 31, although more talks with airlines would follow.

Following the lifting of Covid-19 measures, Schiphol says it expects 60 million passengers this year, up from 25.5 million in 2021.

But more travellers than expected passed through the airport during spring and winter, with summer promising to be even busier.

“We are taking this measure with an unbelievably heavy heart. Everyone at Schiphol and all our partners want nothing more than to welcome all travellers with open arms, especially after the impact coronavirus has had,” Schiphol chief executive Dick Benschop said in a tweet.

“A lot is possible at Schiphol this summer, but not everything. Setting a limit now means that the large majority of travellers will be able to travel from Schiphol in a safe and responsible way,” he said.

Mr Benschop said that similar measures were due to be introduced at Frankfurt and Heathrow, without giving further details.

The Federation of Dutch Travel Agencies (ANVR) announced earlier Thursday that it will take legal action to compel the airport to pay compensation over cancelled flights.

Updated: June 17, 2022, 9:01 AM
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