The aviation minister was warned earlier in the year that the widespread chaos in flights seen last week was “inevitable” and urgent government intervention was needed to prevent such disruptions, union sources said.
During a phone call with aviation unions in late January, Robert Korts was told the industry could not keep up with high demand unless it received help to compensate for chronic staffing shortages.
Those predictions played out last week in sometimes farcical scenes as hundreds of flights were canceled in one of the busiest weeks of the year, along with one-day delays and huge lines crawling out of the terminal buildings.
The chaos continued yesterday as at least 20 easyJet flights were cancelled. The low-cost airline has confirmed that a “small portion” of flights have been canceled due to “problems” at London’s Gatwick Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
A spokesman for Gatwick Airport said: “Bad weather and air traffic control issues across Europe are limiting the number of flights that can use European airspace and are causing significant delays and some cancellations at Gatwick.”
Sources with knowledge of the call to the courts say that despite concerns expressed about severe staff shortages after airlines, airports and ground handlers laid off tens of thousands of employees in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, the government has not offered a solution.
“The minister was expressly warned that this was inevitable. They have to take on some responsibility,” a union source said.
In turn, Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps last week bluntly blamed some of the hardest-hit airlines, warning that the pressure on the industry “does not justify poor planning and overbooking of flights they cannot serve.”
A government spokesman added on Saturday that it was the industry’s responsibility to ensure that enough staff were available and said there was a need to “increase recruitment.”
As the holiday and anniversary weekend drew to a close yesterday, there were signs that the worst of the disruptions was beginning to ease. At Stansted Airport in Essex – a hub for easyJet and Tui Airways, which together canceled dozens of flights last week, some at short notice – staff said the situation was getting back to normal. However, the passengers who landed there on Saturday morning were still shocked by the sheer number of people wanting to fly.
Sisters Margaret Mularki and Carmel Corbett said they had never seen such chaos at Dublin airport before boarding a Ryanair flight to England. “It was absolutely crazy. Thousands of people everywhere. They were queuing outside in the car park,” Malarkey said.
Corbett believed that both airlines and the government were stunned by how quickly demand for flights recovered after the lockdown was lifted.
“They have such an obvious shortage of staff, and they clearly didn’t expect it to return to its previous level. They must have thought Covid…