British Airways cancels 78 London flights as Manchester Airport boss quits

Airlines are struggling to recruit and train enough staff to cope with the increased demand for travel

Latest: Chaotic scenes at Heathrow ahead of nightmare weekend

More than 100 flights at British airports were cancelled on Wednesday as the chaos blighting the Easter holiday season continued.

British Airways cancelled 78 flights to or from London Heathrow Airport on Wednesday, four of them a result of staff absences.

EasyJet, which is also grappling with an unusually high level of staff sickness because of Covid-19, cut at least 30 flights from its schedule from London’s Gatwick Airport on Wednesday.

Staff shortages caused by Covid and a failure to rehire people made redundant earlier in the pandemic continue to blight the travel industry. In Britain, this problem has been worsened by end of the school terms, with families flying abroad over the Easter holidays.

To reduce the impact on passengers, airlines say, most cancellations are made at least a day in advance and on routes with several daily flights.

Manchester Airport's boss stepped down on Tuesday after days of criticism over long queues at check-in desks, security, baggage halls and to enter terminal buildings.

Last week, British Airways cancelled many of its flights. It said it had decided to reduce its schedule until the end of May to boost reliability, and that some routes had been suspended for several months because of Covid restrictions at some destinations.

Travellers queue for security checks at Heathrow Terminal 2 on Monday. The airport has been blighted by mass flight cancellations and extended waiting times over the past three weeks. PA

Passengers at Heathrow have for weeks faced longer than normal queueing times as a result of staff shortages, problems with e-gates for passport scanning and flight cancellations.

Many airlines, which laid off vast numbers of staff at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, are racing to recruit, train and get security clearances for new employees in time for the busy summer season.

The situation could worsen this weekend as travellers return from trips taken during the first week of the school holiday.

‘No such flight exists’

On Wednesday, BA passengers expressed their frustration over cancellations on Twitter.

Adam Galbraith Cobb said the late disembarkation of his flight, which had arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule “really sums up BA’s problems at the moment”.

A woman called Katalina said her partner had been given the wrong information about a BA flight after his journey was delayed by more than a day.

“My boyfriend got told by British Airways at Seattle airport that there’d be a flight from Heathrow to Malaga for him at 4pm GMT. No such flight exists,” she wrote on Twitter. “Why would you lie to a worried passenger? This is after a 27h delay to his journey.”

At Manchester Airport, piles of suitcases were left in terminals after travellers abandoned the wait to reclaim their baggage and opted instead to go home.

The airport is short-staffed after laying off workers during the pandemic. Birmingham Airport has also been affected by the industry-wide problems.

'Further challenges ahead for Manchester Airport'

The managing director at Manchester, in north-west England, quit on Tuesday evening after the chaos prompted the city’s mayor, Andy Burnham, to hold crisis talks with police and firefighters in case they would have to step in.

Karen Smart resigned and will return south for family reasons and to “pursue fresh career opportunities”, her bosses said.

Last weekend, the airport apologised to passengers after admitting it had “fallen short of the standards they expected”.

Karen Smart resigned as managing director of Manchester Airport and will return to the south of England for family reasons and to “pursue fresh career opportunities”, her bosses said. PA

Ms Smart’s resignation was announced hours after Mr Burnham said police and firefighters could be called in to bring order to the manic scenes at the airport, which he called “concerning”.

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

“But at the same time, we don't want to see the scenes that we saw at the weekend and we obviously need to work with them to work through those issues and make sure we're managing those things and giving the right information to the public and being clear about the plan to get things to an acceptable level.”

Ms Smart took on the managing director role at the start of the pandemic and has worked for Manchester Airports Group for eight years, including a stint in charge of East Midlands Airport.

“Over the last two years, Karen has guided Manchester Airport through the most challenging period of its 84-year history, having made a major contribution to Mag throughout her time with the business,” Mag chief executive Charlie Cornish said.

“I am sorry to lose Karen after her years of valuable service, but also understand her desire to return to the South for family reasons and indeed to explore new career opportunities.

Passengers queue outside a terminal at Manchester Airport on Tuesday morning. Photo: Twitter

“While there are sure to be further challenges ahead, I am confident we will soon start to see the benefits of the recovery plans Karen has helped put in place.”

Ian Costigan moves from his post as group transformation director to become interim managing director.

On Tuesday, John O’Neill, North West regional industrial officer for Unite, a trade union, said its officials were meeting airport management to discuss pay.

He said that after mass redundancies caused by the pandemic, some workers had found other jobs and may not be willing to return to work at the airport doing unsocial hours for similar rates of pay.

Mag, which also runs Stansted and East Midlands airports, is partly owned by the 10 local authorities of Greater Manchester, with the biggest stake held by Manchester City Council.

The Mag airport site is offering jobs for drivers with a starting salary of £13,000 ($17,019) a year and security “ambassador” jobs paying £10.53 an hour. The role, advertised as suited to students, includes night-time, weekend and public holiday shifts alongside 3am starts.

Last year’s annual report for Manchester Airport showed the top-earning director was paid £2.5 million in 2021, a £500,000 increase on the previous year, and that pay for directors as a whole increased from £5.9 million to £7.3 million in 2021.

Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “Bargain-basement wages and insecure jobs must be consigned to the past if the sector wants to get back on track.

“It is pretty simple – if you want to thrive, treat your workers with respect and don’t attack their jobs, pay and conditions.”

Heathrow through the years

Updated: April 07, 2022, 8:55 AM
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