EasyJet slashes timetable at Gatwick

UK faces summer of travel chaos as staff shortages bite

Travellers queue to check in for their easyJet flights at Gatwick Airport. EPA
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Travellers hoping for a smooth summer getaway from the UK suffered another blow today, when easyJet announced it is “proactively” cancelling flights at Gatwick.

The airline has cancelled dozens of daily flights at the West Sussex airport in recent weeks, including some when passengers were already on the plane.

EasyJet said it expects to be able to rebook “the majority” of passengers on to other departures, with “many being on the same day”.

It said it wants to “build additional resilience” as the aviation sector across Europe is having “operational issues”.

These include air traffic control delays, staff shortages in ground handling and at airports, and increased waits for identity checks on new recruits.

Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport asked airlines to reduce their schedules on Monday while it tries to get its services back on track after a baggage system malfunction lead to a sea of luggage at terminals at the weekend, with passengers forced to leave without their cases.

The move by Heathrow affected around 5,000 passengers at Terminals 2 and 3 on approximately 30 flights.

An Emirates Airbus A380 with almost 500 passengers to Dubai was one the flights that were grounded amidst the ongoing issues.

Other flight cancellations included at least three Virgin Atlantic transatlantic flights, including departures to New York and Los Angeles.

British Airways also said it had cancelled flights to France, including three destined for Toulouse and two for Marseille.

It comes after images emerged on Friday of a huge pile-up of passengers’ luggage.

EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren said: “The actions we’re taking, we do need to make sure that we can continue to operate a stable programme for the remainder of the summer.

“The overwhelming vast majority of people would not be affected by what we are announcing today.”

He added: “We believe it’s the right measure to take.”

Responding to easyJet’s announcement on summer flight cancellations, Rory Boland, editor of consumer magazine Which? Travel, said: “EasyJet has caused chaos and distress for passengers over several weeks with a constant stream of last-minute cancellations.

“While reducing the number of flights it operates may be the most sensible option in delivering a more reliable service over the summer, it yet again leaves passengers panicking about whether their flight or holiday will be cancelled or delayed.

“The summer holidays are just around the corner, so easyJet must immediately provide clarity on which flights are being cut.

“Crucially, it needs to start playing by the rules and rerouting its customers, including on flights with other carriers.

“That’s the legal requirement and the very least the airline can do for customers it has left in a mess.”

Gatwick announced last week that it will be reducing the number of daily flights during July and August to help tackle staffing issues.

A limit on flights has also been introduced by Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.

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 layoffs during the pandemic and the slow speed of recruitment once the skies reopened.

EasyJet said: “In response to these caps and in order to build additional resilience, easyJet is proactively consolidating a number of flights across affected airports.

“This provides customers with advance notice and the potential to rebook on to alternative flights.”

EasyJet admitted there will be a “cost impact” from the disruption, and the amount of money it spends to operate each seat per kilometre excluding fuel will “exceed” previous guidance.

It said: “We believe that these capacity/cost impacts are a one-off this summer as we would expect all parties to build greater resilience in time for 2023 peak periods.”

The carrier expects its capacity between April and June to be 87 per cent of 2019 levels, rising to 90 per cent during the following three months.

Mr Lundgren said: “Delivering a safe and reliable operation for our customers in this challenging environment is easyJet’s highest priority and we are sorry that for some customers we have not been able to deliver the service they have come to expect from us.

Easyjet aircraft are parked at the South Terminal at Gatwick Airport. Reuters

“While in recent weeks the action we have taken to build in further resilience has seen us continue to operate up to 1,700 flights and carry up to a quarter of a million customers a day, the ongoing challenging operating environment has unfortunately continued to have an impact, which has resulted in cancellations.

“Coupled with airport caps, we are taking pre-emptive actions to increase resilience over the balance of summer, including a range of further flight consolidations in the affected airports, giving advance notice to customers, and we expect the vast majority to be rebooked on alternative flights within 24 hours.

“We believe this is the right action for us to take so we can deliver for all of our customers over the peak summer period in this challenging environment.”

Chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke has denied that post-Brexit immigration policy is to blame for the chaos at airports.

Asked about airline bosses’ assertions that an inflexible post-Brexit labour market is to blame, Mr Clarke told Kay Burley on Sky News: “I do not accept that this is simply a direct effect from Brexit.”

He pointed to an “industry which massively slimmed down” during the pandemic and now is not “resourced and manned” to meet the pent-up demand.

Mr Clarke added: “It’s now massively expanded its operations and the pressure is enormous, and it hasn’t managed to align the two.

“We will do our part as a government to make sure our side of things is right, from issues like passports to border control.

“The airlines need to do their part of things.”

Updated: June 21, 2022, 4:43 AM