Britons’ spring holidays are being cut short by plane chaos around Europe – with some having to leave their hotels a day early because operators are cancelling scheduled flights and rebooking them on others.
Staff shortages and the start of the post-Covid Easter holiday rush are causing large numbers of cancellations and huge airport queues – with British Airways axing at least 78 flights to and from Heathrow for today, while easyJet called off at least 30 at Gatwick.
The delays and cancellations are being blamed mostly on ‘staffing shortages and recruitment challenges’, and a sudden surge in passenger numbers – both caused by Covid and the lifting of curbs which have been in place for most of the past two years.
Steven Fletcher, MailOnline head of sport, was due to fly home from Agadir in Morocco to London’s Gatwick Airport on Friday, but had his flight cancelled and must now return tomorrow morning. He was informed via an email from easyJet that he had been rebooked to fly out at 10.10am on Thursday, instead of 9.35am the next day.
Mr Fletcher branded the process an ‘absolute shambles’, saying: ‘We’ve already paid for the hotel and lost a day of our holiday. Since then, the only correspondence has been to tell us there are unlikely to be any refreshments on the flight home.
‘We paid £478 for two return flights and have now lost a day. And on the flight out they had no food on the first flight of the day, at 5.35am from Gatwick, because the new supplier can’t keep up with demand.’
Another passenger told MailOnline: ‘I arrived 36 hours late to my ski holiday in the French Alps because BA cancelled our flight to Grenoble. To make matters worse they managed to leave my bag in London so I then had to spend a morning cobbling together something to ski in. So a 6 day ski holiday was reduced to 4.5. Three days in, my bag still hasn’t been returned to me. I’ve heard nothing from BA as to irs whereabouts so I’m having to borrow clothes from my family to wear each evening. For a holiday that has been postponed for two years it’s very disappointing. ‘
Other passengers have similarly complained about the airline rebooking their inbound departures a day earlier, with one customer writing on Twitter: ‘Outraged with @easyJet right now.
‘It’s one thing to cancel my flight and rebook me a day earlier, but to charge me £30 extra just to get the cabin bag and legroom I’d already paid for on the initial flight is pretty despicable.’
Meanwhile, another person experienced their outbound flight being rebooked at an earlier time, incurring additional hotel costs.
They wrote: ‘@easyJet – you cancelled my flight to see my dad who I haven’t seen in 16 years. You have booked me on an earlier flight. I have to take out extra accommodation (one extra night). Will you cover this cost?’
MailOnline’s head of sport Steven Fletcher, pictured with his wife Eloise. He was due to fly home from Agadir in Morocco to London’s Gatwick Airport on Friday, but had his flight cancelled and must now return tomorrow morning
Other passengers have similarly complained about the airline rebooking their inbound and outbound departures a day earlier
Travellers shared pictures on social media of long lines forming at some of Britain’s busiest airports earlier today, with one sharing a video at 1.50am of crowds waiting at UK Border Control in Stansted.
He wrote: ‘Terrible arrival into Stansted Airport 45 mins ago. Very slow queue and loads of people behind too.’
Tweeting a picture of two lengthy queues, another flyer said: ‘If it’s helpful this is what Birmingham Airport security queue looks like at 4.10am today! Estimated 10-15 mins wait.’
Over 1,140 flights were grounded at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham in the week up to April 3 – with EasyJet and British Airways also cutting 60 and 98 flights respectively yesterday.
It comes after John O’Neill, North West Regional Industrial Officer for the trade union Unite, said officials met management at Manchester Airport yesterday to discuss pay.
He warned: ‘Summer is going to be far worse than this. It is the time to get everything in place otherwise summer is going to very difficult.’
And Karen Smart was yesterday forced to resign as managing director of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports, after just two years in the post.
Manchester Airport management were due to meet political leaders and unions to discuss the ongoing situation, after Blackley and Broughton MP Graham Stringer challenged them to ‘get a grip or get out’.
Crowds are seen at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2 in London this morning as families try and get away for the Easter holidays
British Airways axed at least 78 flights scheduled to and from Heathrow for Wednesday, while easyJet called off at least 30 at Gatwick. Pictured: passengers queuing at Heathrow Terminal 2 today
Over 1,140 flights were grounded at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham in the week up to April 3. Pictured: Pilots and airline staff waiting at London’s Heathrow Airport today
And unions are warning that the carnage is set to go on throughout the summer because of the delays in processing counter-terror checks needed for new airport staff, with some said to be taking 30 weeks instead of the usual 14 to 15 while civil servants WFH.
