BA and easyJet cancel hundreds of flights amid Covid staff sickness

EasyJet and British Airways have been forced to cancel flights because of high levels of Covid-19 infections among staff, in a reflection of rising UK case numbers after the removal of almost all pandemic restrictions.

EasyJet has cancelled 222 flights since Friday because of coronavirus absences. It said it had made efforts to offset staff shortages by rostering additional standby crew on the weekend but was forced to make “additional cancellations for [Sunday] and [Monday]”.

A total of 62 flights scheduled for Monday have been pulled, most of which were announced at short notice on Saturday.

An easyJet spokesperson said: “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 made 62 pre-emptive cancellations for flights to and from the UK for [Monday] which represents a small proportion of [Monday’s] total flying programme which was planned to be more than 1,645 flights. We cancelled the majority of these [on Saturday].”

British Airways has cancelled about 100 flights, although only about five were last-minute cancellations directly related to staff absence, a spokesperson said. The rest of the cancellations had already been made for different reasons and the airline was aiming to keep cancellations to high-frequency routes such as Paris and Madrid.

The UK government has reported that an average of 84,000 people tested positive for coronavirus daily in the week to 24 March, but separate data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week suggested that as many as one in every 13 people in the UK were infected by the virus, a record level.

The ONS said the rise in infections was led by the Omicron coronavirus variant BA.2, while the removal of restrictions and reversion to pre-pandemic behaviours such as socialising in larger groups and wearing masks less have also been cited by some scientists.

“We’re not immune to it – like any other business,” said a spokesperson for British Airways, which is owned by FTSE 100 conglomerate International Airlines Group.

Some holidaymakers reported being stuck abroad with no explanation or alternative route home offered by the airline. It comes after passengers were stuck in long queues at Heathrow airport on Sunday morning as the Easter holidays got under way.