Travel chaos – ministers have ‘scant’ understanding’ of industry, say airline bosses

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Airline bosses have hit back at transport secretary Grant Shapps for blaming them for the travel chaos saying government ministers have “scant” understanding about how their industry actually works.

Shapps has accused airlines of “seriously” overselling flights they knew they would need to cancel, blaming the aviation sector for the chaos at UK airports and misery caused to millions of would-be holiday makers.

“Despite government warnings, operators seriously oversold flights and holidays relative to their capacity to deliver,” said Shapps. “This must not happen again and all efforts should be directed at there being no repeat of this over the summer – the first post-Covid summer season.”

The transport secretary’s comments have caused anger in the airline industry and chief executive of Jet2, Steve Heapy told Travel Weekly: “Government ministers need to realise that, because of the pandemic and the actions that were taken, they’ve made the travel industry not a very attractive one to work in.

“It was the first industry to go into lockdown and the last industry to come out. It’s because of those actions that it’s no longer got the attraction that it used to have.”

Heapy told the trade publication the government “needs to get involved in solving” the problem. “It must help the industry get back on its feet and improve the perception because lots of people left the industry and didn’t come back.

“We got some support during the pandemic, but not as much as the industry asked for.”

Paul Charles, former Virgin Atlantic director and now CEO of travel consultancy the PC Agency, blamed the government, saying it is “responsible for this chaos”.

“[Grant Shapps] has got a bit of a nerve I’m afraid,” Charles told the BBC. “It’s because of government restrictions that changed so much during the pandemic, and then the shutdown of the industry with the Omicron variant last December, that has created this problem.”

Shapps holds talks to try and ease travel chaos

Officials from Shapp’s department of transport were due to hold calls with trade body Airlines UK on Wednesday (June 1) to try and ease the travel chaos that is causing misery at airports around the country. The transport secretary also held talks with senior leaders from airports, airlines and ground handling companies, and warned the aviation industry could not repeat the levels of disruption over the summer.

After the meeting, Shapps said: We’re grateful to those airlines and operators who have continued to deliver good services despite the current pressures and we recognise that not all operators have been affected in the same way.

“I also understand the resourcing strains on the aviation sector, but it does not excuse poor planning and overbooking flights that they cannot service. The companies who have seen the most disruption need to learn from those who ran services smoothly.”

Labour accused the government of being “asleep at the wheel”, with shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray stating it has been “quite clear that the travel industry has been in trouble for some time in terms of trying to recruit staff”.

Murray told Sky News: “We were saying way back last year when restrictions were being lifted and furlough was coming to an end that those industries that were hardest hit needed more support.”

Murray said these industries “didn’t get any, and this is the consequence of that.”

Travel chaos set to continue

Some two million people are preparing to fly from UK airports this over the next few days yet hundreds of flights have already been cancelled with the travel chaos of recent days set to continue.

BA and easyJet cancelled 150 flights from the UK on Wednesday while flight data specialist Cirium said 377 flights – affecting around 56,000 passengers – have been cancelled in the last week.

Tui – the self-proclaimed “world’s number one integrated tourism business” – have announced the cancellation of a quarter of its flights from Manchester – 43 a week – until the end of June, affecting the holiday plans of some 37,000 passengers.

A Tui spokesperson said they “understand how disappointing this will be for those impacted; however, we believe this is necessary to provide stability and better customer service at Manchester Airport.”

A spokesperson for Manchester airport explained: ““Over the last few days Tui and its appointed ground handler, Swissport, have experienced significant challenges with their check-in and baggage reclaim operations at Manchester Airport. “From extensive discussions with the Tui and Swissport management teams, it is clear that they are experiencing temporary staff shortages, in common with other aviation and travel companies.

“Given these challenges, we understand Tui’s difficult decision to cancel a number of services over the course of the next month, although we are obviously disappointed to see passengers’ plans disrupted in this way.

Pre-pandemic, the aviation industry employed around 140,000 people working at British airports and airlines. However, during the lockdown thousands of jobs were cut, including 30,000 by UK airlines.

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