TUI, easyJet and British Airways are some of the airlines being hit by staffing issues as passengers continue to face chaotic scenes at the likes of Manchester Airport ahead of the school holidays
Covid cases, staffing issues and pilot shortages are fuelling chaos in airports, with an unprecedented number of flights cancelled this year so far.
Over the past month dozens of stories have emerged of people being bumped from overbooked aircraft or stuck in airports due to last minute cancellations.
While air travel has always been subject to majorly inconvenient disruptions, issues have been increasingly in regularity this year as the industry struggles to deal with demand post-lockdown.
Steve Buckley found himself at the sharp end of such turmoil when his flight from Manchester Airport to Lanzarote was delayed by 24 hours, forcing him to stay in an airport hotel overnight.
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At the end of his holiday he was stuck on the island for another day when the plane was again delayed overnight.
As well as many frustrated hours pacing around airports and sitting glumly on planes, the 61-year-old construction worker had to beg for two extra days annual leave from his boss.
“Two or three times a year we go to Lanzarote,” Steve told the Mirror. “I have been late on a plane but never delayed like that. Staffing levels are terrible at the moment.
“It took three hours to get through check-in. People were lugging bags around and running out of nappies. People had kids on that flight.”
Steve and several of his other delayed passengers suspect that TUI was purposefully delaying their two/thirds empty flight to Manchester so it could be topped up with passengers on a later service.
TUI did not comment on the suggestion when asked.
A spokesperson for TUI did say of Steve’s travel issues: “We’d like to apologise to customers travelling on flight TOM2250 from Manchester to Lanzarote which was unable to depart as planned on Tuesday 3rd May due to operational issues
“All impacted customers were offered overnight accommodation and transfers and we were in regular contact with them, advising them of their revised departure time as soon as we could.
“We appreciate our customers’ patience and understanding and we are sorry for any inconvenience caused.”
Steve is not the only person to have his holiday disrupted by the airline.
This week Alex and Willow Rymer told the Mirror how they’d been hauled off a TUI flight at the last minute because it had been overbooked, leading them to cancel their honeymoon.
British Airways has also been having trouble fulfilling its usual schedule and recently decided to cut 8,000 roundtrips from its March to October timetable.
As has easyJet, which cancelled around 30 flights on Sunday and Monday stranding thousands of customers at UK airports, after the budget airline scrapped several hundred flights in April.
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The level of disruption will lead frustrated passengers to ask why things have gotten so bad.
BA points out that the challenges facing the aviation industry since the coronavirus pandemic broke out are enormous in their scale.
Globally the industry lost more than £145bn and an estimated four million jobs since the start of the pandemic, with the knock on impact on staffing levels still being felt to this day.
EasyJet alone cut 1,400 jobs at the beginning of 2021, while BA axed 10,000 during the pandemic, eventually rehiring about 4,000 as of last summer.
A BA spokesperson said that ramping up capacity from 30 to 80 per cent in a short space of time was “always going to be challenging, but this is being faced by the industry and not just us”.
They added: “The past few weeks have been challenging for the entire industry and at British Airways we’re completely focused on three priorities: our customers, supporting the biggest recruitment drive in our history and increasing our operational resilience.
“We’ve taken action to reduce our schedule to help provide certainty for our customers and are giving them maximum flexibility to either rebook with us or another airline as close to their original departure time as possible, or to receive a full refund.”
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While isolation requirements are now advised rather than mandated in the UK, sickness is still having a major impact on staff numbers.
For airports, there are staff shortages across every role from security staff to ground handlers, which in itself slows down the process and leads to delays.
Whittled-down work forces have found it difficult to cope with often unexpected surges in demand, triggered by holiday hotspots lifting travel restrictions with little warning.
Earlier this year a spokesperson for Manchester Airport said of the disruption: “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.”
The problems are global and not just felt by those travelling from the UK.
In April German flag carrier Lufthansa said it had to reduce its buy-on-board meal offer for some short- and medium-haul routes departing from Frankfurt as its catering contractor Gate Gourmet struggles with staff shortages.
Multiple US carriers, including American Airlines, are now so desperate for staff that they’ve swapped planes for buses on some shorter routes.
With coronavirus still surging in some parts of the globe, staff numbers still lower than pre-pandemic and unemployment historically low in the UK, it seems highly likely that the airport chaos will continue for some time yet.
An easyJet spokesperson said: “easyJet is operating around 1650 daily flights across the network, carrying around a quarter of a million people each day.
“Unfortunately, due to a number of factors including ATC and weather delays across France and Germany, we did have to make some cancellations yesterday and we informed any affected customers including providing them with their options and are sorry for any inconvenience caused.”
Have you been affected by the delays or cancellations? Email us on [email protected]
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