'Chronic staff shortages' in the aviation sector puts holidays at risk of delay and cancellations

A plane takes off from Heathrow Airport. Credit: PA

Thousands of passengers have woken up this morning not where they wanted to be, following major disruption at UK airports on Thursday.

Gatwick and Manchester saw major delays after operator, easyJet, had a major technical failure which cancelled 200 flights.

The airline was forced to cancel another 14 flights today due to the 'IT issue', putting pressure on already limited seating capacity.

During the technical outage, easyJet told ITV Meridian that it had a team of specialists working on the problem.

A spokesperson said: "Our team of IT specialists are working to restore the systems as soon as possible.

"We apologise for the inconvenience caused and would like to thank customers for their patience as we work to resolve this as soon as possible."

Watch: EasyJet passengers were left in the lurch at Gatwick Airport on Thursday 26 May.

On Friday the airline issued another update, warning passengers of further disruption throughout the day.

In a statement to the BBC, the airline said: "easyJet can confirm that the earlier IT systems issues have now been rectified.

"Unfortunately, they resulted in some cancellations earlier today and while we expect to operate most of our remaining flying programme some may still be subject to some disruption in the coming hours."

A Gatwick Airport spokesperson said: “BA and easyJet had some issues at their check-in area this morning, however these are all operating normally now. The airport is responsible for security and there are no significant queues for Gatwick security today.”

Aviation expert, Simon Calder, told ITV's Good Morning Britain that there are around 30 thousand passengers who need to travel, putting real pressure on the airline.

He said: "A total of 30 thousand easyJet passengers waking up not where they want to be at all, meaning lots of pressure of finding seats to get them where they need to be.

"The airline has to find an alternative flight or people will book themselves on other airlines, but easyJet does really have to try and get you there."

Meanwhile, passengers could see a summer of delayed and cancelled flights, a leading trade union has warned.

Unite said that a repeat of Easter, which saw long queues and delays at airports such as Heathrow and Gatwick, will be repeated during the half-term period.

The union added that any disruption in the sector next week will get worse during the summer, which is a lucrative period for the airlines and airports.

Unite union raised concerns that staff were being asked by their employers to work more overtime, adding it is not a long-term solution to 'fundamental structural problems'.

General secretary Sharon Graham said: “During the pandemic, when airline operators, and others in aviation, slashed jobs to boost corporate profits, we warned this corporate greed would cause chaos in the industry.

“The aftermath of mass sackings is now chronic staff shortages across the board. Aviation chiefs need to come clean with the public. This is a crisis of their making.

“We are determined that workers will not pay for this crisis. Current pay and conditions in the industry are so poor that workers are voting with their feet.

“It can only be resolved by offering higher wages and better working conditions for staff.”

Queues at Heathrow Terminal 5 in April. Credit: PA

Gatwick and Manchester airports were both forced to apologise earlier this week, after staff shortages caused long delays for travellers.

Travellers complained of delays of up to four hours on Tuesday morning, with departure queues and luggage wait times causing frustration.

A spokesman for Gatwick Airport apologised to a user on Twitter who described their experience as “horrible” and “grim”.

The spokesman tweeted: “Hi, we’re really sorry for any delay. We are operating a moving queue system and staff are working hard to process passengers as quickly as possible through Security Search.”

One Twitter user complained of a four-hour queue at the baggage reclaim carousels at Manchester Airport on Tuesday morning.

A spokesman said: “We apologise to any passengers whose experience at Manchester Airport this morning was not how they would like it to be.

“As we continue to recover from the pandemic, we continue to advise customers there may be some times when security queues are longer than usual, which is why we advise people to arrive three hours before their flights.

“On Tuesday morning, while the vast majority of people passed through security in under 30 minutes, waiting times peaked at around one hour in one of our terminals for a brief period of time, and we are sorry for any inconvenience caused."

The South Terminal at Gatwick only recently reopened. Credit: PA

The government has stepped in to ease chaos at airports, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying aviation recruits will be able to being training before passing security checks.

Mr Shapps said he will “look for ways to try to assist” the sector but will not “compromise in any way, shape or form with aviation security and safety”.

He told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee in April: “I have looked at the rules and found an area where we can assist with the bureaucracy, particularly with regard to new people coming into the industry, and their need to be security checked.

“We can begin the training, without exposing them to the parts of the training which are security-related, without having the security check complete, as long as it’s complete before they start the security-related stuff.

“I have a Statutory Instrument – I think it comes to the House today – to do exactly that.”

He added: “This is an example of how we’ll try to work with the sector, but in the end they will have to resolve these problems by getting people in the right places.”