British Airways and London’s Heathrow Airport have welcomed a UK government amnesty allowing them to cancel more flights in advance to avoid letting down passengers at the 11th hour.
The air industry has been under pressure from ministers and the public to address the long queues, cancellations and baggage problems that have plagued the sector’s comeback from coronavirus restrictions.
To ease the chaos before the school summer holidays, airlines have been given until next Friday to hand back airport slots they do not expect to be able to use.
These normally operate on a “use it or lose it” basis, making airlines reluctant to cut down their schedules, but the amnesty means they are now expected to plan a realistic timetable without being penalised.
“We welcome these new measures, which help us to provide the certainty our customers deserve,” a British Airways spokeswoman said.
She said the amnesty would allow BA to “consolidate some of our quieter daily flights to multi-frequency destinations well in advance, and to protect more of our holiday flights”.
A Heathrow spokesman said the amnesty was “good news for passengers” and said the airport encouraged operators to reconsider their summer schedules.
“This amnesty will enable airlines to make early choices to consolidate their schedules, boosting the resilience of summer operations and giving passengers the confidence they deserve ahead of their journeys,” he said.
Heathrow is recommending that people arrive three hours or more before their flights as passenger numbers climb back towards pre-pandemic levels.
The industry suffered another embarrassment on Friday when BBC journalist Frank Gardner, who uses a wheelchair, said he had been left trapped on a plane at London Gatwick because of a lack of assistance.
The problems at airports have been blamed on pent-up demand after the end of Covid restrictions combined with staff shortages owing to lay-offs during the pandemic.
Heathrow Airport through the years - in pictures
Ministers in Britain have promised to help recruit more people to the air industry, including by streamlining training.
But they said the onus was on airlines and airports to sort out their problems and that they would not turn to immigration to ease the staff shortages.
“With 100 days having passed since we set out that restrictions would be eased, there’s simply no excuse for widespread disruption,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Thursday.
In Germany, by contrast, the government plans to bring in workers from abroad to ease long queues at airports.
Strikes have added to the chaos around Europe. French airport workers plan to walk out at Paris Charles de Gaulle for three days next week to press their pay demands.