Why is the UK experiencing travel disruption and queues at airports and transport hubs?

Video report by Correspondent Yasmin Bodalbhai; words by Digital Journalist Jocelyn Evans

As Easter holidays get underway for some in the UK, and others finishing next week, now has not been the ideal time for chaos at some of the country's busies transport hubs.

ITV News looks at what's causing the disruption, why it's happening now and if there's an easy fix.

What disruption has the UK seen in recent weeks?

There seems to have been a perfect storm of issues at transport hubs across the country recently, leading to long queues and lengthy delays for travellers.

Let's look at airports first - more than 1,000 UK flights have been axed in recent days due to crews being off sick amid a rise in Covid cases.

Aviation data firm Cirium said 1,143 UK flights were cancelled last week, compared with just 197 during the same period in 2019.

The vast majority of last week’s cancellations were by easyJet and British Airways (BA).

Footage from security at Manchester Airport shows a chaotic scene

Passengers at Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham airports have also reported long queues in recent days.

Some passengers said they experienced a 30-hour delay in Manchester, while others say the waited for two-hours at passport control when they landed.

Long delays, queues trailing outside terminals to reach check-in and piles of abandoned suitcases left by travellers are among the airport's recent problems.

In one case, a mother whose terminally ill daughter needs monthly treatment in Germany said she is dreading their next journey after experiencing chaotic queues. Some staff have even quit their jobs out of fear for passenger safety.

Last week, a technical glitch with BA left passengers waiting at Heathrow for flights - the airline said the fault was resolved the same day.

At the ports, the ongoing saga around P&O ferries coupled with adverse weather in the Channel led to long queues at Dover over the weekend.

Why is the disruption happening?

In short, it's because of Covid - both staff getting the virus and missing work, and to the scrapping of all travel restrictions leading to a surge in holidays once more.

Though isolating is no longer a legal requirement, case numbers of coronavirus are soaring and people are still getting sick and requiring time off work as a result. Guidance also recommends avoiding crowded areas if you have the virus.

The rate of staff absences at easyJet is around double normal levels.

But experts say there weren't enough staff in place at airlines and airports to begin with after cutting workforces during the pandemic, or employees taking up jobs elsewhere.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: "This is a staggering level of flight cancellations caused by a cocktail of not having enough staff in place and Covid-induced staff shortages.

"Airlines are certainly seeing a high level of demand to fly, but are simply unable to cope with that demand due to a lack of resources. It’s a nightmare situation for airlines and airports at the moment."

Analysis by the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council published in December 2021 warned that one in eight UK travel and tourism jobs would be unfilled entering this year, with 205,000 vacant roles.

ITV Granada Reporter Tasha Kacheri heard from passengers at Manchester Airport who feel 'frustrated, fed up and angry'

It claimed staff shortages could have an "enormous impact" on the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

The Unite union says the chaos will continue "unless the aviation industry improves the way it treats its workers".

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: "The sector is suffering from a chronic inability to attract new staff because workers are not attracted to an industry where pay is poor and conditions are lousy.

"It is pretty simple – if you want to thrive, treat your workers with respect and don’t attack their jobs, pay and conditions."

Travellers say it's 'chaos' and that they've waited more than two hours to pass through security at Birmingham Airport. Credit: Derek Alonza

What have providers said about the disruption?

A spokesperson for easyJet said: “EasyJet will operate the vast majority of its 1,525 flights today [Tuesday, April 5] with a small proportion cancelled in advance to give customers the ability to rebook on to alternative flights.

“We are sorry for any inconvenience for affected customers.”

After cancelling 62 flights due to operate on Monday, the Luton-based carrier warned it expects to make “similar levels of pre-emptive cancellations over the coming days, due to the ongoing high level of sickness”.

British Airways announced last month that it had reduced its schedule until the end of May due to rising Covid-19 cases.

It cancelled at least 98 flights to or from Heathrow on Tuesday.

That figure includes routes suspended for several months because of the pandemic, such as those featuring some Asian destinations.

Manchester Airport say they have struggled to recruit staff made redundant after the pandemic shutdown airports and travel. On Tuesday, the boss of the airport stood down over the continued issues.

Meanwhile, as P&O Ferries faces a criminal investigation following the sacking of 800 staff, the company on Tuesday tweeted it was "unable to run some of our services over the next few days".

The company previously said teams on the ground will be arranging travel by other operators, it's unclear how effectively this has happened.