TUI cancels more flights over the next month as a union warned the issues at airports across the UK and Ireland “could get worse this summer before they get better”.
The German holiday giant apologised for the disruption over the past few days and said that “due to ongoing challenges” a “small number” of flights – nearly 200 – from Manchester Airport would be cancelled between now and 30 June.
Passengers hoping to get away for the half-term and Platinum Jubilee weekend have faced cancellations and long delays at airports this week.
Travel industry had months to prepare for half-term rush, says minister
EasyJet and British Airways are cancelling flights every day and passengers at airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Bristol and Dublin are experiencing long delays due to staff shortages after thousands were let go during the pandemic.
The Prospect union, which represents thousands of staff across air traffic control, in airports and in aviation engineering, said things could get worse before they get better.
“Now we see staff shortages across the industry, with huge reliance on overtime to get by day-to-day.
“In many areas, like air traffic control, overtime is only a temporary sticking plaster. So, things could get worse this summer before they get better.”
Security clearance taking longer
It is taking up to three months instead of a previous three to four weeks to get security badges for newly-hired airport staff in the UK and they cannot start training until they have security clearance, Willie Walsh, director-general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and former BA boss, said.
Dublin Airport is back to 95% of its pre-pandemic passenger capacity but its staffing is only at 70%.
Amsterdam and Toronto are also experiencing delays due to staff shortages.
Mr Walsh said it is challenging for airports and airlines but “it will get addressed” as he said flight demand across the world is “stronger than we expected”.
Government blames industry
Ministers have placed the blame on airports and airlines, saying the Department for Transport has been telling them for months they needed to get ready for the half-term rush and hire more staff.
Lord Parkinson, the arts minister, told Sky News’ Kay Burley: “We have been on a long pathway back to recovery so that people can enjoy this moment and [companies] should be making sure that people are able to get away on holiday and enjoy it fully.
“We have been, for many months, urging them to make sure they’ve got enough staff.”
A government spokeswoman insisted the aviation industry is “responsible for making sure they have enough staff to meet demand”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said he put in place “billions of pounds of support” for the travel industry during the pandemic and conversations between the industry and ministers are happening now to help ease the disruption.
However, Labour and unions claimed the government “hasn’t prepared” for the rise in demand for travel this half-term.
Labour ‘warned government for months’
Labour MP James Murray told Sky News: “We’ve been warning for months throughout the COVID pandemic that you can’t just let the airline industry and airports fall over, let them shed all of their staff, and then expect to get back on track when demand comes back after the pandemic.
“We were warning about this, trade unions were warning about this, employee representatives were saying throughout the COVID pandemic, ‘You need a sector-specific package to support the aviation sector’, and now we’re seeing what’s happened because the government hasn’t prepared for what would obviously come next.”