Soaring levels of flight cancellations ‘could be repeated throughout summer’

A total of 1,143 flights were cancelled to and from the UK last week, latest data reveals.

As many as 382 were cancelled over the weekend alone.

The figures highlight an increasing level of disruption ahead of the peak Easter travel period.

Only 197 flights were pulled in the equivalent week in pre-pandemic 2019, according to the figures from flight data firm Cirium.

The statistics show that British Airways cancelled 662 flights to and from the UK in the period between March 28 and April 3, or 2,548% more than the same period in 2019.

EasyJet also cancelled a total of 357 flights last week, including 192 over the weekend.

The head of pilots union Balpa warned that the chaos witnessed at airports such as Heathrow and Manchester over the weekend “may well” be repeated throughout the summer.

General secretary Martin Chalk told the Telegraph that carriers laden with debt due to the pandemic have not yet rehired enough staff to cope with the recovery in passenger demand.

He said he raised concerns about disruption to holidays with aviation minister Robert Courts in January.

“We warned minister several months ago of the treat of disruption during the Easter holidays,” Chalk reportedly said.

Lengthy delays to counter terrorism checks needed for new pilots and ground crew were cited by sources alongside a lack of staff to cope with surging passenger volumes and absenteeism due to soaring Covid cases.

A government spokesperson told the newspaper: “The aviation industry is responsible for resourcing at airports and 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.”

The Unite union also warned that chaos and staff shortages afflicting UK airports will continue unless the aviation industry improves the way it treats its workers.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “We warned the aviation sector repeatedly not to use the cover of Covid to slash jobs and pay. This would render it unable to meet demand when passengers returned.

“Now the sector is suffering from a chronic inability to attract new staff because workers are not attracted to an industry where pay is poor and conditions are lousy.

“Bargain-basement wages and insecure jobs must be consigned to the past if the sector wants to get back on track.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, described the “staggering level” of flight cancellations as being caused by a cocktail of not having enough staff in place and Covid-induced staff shortages.

He added: “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.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “These cancellations will cause huge frustration for individuals and families who were eagerly awaiting an Easter getaway.

“This period was always likely to be a popular holiday time and there is a responsibility on airlines to ensure they have the capacity to run all of the flights they schedule.

“Most passengers will just want to get where they need to be, despite this disruption, so airlines must meet their legal obligations and inform passengers of their right to be rerouted with other carriers or claim a refund.

“Affected passengers will be entitled to at least £220 compensation in these circumstances to cover out of pocket costs, and airlines should provide refreshments and accommodation as required while their customers await their new flight.”

The disruption was compounded on Monday due to a train breaking down in the Channel Tunnel leading to lengthy delays for rail passengers travelling to other parts of Europe.

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