Airlines told to offer 'realistic schedules' as UK unveils plan to avert more flight chaos

Ministers publish 22-point plan aimed at easing chaos over Easter and school holidays

Passengers queue for security checks at London Heathrow, the UK's main international airport. AP
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Airlines flying from the UK have been told to offer “realistic schedules” over the summer to prevent last-minute cancellations from adding to the woes of British holidaymakers.

UK airports were plagued by long queues and cancelled flights during Easter and recent school holidays, blamed by ministers on pent-up demand and staff shortages after two years of the coronavirus pandemic. Flights are sometimes scrapped at the 11th hour.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has published a 22-point list of government initiatives including a £700,000 ($848,000) scheme to recruit staff and an offer to airlines to cut back schedules without losing slots.

But ministers said it was ultimately down to airlines and airports to prevent further outbreaks of chaos during the summer holidays.

London Heathrow Airport, the busiest in the UK, expects passenger numbers to rise to 53 million this year, about two thirds of pre-pandemic levels, after all restrictions on returning to the UK were abolished in March.

The airport on Thursday ordered about 30 flights to be cancelled, a day after broken passport gates caused long delays for passengers.

“With 100 days having passed since we set out that restrictions would be eased, there’s simply no excuse for widespread disruption,” Mr Shapps said.

“It’s now on airports and airlines to commit to running the flights they’ve promised or cancel them, with plenty of time to spare so we can avoid the kind of scenes we saw at Easter and half term.”

Heathrow Airport through the years - in pictures

The government said it not would turn to immigration as a way to recruit more staff, arguing that the US and mainland Europe had also suffered disruption.

Some industry figures have partly blamed post-Brexit immigration restrictions for the chaos, while ministers said getting people through training and background checks was another obstacle.

Eight of Mr Shapps’s 22 points were dedicated to hiring more staff, including by easing training requirements, promoting aviation careers via job centres, and working with colleges and universities.

His other talking points include:

  • Demanding weekly updates to ministers from airlines and airports on whether they can deliver their summer schedules;
  • Publishing a charter of passengers’ rights informing them of what they can expect of carriers;
  • An amnesty announced last week that lets airlines hand back some of their allocated slots without losing them in future;
  • Asking airports for updated plans for how they will assist disabled and less mobile passengers.

“Summer schedules must be reviewed to make sure they are deliverable,” and “everyone from ground handlers to air traffic control must collaborate on resilience planning,” the industry has been told.

Richard Moriarty, the head of the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, said he shared the government’s ambitions to “resolve the travel issues that we’ve seen in previous months.”

“We will work alongside government and the wider industry to help deliver a better experience for passengers,” he said.

Updated: June 30, 2022, 1:59 PM