Explainer: why are UK airlines canceling so many flights?

While delays at Dublin airport missed nearly 1,400 flights on 29 May, and the airport’s feel is far from over in 2019, almost all passengers are getting away at least.

Or for many in the UK, however, spring or summer vacation has become a possibility for “fingers crossed” rather than a sure thing. The fear of getting canceled at the last minute is always present.

Many airlines are cutting their schedules daily as we move into the summer of 2022 – some have ended dozens of departure weeks in advance, others them hours before or even after passengers have boarded. Too.

These include EasyJet, which is canceling dozens of flights a day, and British Airways – which has canceled about 20,000 flights on your summer schedule.

It’s not as massive as the individual numbers might seem – the financial Times It was recently reported that 2 to 4 percent of UK flights were canceled during the first week of May.

But while cancellations continued into June, Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps accused airlines and tour operators of “seriously” [overselling] flights and holidays” beyond what they could handle.

So why is this happening, and what are airline executives planning to do about it?

Which airlines are canceling flights?

In terms of regular, daily cancellations, EasyJet and British Airways are the two main culprits – but Wizz Air, Tui and KLM have also eliminated many departures.

EasyJet is canceling around 30-60 flights a day, some of which have already been canceled, but other flights have been cut hours before they can be operated. several independent Readers have reported that they were supposed to receive overnight emails asking for an early morning or early afternoon flight, which they were supposed to pick up in the following hours.

British Airways is cutting far more – more like 120-150 per day – but in most cases this was done weeks in advance with customers notifying them first.

Meanwhile, Wizz Air started spring a bit more strongly, but recently announced the cancellation of a “large number of flights” from Doncaster Sheffield Airport from 10 June, as well as several to and from UK airports during June. Announced ad-hoc last-minute cancellation.

In late May, Tui made major cuts to its flight schedules from Manchester Airport, canceling 186 flights from 31 May to 30 June.

What reasons do airlines give for cancellations?

Airline owners have cited various reasons for canceling and cutting their schedules, but the major drawback is the lack of staff.

Collectively, UK airlines cut around 30,000 jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, when travel shutdowns and strict UK travel restrictions prevented most flights from operating.

Now they’re trying to “mass” it by recruiting new employees, but for many, it hasn’t happened quickly enough.

Oliver Richardson of Unite Union says: “When you look at who is performing the worst, it ties in with the companies that have done the most redundancies.

“Ryanair agreed on no redundancy and a different position was taken by British Airways, which lost 10,000 employees through redundancies. They got rid of a lot of people.”

Ryanair largely operates its planned schedule during the spring and summer.

Many airline owners have indicated that delays in approving new employees mean they do not have enough crew to operate their full planned schedule.

in the UK parliament Business, Energy and Industrial Selection Committee session on the topic This week, EasyJet’s chief commercial officer Sophie Decker blamed a number of factors for the airline’s cancellation, saying delays in arranging ID passes for new crew members were part of the problem.

“It is now taking about 14 weeks to get the Crew ID Pass,” Ms Deckers said. “It was about 10 weeks pre-pandemic. The ID processing surprised us.”

He attributed the cancellation in general to staff shortages, technical issues and – a small amount – air traffic control problems at EasyJet’s airports.

Giving the example of Monday, June 13, he said: “Yesterday we operated 1,678 flights. Day ten were canceled. Two of them were due to the crew. Two were due to air-traffic control and six were due to technology.”

British Airways, which has also cut its schedule substantially, has blamed only “employee absenteeism and illness” for the cancellations, some of which are thought to be due to testing positive for COVID-19.

“We know we have a lot of work to do,” the airline’s chief corporate affairs and sustainability director, Lisa Tremble, said at the BEIS session.

“A lot has been written about fire and rental. We absolutely want our people to feel like they are part of the making of this airline,” said Ms. Tremble.

“We fully acknowledge that what has happened over the past two years has put us in a position where we need to build a relationship of trust with our unions and with our people.

“This year we have offered our people a 10 pc salary award.

“When you’ve gone through a very painful period like ours, it takes time to build trust and those relationships. That’s what we set out to do, but it will take some time to do.”

Every recruit who works “airside” for a UK airline needs to be referred to and approved by both the Civil Aviation Authority and the government, a process some airline owners are saying is taking longer in 2022 than in previous years .

Several airline sources have said that the process is taking up to 14 weeks.

Wizz Air said: “Among other issues causing operational instability throughout the travel industry, there is a widespread shortage of staff, particularly at air traffic control, ground operations and baggage handling, security and airports.”

The airline said most of its flights are operating as planned, and it has increased communication with passengers as well as tried to make necessary cancellations as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, unions have said that poor working conditions in the travel industry have put off many potential recruits – Unite Secretary General Sharon Graham said: “The sector is suffering from a chronic inability to attract new workers as workers Not attracted to an industry where pay is bad and conditions are bad.”

