Chaos at UK airports intensified on Monday when easyJet canceled thousands of flights over the summer to minimize the risk of disruption, while passengers at Heathrow faced cancellations caused by a “luggage pile”.
Meanwhile, airports that cap flights may face legal challenges from service companies to cover the costs of hiring staff that may no longer be needed.
Warwick Brady, the chief executive of airline services company Swissport, told Reuters: “I think there will be some challenges, I suspect legally, in putting limits on airlines.
“We’ve recruited enough people for the summer schedule and they’ve shortened the schedules, so we have too many people now. We are going to have cost overruns because they are cutting back.”
The Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority last week told airlines they needed to revise their schedules and ensure flights were “deliverable” after staff shortages after the lockdown left airlines and airports unable to keep up with the increase in travel. when Covid restrictions were lifted.
EasyJet announced Monday that in response to subsequent caps on flights at two of its largest airports, London Gatwick and Amsterdam, it is “proactively consolidating” a number of flights to give customers time to review their journeys and the opportunity to to book.
Flights from other airports are also likely to be affected.
“There are challenges across Europe and in other parts of the network. But that’s something we have to go through… We’ve had problems in Paris, we’ve had problems at Gatwick, we’ve had problems in Geneva too,” said the CEO, Johan Lundgren.
The airline said it couldn’t give an exact number of flights it planned to cancel, but it would likely operate about 90% of the 160,000 flights it offered in the summer of 2019, having previously estimated that it would be 97%. of pre-Covid flight capacity would reach between July and September.
That suggests around 11,000 easyJet flights could be canceled in the coming months.
That’s despite an increase in demand, with passenger numbers rising in April and May this year to seven times their level in 2021.
EasyJet said it expected most customers would be able to rebook to alternative flights, many of which would be on the same day they originally planned to travel. The airline also confirmed that customers would be notified as soon as possible of flights it planned to cancel in the coming months.
“Unfortunately, the ongoing challenging work environment is still having an impact, leading to cancellations,” Lundgren said.
“Combined with airport caps, we are taking preventive measures to increase resilience over the course of the summer, including a series of further flight consolidations at the affected airports, providing advance notice to customers and expecting the vast majority to be rebooked on alternative flights within 24 hours.
“We believe this is the right action to take so that we can deliver to all our customers during the peak summer period in this challenging environment.”
EasyJet said it had no plans to raise prices as a result of the canceled flights, which is likely to lead to increased demand for fewer seats. Shares of the airline fell 3.5% Monday morning.
Ryanair rubbed salt in its wounds by announcing it was launching hundreds of “rescue flights” for disappointed customers at UK airports right up to its summer schedules as rivals such as British Airways and TUI as well as easyJet have cut back.
Meanwhile, Heathrow asked airlines in Terminals 2 and 3 to cut about 10% of their schedules on Monday to help mitigate problems that caused thousands of passengers’ baggage to pile up over the weekend and go unclaimed.
The airport said only 30 flights and 5,000 passengers were affected on Monday, after many suffered lost or delayed baggage from international flights.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We sincerely apologize for the disruption passengers have experienced over the weekend. The technical issues with baggage systems have led us to take the decision to request airlines operating in Terminals 2 and 3 to consolidate their schedules on Monday 20 June.
“This will allow us to minimize the ongoing impact and we ask that all passengers contact their airline for the latest information.”
As industry arguments continued to play out over the reasons for the chaos, easyJet said it had recently rejected around 8,000 applications from EU nationals who were no longer eligible to work for the company in the UK due to Brexit.
“Pre-pandemic, we probably turned down about 2% of people for nationality reasons…and that number is [now] about 35-40%. So, of course, the pool is smaller,” Lundgren said.
New recruits, meanwhile, waited an extra month for their official crew identification cards, with lengthy security checks extending the process to 14 weeks.
A strike at Brussels airport on Monday led to the cancellation of all flights departing from the Belgian capital.