Travellers face chaos at UK’s busiest airports for WEEKS: Massive queues and cancelled flights at Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester set to last through Easter ‘after Covid caused staffing shortages and surge in foreign holidays’
- Travellers face chaos at Britain’s busiest airports including Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester for weeks
- Massive queues and cancelled flights are continuing to derail families’ Easter holiday getaways
- More than 1,140 flights have been grounded due to ‘staffing shortages’ caused by Covid
- Yesterday Manchester Airport boss Karen Smart was forced to resign amid mounting fury
- Have YOU experienced airport delays? Email [email protected] or [email protected]
Travellers face chaos at Britain’s busiest airports for several weeks as massive queues and cancelled flights continue to derail families’ Easter getaways.
More than 1,140 flights have been grounded at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham since the much-anticipated school holidays began – with airlines EasyJet and British Airways both cutting 60 and 98 flights respectively in a single day yesterday.
The unprecedented bedlam is being blamed mostly on ‘staffing shortages and recruitment challenges’, and a sudden surge in passenger numbers – both caused by Covid and the curbs which have been in place for most of the past two years.
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Yesterday Karen Smart was forced to resign as managing director of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports, after just two years in the post.
Airport management were due to meet political leaders and unions to discuss the ongoing situation, after Blackley and Broughton MP Graham Stringer furiously challenged Manchester’s management to ‘get a grip or get out’.
And unions are warning that the carnage is set to go on throughout the summer because of the delays in processing counter-terror checks needed for new airport staff, with some said to be taking 30 weeks instead of the usual 14 to 15 while civil servants WFH.
In a statement, MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish said: ‘Over the last two years, Karen has guided Manchester Airport through the most challenging period of its 84-year history, having made a major contribution to MAG throughout her time with the business.
‘I am sorry to lose Karen after her years of valuable service, but also understand her desire to return to the South for family reasons and indeed to explore new career opportunities.
‘While there are sure to be further challenges ahead, I am confident we will soon start to see the benefits of the recovery plans Karen has helped put in place and look forward to working with Ian and his leadership team to drive them forward.’
Yesterday, passengers at Manchester were spotted jumping over barriers and abandoning their luggage in a desperate attempt to make their flights, according to Nicky Kelvin, head of travel website Points Guy UK.
Meanwhile at Heathrow, a male passenger in his early 30s collapsed while queueing as staff shortages left people waiting four hours to clear passport control.
Travellers face chaos at Britain’s busiest airports including Heathrow (pictured), Gatwick and Manchester
More than 1,140 flights have been grounded at a number of major airports including Manchester (pictured)
The unprecedented bedlam is being blamed mostly on ‘staffing shortages and recruitment challenges’ (Gatwick pictured)
Manchester, the UK’s third busiest airport, has been mired in chaos in recent weeks
Karen Smart has resigned as managing director of Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports, after just two years in the post, the company confirmed this afternoon
EasyJet has cancelled more than 220 flights, blaming the disruption on high levels of staff sickness due to Covid.
At least 222 flights have been axed since Friday, including 62 that had been scheduled for Monday alone, the majority of which were cancelled at short notice on Saturday.
Covid infection numbers are some of the highest they have been since the start of the pandemic.
An EasyJet spokesperson said yesterday: ‘As a result of the current high rates of Covid infections across Europe, like all businesses EasyJet is experiencing higher than usual levels of employee sickness.
‘We have taken action to mitigate this through the rostering of additional standby crew this weekend, however, with the current levels of sickness we have also decided to make some cancellations in advance.’
They said the focus was on ‘consolidating flights where we have multiple frequencies so customers have more options to rebook their travel, often on the same day.’
They added: ‘Unfortunately it has been necessary to make some additional cancellations for today and tomorrow.
‘We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause to customers on affected flights.
‘We have made 62 preemptive cancellations for flights to and from the UK for tomorrow which represents a small proportion tomorrow’s total flying programme which was planned to be more than 1645 flights.
‘We cancelled the majority of these yesterday.’
Eyewitness Jessica Oliver told MailOnline: ‘I just walked past and he was on the floor. There were people helping him – I don’t know if it was dehydration or very low blood sugar, but it’s very hot and staff are handing out water bottles. It was also chaotic at Amsterdam, but I’ve never seen anything like this.’
The man’s current condition is unknown and Heathrow Airport has been contacted for an update.
Travellers also took to social media to share photos of huge queues stretching up to four hours long, with one person writing: ‘Chaos at Heathrow Airport arrivals. Some people have been standing here for the past four hours and the queues are not moving. What is causing the disruption?’.
Another passenger added: ‘Three hour plus clearing immigrations wait at Terminal 3 for under two hours European flight!! Still nowhere near through. No one giving any updates!’.
And while sat in Terminal 5 at Heathrow, Hannah Swales told MailOnline about her ‘shambolic’ return flight from Dubai. She said: ‘We were delayed from Dubai for three hours and then had to be rebooked on the “next available flight”. We were to stay in Heathrow Airport with no luggage and no access to medication in our luggage.’
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘Airlines are certainly seeing a high level of demand to fly, but are simply unable to cope with that demand due to a lack of resources. It’s a nightmare situation for airlines and airports at the moment.’
Martin Chalk, general secretary of the pilots’ union Balpa, also told The Telegraph: ‘The chaos witnessed at British airports may well be repeated throughout the summer because airlines, laden with debt… have not yet rehired enough staff.’
The rise in bookings is overtaking the number of airline staff being hired, which is being further exacerbated by security checks.
An industry source further blamed the vetting process, saying it can take up to six months before someone is able to come in and do a job at an airport.
