British Airways and easyJet cancelled more than 150 flights to and from the UK on Wednesday, as holidaymakers faced further delays going into the extended Queen’s platinum jubilee bank holiday, amid further recriminations between ministers and the aviation industry over who is to blame for the disruption.
BA cancelled at least 124 short-haul flights at Heathrow airport, although the airline said passengers were given advance notice.
The low-cost carrier easyJet scrapped at least 31 flights at Gatwick airport, including those scheduled to depart for Bologna, Barcelona, Prague, Krakow, and Edinburgh.
The travel operator Tui has cancelled six flights a day from Manchester airport for the whole of June. Manchester airport blamed the move on staffing shortages at Tui and its ground handler Swissport, which manages its check-in and baggage handling.
On the latest day of flight cancellations and disruption at airports, one easyJet passenger tweeted a photograph taken shortly after 4am at Manchester airport, which showed a lengthy queue of people in the terminal’s car park.
Describing the situation as “carnage”, the passenger wrote: “Took two hours 45 minutes to get through – most of that was bag drop. Now on the aircraft, but due to shortage of ground crew, there’s going to be another delay of approximately 50 minutes.”
Manchester airport is expecting more than 330,000 passengers to pass through the airport between Thursday 2 June and Sunday 5 June. The airport apologised for disruption and advised passengers to arrive three hours before their flight.
Another easyJet passenger complained of having to wait for more than two and a half hours to collect their luggage after they landed at Gatwick shortly before 3am. He called this “simply not good enough”.
Travellers have faced several weeks of delays and disruption at airports across the UK, with demand for foreign trips bouncing back after the easing of all UK Covid travel restrictions.
Many workers in the aviation industry were made redundant or left the sector during the pandemic, when international travel was grounded for months at a time.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, criticised travel firms, saying they had “seriously oversold flights and holidays relative to their capacity to deliver”.
Shapps, in a statement issued late on Tuesday, said he had called for a meeting with airports, airlines and ground handlers to “find out what’s gone wrong and how they are planning to end the current run of cancellations and delays”.
Shapps added: “This must not happen again and all efforts should be directed at there being no repeat of this over the summer.”
Airlines and airports have said that they had repeatedly requested specific financial support for the sector during the pandemic, as government Covid travel restrictions made international travel difficult and costly.
It came as the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, accused airlines of a “lack of preparation” before the race to get away over the school holidays and bank holiday weekend.
Raab told Sky News: “I don’t think the airline operators have done the recruitment that they should have done.”
As business picks up again for the aviation industry, airlines and airports have been struggling to hire staff, and get their security checks processed.
Walsh, the former chief executive of the British Airways owner, IAG, said it was now taking up to three months to get security badges for new employees in the UK, approximately triple the amount of time previously required.
The government hit back at this, saying that security vetting was not responsible for airport delays.
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office denied security vetting of applicants was taking longer and said applications from the aviation industry were being prioritised.
“It is for the aviation industry to manage resourcing at airports and staff absences, especially at busy times of the year,” the spokesperson said.