Other airline insiders have pointed to operational issues at UK airports for some of the cancellations, especially towards the end of the day.

What role do airports play in cancellations?

Similar to Dublin Airport, UK airports have experienced staff shortages of their own this spring, with private companies running operations – such as baggage handling – within them.

Gatwick Airport has seen the most cancellations this spring – as well as being the base of easyJet, with industry sources suggesting Gatwick is facing operational issues of its own.

Earlier this week, a senior source in the aviation industry told many times That West Sussex Airport – the second busiest in the UK – does not have the staffing resources to deal with the current flight schedule.

“Since the beginning of the summer we have repeatedly seen issues with regard to the air traffic control restrictions in place at Gatwick,” said the source.

“Due to the lack of air traffic controllers in the approach control function, the airport is prohibiting hourly movement of less than its declared capacity.”

That said, while Gatwick typically handles about 52 “movements” an hour, that includes departures and arrivals. At some point last week, he claims, that number was reduced to 22 hours.

There have also been several daily cancellations from Luton Airport, as have Bristol (with a smaller number from Glasgow and Edinburgh). Meanwhile, the bulk of BA’s advance cancellations are domestic and short-haul flights from Heathrow.

Wizz Air’s advance cuts in its schedule have been attributed to an operational dispute with Doncaster Sheffield, with the owners saying it is “a consequence of Doncaster Sheffield Airport indicating that it is not complying with its commercial agreement with Wizz Air”. is unable to guarantee the conditions”.

Tui’s hundreds of Manchester flights were blamed for the ‘ongoing disruption’ at Manchester airport.

Other aviation sources elsewhere in Europe attribute air traffic control issues to delays and subsequent cancellations – France experienced issues after installing a new ATC system at its Reims control center in April, meaning That the air traffic in the country has reduced.

In addition, some flights that usually cross France have been rerouted over Germany, leading to overcrowding with their own ATC network.

Delays caused by air traffic control and staff shortages may eventually lead to cancellations: for example, some flights have been held for several hours prior to takeoff due to prior factors, meaning they are not a European airport. Will land at the airport very late, with the airport unable to receive them after the scheduled curfew. There is a certain amount of knock-on effect.

What are airlines and ministers doing to fix this?

In recent weeks, airlines have blamed the government, while the government has blamed airlines and other travel firms.

The aviation industry says the UK government abruptly lifted all travel restrictions in February – after years of complex travel restrictions and a lot of back-and-forth where travel was allowed – to plan and scale them appropriately for the summer. Not given enough time. ,

In turn, ministers say the aviation industry has received much notice and should have prepared better for the holidays – or simply not sold enough flights if they could not deliver on them.

This week the Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority wrote an open letter to aviation owners, setting out five “specific requirements” for the sector.

These include airlines closely monitoring their proposed summer programs and making sure they can operate them in full; cutting those schedules if necessary, but weeks in advance rather than last; and ensuring “Adequate staffed call centers and user friendly digital channels” in case of cancellations.

EasyJet’s cancellations will certainly continue: yesterday the carrier canceled all flights from the UK to Hurghada through the end of July, saying: “We are notifying customers in advance to minimize the impact on their plans.” Huh.”

It’s also about 40. announced flight canceled per day between now and the end of June.

Chief operating officer Peter Bellew said: “These cancellations are not something we take lightly, but what’s worse is our customers’ plans to cancel the day they are ready to fly.”

Regarding the slow crew reference, in April Aviation Minister Robert Courts said “we are looking at ways to help the industry expedite job reference checks” by using post-Brexit freedoms.

Is Brexit to blame?

Some airline owners, such as Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary and Tui’s David Burling, have pointed to Brexit, saying that UK airlines have lost European staff after the transition and are now unable to recruit from within the EU. Huh.

There may also be an element of redundant airline employees moving into other service and hospitality roles, and will not be returning to aviation this year.

independenttravel correspondent Simon Calder says,[Prior to Brexit] Far more Europeans worked here in hospitality than in aviation. A large proportion of them also left the UK. And it created a vast array of vacancies.

“Many outstanding British aviation professionals, on leave for several months” [in the pandemic] And unsure whether his job would ever return, ‘backfilled’ those roles. They are unlikely to be tempted back to a high-stress role with antisocial hours. ,

At yesterday’s trade select committee session, the aviation minister, Robert Courts, said it was “unlikely” that Brexit was partly to blame for the labor shortages that led to the disruption.

“From the evidence we have, it doesn’t seem like Brexit has been a significant factor. I don’t think there’s a talent pool out there.”

Other European countries have also experienced disruption in recent months – Dublin airport as well as Schiphol airport in the Netherlands and its flagship airline KLM are the two worst hit.