Heathrow and Manchester airports chaos: Police talks over easing misery for passengers

Manchester’s mayor asks police what help they can offer the city’s airport

Latest: Chaotic scenes at Heathrow ahead of nightmare weekend

Travellers at London’s Heathrow Airport and Manchester Airport were hit by further travel misery on Tuesday, as staff shortages due to Covid-19 led to more flight cancellations and extended waiting times.

British Airways made last-minute cancellations to three flights to or from Heathrow on Tuesday owing to staff absences, a representative for the airline told The National. These were on top of about 100 cancellations made last week due to a variety of factors, including travel restrictions in Asian destinations and the airline’s pre-summer scaling back process.

At least 98 of the axed flights had been due to leave or arrive at Heathrow on Tuesday. It is estimated that about 20,000 passengers will be affected by Tuesday’s cancellations alone.

Budget carrier easyJet cancelled 60 flights to and from the UK on Monday, and a spokeswoman told The National that a similar number of trips had been axed on Tuesday owing to higher than normal sickness rates among crew members.

Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport on Tuesday morning. Getty Images

“EasyJet will operate the vast majority of its 1,525 flights today with a small proportion cancelled in advance to give customers the ability to rebook on to alternative flights,” the airline said in a statement. “We are sorry for any inconvenience for affected customers.”

‘Nightmare for airlines and airports’

Aviation data firm Cirium said 1,143 UK flights were cancelled last week, compared with 197 during the same period in 2019.

The vast majority of last week’s cancellations were by easyJet and BA.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “This is a staggering level of flight cancellations caused by a cocktail of not having enough staff in place and Covid-induced staff shortages.

“Airlines are certainly seeing a high level of demand to fly, but are simply unable to cope with that demand due to a lack of resources.

“It’s a nightmare situation for airlines and airports at the moment.”

Large queues formed outside Heathrow on Tuesday morning, City AM newspaper reported, as frantic passengers took to social media to inquire about the increased waiting times.

The fast-track security service at Terminal 3 was closed on Tuesday morning, and staff said they could not say when it would be up and running again. T3 serves major airlines for long-haul travel including Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, Delta Air Lines and Qantas.

Manchester Airport has also been hit by major travel disruption in recent days, and lines of passengers began forming outside terminals as early as 4.45am on Tuesday. Some people had to queue for hours for their flights on Monday and at the weekend.

The majority of schools in Britain closed for Easter holidays last Friday, prompting many families to make a dash for travel.

The airport previously apologised and said the industry was “facing staff shortages and recruitment challenges”.

Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said police and firefighters could be called in to calm the chaos at the city’s airport. Mr Burnham said he would meet airport bosses to discuss the “concerning” situation.

“I have been in touch with colleagues at Greater Manchester Police at the weekend to see what we can do to support the airport,” he said.

“It’s a difficult moment for airports around the world. Having laid low for the pandemic, they’ve had to scale up very quickly. We understand the challenges that we’ve got.”

He suggested outside intervention may be required at the airport, and asked: “Can we work with our fire service and police service to do a little more to help the airport manage some of the pressures that it has?”

‘Absolute car crash over my cancelled flight and lost luggage’

Jamie Vadasz, a technical services manager from Warwickshire, was forced to return to work on Tuesday without his laptop after British Airways lost his suitcase on a flight from Hanover to Heathrow. Photo: Jamie Vadasz

Jamie Vadasz, 28, was among those caught up in the problems blighting BA on Tuesday. The technical services manager from Warwickshire, central England, had his flight from Heathrow to Hanover cancelled last Wednesday owing to an IT glitch that upended the travel plans of thousands of passengers and left some stranded for days.

After his journey was rescheduled to the following day, he enjoyed a weekend in the German city before encountering more problems on his return flight on Monday. BA misplaced his suitcase containing his work laptop, iPad and sentimental items, which meant he had to return to work on Tuesday but could not fully carry out his duties.

“It’s been an absolute nightmare,” he told The National. “My flight was cancelled and they didn’t even inform me. I found out four hours before by checking in on the app. No phone call, no email, no nothing.”

After arriving at Heathrow in the early hours of Tuesday, Mr Vadasz spent two hours speaking to BA staff to try to determine the whereabouts of his 23 kilograms of luggage.

“I had passed the point of being angry, I was too tired,” he said. “It’s not like I can let this go. It’s not money, it’s personal stuff like a present from a lost family member, a watch, my work laptop.”

After eventually giving up, he made the two-hour drive back to the West Midlands without his suitcase but with the promise that a BA supervisor would call him within hours, only to be left disappointed again.

“I had two-and-a-half hours’ sleep and woke up at 5.45am for a call with a [BA] supervisor, but he never called me. I am so, so stressed. I don’t need this stress.

“It’s an absolute car crash, to be honest, when you get fobbed off and you don’t have a clue about what is happening. It’s a shambles. It’s making my day a lot harder.

“I am at the point where if it does not turn up I will drive back to Heathrow.”

Heathrow through the years

Updated: April 07, 2022, 8:55 AM