In a statement, MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish said: ‘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.
‘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.
‘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 and look forward to working with Ian and his leadership team to drive them forward.’
Yesterday, passengers at Manchester were spotted jumping over barriers and abandoning their luggage in a desperate attempt to make their flights, according to Nicky Kelvin, head of travel website Points Guy UK.
Meanwhile at Heathrow, a male passenger in his early 30s collapsed while queueing as staff shortages left people waiting four hours to clear passport control.
Eyewitness Jessica Oliver told MailOnline: ‘I just walked past and he was on the floor. There were people helping him – I don’t know if it was dehydration or very low blood sugar, but it’s very hot and staff are handing out water bottles. It was also chaotic at Amsterdam, but I’ve never seen anything like this.’
The man’s current condition is unknown and Heathrow Airport has been contacted for an update.
To reduce the impact on passengers, most cancellations are being made at least a day in advance and on routes with multiple daily flights, so passengers can be offered alternative departures.
British Airways said many of its cancellations include flights cut as part of its decision last month to reduce its schedule until the end of May.
Travellers also took to social media to share photos of huge queues stretching up to four hours long yesterday, with one person writing: ‘Chaos at Heathrow Airport arrivals. Some people have been standing here for the past four hours and the queues are not moving. What is causing the disruption?’.
Another passenger added: ‘Three hour plus clearing immigrations wait at Terminal 3 for under two hours European flight!! Still nowhere near through. No one giving any updates!’.
Unions are warning the carnage is set to go on throughout the summer because of the delays in processing counter-terror checks needed for new airport staff. Pictured: Heathrow Terminal 2 as families try and get away for the Easter holidays today
At Heathrow yesterday, a male passenger in his early 30s collapsed while queueing as staff shortages left people waiting four hours to clear passport control. Pictured: Passengers are seen queuing with their luggage at Heathrow this morning
Huge queues started forming at Birmingham, Manchester (pictured today) and Stansted airports from 4.10am this morning with passengers arriving early as cancelled flights and delays continue to derail Easter getaways
Passengers took to social media early today to share pictures of long lines already forming at some of Britain’s busiest airports, with one traveller sharing a video (above) at 1.50am of crowds waiting at UK Border Control in Stansted
Tweeting a picture of two lengthy queues (above, taken today), another passenger said: ‘If it’s helpful this is what Birmingham Airport security queue looks like at 4.10am today! Estimated 10-15 mins wait.’
Travellers face chaos at Britain’s busiest airports including Heathrow (pictured yesterday), Gatwick and Manchester
More than 1,140 flights have been grounded at a number of major airports including Manchester (pictured yesterday)
The unprecedented bedlam is being blamed on ‘staffing shortages and recruitment challenges’ (Gatwick pictured yesterday)
Manchester, pictured yesterday, the UK’s third busiest airport, has been mired in chaos in recent weeks
Karen Smart has resigned as managing director of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports, after just two years in the post, the company confirmed on Tuesday afternoon
And while sat in Terminal 5 at Heathrow, Hannah Swales told MailOnline about her ‘shambolic’ return flight from Dubai. She said: ‘We were delayed from Dubai for three hours and then had to be rebooked on the “next available flight”. We were to stay in Heathrow Airport with no luggage and no access to medication in our luggage.’
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘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.’
Martin Chalk, general secretary of the pilots’ union Balpa, also told The Telegraph: ‘The chaos witnessed at British airports may well be repeated throughout the summer because airlines, laden with debt… have not yet rehired enough staff.’
The rise in bookings is overtaking the number of airline staff being hired, which is being further exacerbated by security checks.
An industry source further blamed the vetting process, saying it can take up to six months before someone is able to come in and do a job at an airport.
But a spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DfT) contended the ‘aviation industry is responsible for resourcing at airports’, adding: ‘They manage their staff absences, although we want to see minimal disruption for passengers during the Easter period.
‘The requirement for Counter Terrorist Checks for aviation security staff is important for the protection of the travelling public and the Government continues to process these security clearances in a timely manner.’
There were also reports of travel chaos at Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Monday, as well as long delays at Dover and a train blockage in the Channel Tunnel.
