Chaos at UK airports escalated on Monday as easyJet cut thousands of flights over the summer to minimize the risk of disruption, while passengers at Heathrow faced cancellations caused by a “mountain of luggage”.
Meanwhile, airports that cap flights could face legal challenges from service companies to recoup the costs of recruiting staff who may no longer be needed.
Warwick Brady, chief executive of aviation services company Swissport, told Reuters: “I think there will be challenges, I suppose legally, in imposing caps on airlines.
“We recruited enough people for the summer schedule and they reduced the schedules, so now we have too many people. We are going to have an additional cost because they are cutting.
The Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority last week asked carriers to review their schedules and ensure flights were ‘deliverable’, after post-lockdown staff shortages left airlines unable to airlines and airports to track an increase in travel as Covid restrictions were lifted.
EasyJet announced on Monday that in response to subsequent caps on flights at two of its largest airports, London Gatwick and Amsterdam, it was “proactively consolidating” a number of flights to give customers time to review their journeys and offer the possibility of rebooking.
Flights from other airports are also likely to be affected.
“There are challenges across Europe and in other parts of the network. But it’s something we have to overcome… We’ve had breakdowns in Paris, we’ve had challenges at Gatwick, we’ve had challenges at Geneva as well,” said chief executive Johan Lundgren.
The airline said it could not provide the exact number of flights it intended to cancel, but would likely fly around 90% of the 160,000 it offered in summer 2019, after previously estimating it would reach 97% of pre-Covid flight capacity between July and September.
This suggests around 11,000 easyJet flights could be axed over the next few months.
This is despite an increase in demand, with the number of travelers in April and May this year having reached seven times the level of 2021.
EasyJet said it expected most customers to be able to rebook alternative flights, many of which would take place 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 intended to cancel over the next few months.
“The ongoing difficult operating environment has unfortunately continued to have an impact, resulting in cancellations,” Lundgren said.
“Coupled with airport caps, we are taking preventative measures to increase resilience over the remainder of the summer, including a series of further flight consolidations at affected airports, notifying customers in advance and we expect the vast majority to be re-let on an alternative. flights within 24 hours.
“We believe this is the right action to take so that we can deliver to all of our customers during the peak summer period in this challenging environment.”
EasyJet said it had no plans to raise prices due to its canceled flights, which would likely lead to increased demand for fewer seats. Shares of the airline fell 3.5% on Monday morning.
Ryanair has rubbed salt into the wounds by announcing it is launching hundreds of ‘rescue flights’ for disappointed customers at UK airports on its summer schedules, as rivals like British Airways and TUI as well as easyJet have reduced.
Meanwhile, Heathrow has asked carriers at Terminals 2 and 3 to reduce their hours by around 10% on Monday to help curb problems that have led to thousands of unclaimed passengers’ luggage accumulating over the weekend. .
The airport said only 30 flights and 5,000 passengers were affected on Monday, after many faced lost or delayed baggage on international flights.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: ‘We unreservedly apologize for the disruption passengers have faced over the weekend. Technical issues affecting baggage systems have led us to take the decision to ask 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 all passengers to check with their airlines for the latest information.”
As arguments continued in the industry over the reasons for the chaos, easyJet said it recently turned down around 8,000 applications from EU nationals who were no longer eligible to work for the company in the UK due to the Brexit.
“Before the pandemic, we probably turned away about 2% of people for reasons of nationality… and that number is [now] about 35-40%. So, of course, the pool is smaller,” Lundgren said.
New recruits, meanwhile, were waiting an additional month to receive their official crew IDs, 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.