But a spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DfT) contended the ‘aviation industry is responsible for resourcing at airports’, adding: ‘They manage their staff absences, although we want to see minimal disruption for passengers during the Easter period.
‘The requirement for Counter Terrorist Checks for aviation security staff is important for the protection of the travelling public and the Government continues to process these security clearances in a timely manner.’
There were also reports of travel chaos at Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Monday, as well as long delays at Dover and a train blockage in the Channel Tunnel.
Heathrow warned passengers of possible delays, tweeting: ‘We continue to advise passengers arrive 3 hours prior to their scheduled departure time as we are not able to estimate queue times ahead of journeys, due to them being influenced by a significant range of factors.’
Long queues were also reported at Birmingham from 7.45am yesterday, with one passenger warning others to ‘get here early’. Another traveller, Luka Beckett, said she was ‘trapped’ on a grounded plane for 40 minutes on Sunday due to a lack of staff.
She told Birmingham Live: ‘We should have been home at around 10pm, but got in sometime after midnight. It was horrific.’
This follows a week of reported mass disruption with more than 1,100 flights cancelled throughout the UK. In the week up to April 3, a total of 1,143 flights were cancelled from and to the UK compared with just 197 flights cancelled the same week in 2019.
The carnage is set to go on throughout the summer because of the delays in processing counter-terror checks needed for new airport staff, with some said to be taking 30 weeks instead of the usual 14 to 15 while civil servants work from home. Pictured: passengers queuing at Heathrow this afternoon
Passengers queue early on Tuesday for security at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 1, as travel chaos continues at airports and ports as the Easter holidays get underway
Long queues seen yesterday as passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2 for the start of their Easter holiday
The latest figures show British Airways cancelled 662 flights while easyJet axed 357 last week, according to data from Cirium, which carries out aviation analysis. But some of these totals are based on historical cancellations and were flights axed months ago. Pictured left and right: Huge queues for security at Manchester Airport
Eurotunnel passengers face three-hour delays after train is halted in the Channel Tunnel
Eurotunnel passengers face a three hour delay on Monday morning due a train being halted in the Channel Tunnel.
Eurotunnel – the vehicle carrying railway tunnel that connects Folkestone with Coquelles beneath the English Channel – is reporting a three hour delay to services.
The travel firm, which is separate from the passenger-only Eurostar service, said it was due to a train stopped in the tunnel.
‘Due to a train stopped temporarily in the tunnel, our service is currently experiencing delays. Please check-in as planned. Apologies for this,’ Eurotunnel said on Twitter.
Passenger service Eurostar, which operates trains between London St Pancras and Europe, and which uses the same tunnels, also has delays, according to its website though has yet to post any updates on its Twitter page.
A delay warning on its website says: ‘Your train has been delayed because part of the track is temporarily closed in the Channel Tunnel. Speed restrictions are in place. We are sorry for the impact this may have on your plans.’
The latest figures show British Airways cancelled 662 flights while EasyJet axed 357 last week, according to data from Cirium, which carries out aviation analysis.
But some of these totals are based on historical cancellations and were flights axed months ago while airlines have claimed they represent a small percentage of their total flights.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, Mr Stringer, the former leader of Manchester Council and chairman of the airport board, said: ‘Covid has made life difficult for everyone in the aviation industry. The way to respond to that is by good employment procedures and not by casualisation, effectively using fire and rehire. The airport needs to reset and pay above the market rate to stabilise the situation and give confidence to employees and the travelling public.’
On Monday, Manchester Airport chiefs apologised for ‘falling short’ following long delays over the weekend.
Meanwhile, pictures showed long queues at Heathrow, with airport bosses blaming a huge spike in passenger numbers. Heathrow chiefs say passenger numbers have now reached pre-pandemic levels, with Saturday being the first school holidays since the start of the pandemic with no travel restrictions in place in England.
Bosses at Gatwick also said passengers numbers were returning to 2019 levels at the Sussex airport and that while there were some check-in queues that it was generally ‘coping well’ with the increase in footfall.
One travel expert estimated that there had ‘probably been more resignations in the last three months’ than during the Covid crisis because staff were ‘worn out’. Another warned disruption at airports such as Manchester could last for ‘months’, with firms having to train new staff to deal with the post-Covid increase in demand.
Bosses of the company behind Manchester Airport, which is in the same group as Stansted and East Midlands Airport, said it had seen a 1,300 percent increase increase in passenger numbers in February – compared to the previous year when the country was in lockdown.
Pictures taken at Manchester Airport on Monday showed long queues of people attempting to get through to security. Passengers also bemoaned a lack of organisation at the check-in, with long queues also seen at the check-in desk. In a tongue-in-cheek Twitter post, one frustrated traveller described a snaking queue at the airport as a world record attempt at the ‘world’s slowest, longest conga line’.
A Manchester Airport spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘Manchester Airport apologises to passengers whose experiences have fallen below the standard we aim to provide. We want to assure customers and colleagues that their safety and security will always be our first priority.
‘Our whole industry is facing staff shortages and recruitment challenges at present, after the most damaging two years in its history. 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.
‘We are doing all we can to recruit the staff we need to meet this demand, but this is taking time due to the lengthy vetting and training processes involved. That is why we have been advising travellers that there may be, at times, longer queues than normal.
‘Whenever this is the case, we do all we can to redeploy resources and prioritise passengers within queues as best we can.
‘We are also aware that partners working on our site, such as baggage handling agents, are facing similar challenges. We will continue to support them in any way we can to deliver the best possible experience for customers during this challenging time.’
It comes after the west-London airport faced its own chaos last week, after a major BA IT meltdown forced the airline to cancel or delay hundreds of flights.
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