The UK Airline Industry Braces For Easter Holiday Madness

London Heathrow's control tower
London Heathrow's control tower (Photo: London Heathrow)

LONDON – Early this year the UK Government announced that they would be fully removing all restrictions by the Easter Holidays which saw the removal of the need to isolate, the traffic light system, and passenger locator forms.

This caused a huge surge in demand for booking flights and other holiday services, but as the Easter weekend approaches, airlines around the UK are now canceling hundreds of flights a day due to staff shortages.

Photo: easyJet

British Airways and EasyJet are among some of the airlines being worst affected by staff shortages and with airports also feeling the pressures of not having enough staff to deal with the higher than expected demand in travelers, the flights that do go ahead over this period are subject to lengthy delays with large queues expected through the security checkpoints at all the major airports.

EasyJet said it had canceled around 40 flights in advance. In a statement to the BBC, the airline said:

“We will operate 1,422 flights today with a small proportion having been canceled in advance to give customers the ability to rebook onto alternative flights.”

How Big Is the Problem?

The problem for lack of a better term is beyond fixable at this point, the government should have given more indication to the airlines and airports across the UK of its intentions to remove the travel restrictions as anyone would have likely been able to tell that after two years of no travel the option for people to fly to destinations around the globe again would have pulled in huge demand almost overnight.

Peter Bakema (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2 ), via Wikimedia Commons

One of the bigger issues that this has caused is now that the airlines are going to need to cancel lots of their services which means under the regulations offering compensation for the flight cancellations is the requirement of the airlines.

Airlines which have just suffered two years of a global pandemic that ravaged their fleets and caused them to take drastic action in order to save cash, with British Airways making the decision to retire its entire Boeing 747-400 fleet, while also placing large amounts of its flee into storage at airports across Europe.

Just last week Manchester Airport, UK, was subject to public attention after the serious impacts being caused by a shortage of staff was put on media outlets around the world with thousands of passengers stuck in long queues at security checkpoints with around two-hour delays estimated during that time.

Manchester Airport released a statement at the time saying: “As we continue to recover from the pandemic and passenger numbers grow, security queues may be longer than usual at times.”

“If you’re due to travel in the next few weeks, please arrive at the earliest time your airline allows. We apologize to our customer for the disruption.”

The signs of the severity of what might be to come over the Easter Holiday period of major gateways such as Manchester Airport as the UK removes its final COVID-19 travel restrictions saw the managing director of Manchester Airport resigns.

The demand has now become so high that there has been an increase in reports this last week of passengers missing their flights solely due to the large queues when coming through the airport, which in turn has even greater effects on other aspects of the airfield operations.

Airports all over the UK are being caught out by the rise in demand, with London Stansted Airport saying it is expecting 240,000 travelers this Easter weekend, compared with 8,000 this time last year.

However, it is yet unknown if COVID-19 related sickness will keep too many staff offer to allow the airport to operate and full functionality over this period.

What Can Be Done To Help?

On the surface, it seems like any decisions that can be made to fix this issue are unlikely to have any great effect before the Easter Holiday chaos unfolds at airports across the UK.

The issues of the staff shortages due to the increase in COVID-19 cases that seem to be happening around the UK now are also a major playing factor in this and despite the large demand for job offerings in these areas any meaningful progress will take some time to implement.

Ken O’Toole, deputy chief executive at Manchester Airports Group, said: “The speed and the scale of recovery have caught us and it has meant we are short-staffed at the moment.”

Perhaps the UK Government could have helped with the situation more, with a sit-down meeting with airport and airline CEOs they could have discussed a better action plan for a more gradual release of travel restrictions so that the demand for air travel did not raise so high.

However, now that we are in this position the argument should be made on whether or not it is better to allow the ship to run its course and focus on correcting the issues on airport staff, pilot and crew shortages ready for an extremely busy summer period.

Airlines Announce New Services For Summer

The major factor in looking forward now will also be in preparation for the addition of routes which over this last week airlines around the world have been announcing will start operations in the UK.

Just last week Icelandic low-cost carrier PLAY announced that it would be bringing services to Liverpool airport later this year, and U.S carrier JetBlue made its long-awaited announcement of services from Boston to London Heathrow.

During the pandemic, many airlines had forecast that the demand for air travel would not reach pre-covid levels until at least 2024/25.

However now the greater issue for the carriers is now planning on how to survive the large rush of demand that has fallen onto them, each flight they cancel they are required to compensate the passenger for, and with the announcement just two days ago that the Italian ATC will be striking today between 12 pm and 4 pm UK local time, flights again will need to be canceled on services to Italy, adding yet more pressure on to the airlines and its staff.

Is this just a UK problem?

It is very important to note that this is not just a UK issue, all over Europe airlines are struggling with staff shortages, with airlines such as German carrier Lufthansa announcing recently that they would be canceling some services due to a shortage of staff.

Even in The Netherlands, there are talks about bringing back a “flight tax” which the Dutch government hopes would prompt people to feel less motivated about traveling by air.

Photo: KLM Embraer E195-E2. Photo Credit: KLM Airlines

Even in Dublin, they have announced their intention to offer staff three times their salary for all overtime work that they provide after days of large queues and complaints about waiting times, with airports all over Europe suffering due to staff shortages.

What Can Be Done To Fix This?

There is no clear solution to fix this problem outside of airlines and airports just simply hiring more staff.

However, this in itself is not the best solution, many airlines are still struggling to stay in operation from the COVID-19 fallout and with cash reserves low the airlines need to focus on operating as many routes as they can but in the most cost-effective way.

Some carriers have elected to cancel many of their services to help manage the issues of staff shortages, while others have switched to a more pragmatic approach by operating larger widebody aircraft on short high demand routes in order to still ensure the majority of passengers are able to travel to their desired destinations over this period.

All in all, it is unlikely that we are going to see the perfect solution for travel this year and we will likely see many carriers either cut or restructure their summer services for as long as they have staff shortage problems.

For now, though the best advice that any traveling passengers can receive is to ensure you arrive at the airport at the earliest point when your airline will allow you to.

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