Heathrow warned passengers of possible delays, tweeting: ‘We continue to advise passengers arrive 3 hours prior to their scheduled departure time as we are not able to estimate queue times ahead of journeys, due to them being influenced by a significant range of factors.’
The carnage is set to go on throughout the summer because of the delays in processing counter-terror checks needed for new airport staff, with some said to be taking 30 weeks instead of the usual 14 to 15 while civil servants work from home. Pictured: passengers queuing at Heathrow this afternoon
Passengers queue early on Tuesday for security at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 1, as travel chaos continues at airports and ports as the Easter holidays get underway
Long queues seen yesterday as passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2 for the start of their Easter holiday
The latest figures show British Airways cancelled 662 flights while easyJet axed 357 last week, according to data from Cirium, which carries out aviation analysis. But some of these totals are based on historical cancellations and were flights axed months ago. Pictured left and right: Huge queues for security at Manchester Airport
Long queues were also reported at Birmingham from 7.45am yesterday, with one passenger warning others to ‘get here early’. Another traveller, Luka Beckett, said she was ‘trapped’ on a grounded plane for 40 minutes on Sunday due to a lack of staff.
She told Birmingham Live: ‘We should have been home at around 10pm, but got in sometime after midnight. It was horrific.’
This follows a week of reported mass disruption with more than 1,100 flights cancelled throughout the UK. In the week up to April 3, a total of 1,143 flights were cancelled from and to the UK compared with just 197 flights cancelled the same week in 2019.
The latest figures show British Airways cancelled 662 flights while EasyJet axed 357 last week, according to data from Cirium, which carries out aviation analysis.
But some of these totals are based on historical cancellations and were flights axed months ago while airlines have claimed they represent a small percentage of their total flights.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, Mr Stringer, the former leader of Manchester Council and chairman of the airport board, said: ‘Covid has made life difficult for everyone in the aviation industry. The way to respond to that is by good employment procedures and not by casualisation, effectively using fire and rehire. The airport needs to reset and pay above the market rate to stabilise the situation and give confidence to employees and the travelling public.’
On Monday, Manchester Airport chiefs apologised for ‘falling short’ following long delays over the weekend.
Meanwhile, pictures showed long queues at Heathrow, with airport bosses blaming a huge spike in passenger numbers. Heathrow chiefs say passenger numbers have now reached pre-pandemic levels, with Saturday being the first school holidays since the start of the pandemic with no travel restrictions in place in England.
Bosses at Gatwick also said passengers numbers were returning to 2019 levels at the Sussex airport and that while there were some check-in queues that it was generally ‘coping well’ with the increase in footfall.
One travel expert estimated that there had ‘probably been more resignations in the last three months’ than during the Covid crisis because staff were ‘worn out’. Another warned disruption at airports such as Manchester could last for ‘months’, with firms having to train new staff to deal with the post-Covid increase in demand.
Bosses of the company behind Manchester Airport, which is in the same group as Stansted and East Midlands Airport, said it had seen a 1,300 percent increase increase in passenger numbers in February – compared to the previous year when the country was in lockdown.
Pictures taken at Manchester Airport on Monday showed long queues of people attempting to get through to security. Passengers also bemoaned a lack of organisation at the check-in, with long queues also seen at the check-in desk. In a tongue-in-cheek Twitter post, one frustrated traveller described a snaking queue at the airport as a world record attempt at the ‘world’s slowest, longest conga line’.
A Manchester Airport spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘Manchester Airport apologises to passengers whose experiences have fallen below the standard we aim to provide. We want to assure customers and colleagues that their safety and security will always be our first priority.
‘Our whole industry is facing staff shortages and recruitment challenges at present, after the most damaging two years in its history. The removal of all travel restrictions after two years, coupled with the start of the summer travel season, has seen a rapid increase in passenger numbers, which is putting an enormous strain on our operation.
‘We are doing all we can to recruit the staff we need to meet this demand, but this is taking time due to the lengthy vetting and training processes involved. That is why we have been advising travellers that there may be, at times, longer queues than normal.
‘Whenever this is the case, we do all we can to redeploy resources and prioritise passengers within queues as best we can.
‘We are also aware that partners working on our site, such as baggage handling agents, are facing similar challenges. We will continue to support them in any way we can to deliver the best possible experience for customers during this challenging time.’
It comes after the west-London airport faced its own chaos last week, after a major BA IT meltdown forced the airline to cancel or delay hundreds of flights.