UK airport chaos: Tui boss emails customers apologising for ‘distress caused by cancellations’

UK airport chaos: Tui boss emails customers apologising for 'distress caused by cancellations' 2
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EasyJet has revealed it is taking four weeks longer than normal for new cabin crew recruits to receive security passes because of delays in references for people who have had so many different jobs in recent years.

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The airline said it was taking about ten weeks pre-pandemic to get ID passes, but this was now at 14 weeks due to a requirement for potential staff to obtain references for all the jobs they have done in the past five years.

EasyJet chief operating officer Sophie Deckers told a hearing of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee today that the airline has 142 crew ready and trained to go online who do not have their ID passes.

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She said that the Luton-based company had planned for the increase in demand for travel after restrictions eased, but the ID processing has ‘caught us by surprise and it’s taken longer than we had ever planned or anticipated’.

During the same hearing, MPs were also told that the aviation industry and the Government must ‘shoulder the responsibility’ for the chaos suffered by airline travellers – and consumer group Which? accused companies of selling tickets when ‘they don’t know for sure that those flights are actually going to be able to go’.

But British Airways refused to acknowledge that making severe job cuts in 2020 contributed to its need to cancel more than 100 daily flights. Labour MP Darren Jones repeatedly questioned the airline’s corporate affairs director Lisa Tremble on the issue. He asked her: ‘Do you think there was a connection between sacking 10,000 members of your staff using aggressive fire-and-rehire tactics, and now cancelling the most flights per day?’ 

Ms Tremble said ‘it’s very complicated’, stating that the company ‘had to protect as many jobs as possible’. But Mr Jones said: ‘We’ve asked you a very direct question, I think three times, and you’ve chosen not to answer it.’

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It comes as holiday operator Tui issued a grovelling apology to all customers for their ‘poor experience’ amid the travel chaos as easyJet cancelled a further 47 flights today with London airports particularly badly hit again.

Some 16 easyJet flights at London Gatwick were axed today along with another ten at Luton, eight at Belfast, seven at Bristol, six at Stansted and a handful more at Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle.

And Tui managing director Andrew Flintham issued a 300-word email to all customers entitled ‘An apology from Tui’ which said a ‘complex ecosystem of services’ faced ‘capacity issues that impacted some of our customers’.

He also wrote: ‘In some instances, customers were subject to delays and – in rare cases – cancellations. These customers had a poor experience – for that, and the distress caused by the cancellations, I apologise’.

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Meanwhile new Home Office data made clear the scale of the passport backlog earlier this year, revealing that more than 35,000 people waited longer than ten weeks for their document in the first three months of 2022.

Also today, Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Four reopened for the first time in two years ahead of the peak summer season, with the first airline flying out being Qatar Airways to Doha – and 30 others are set to join soon. 

EDINBURGH AIRPORT: One passenger travelling through Edinburgh Airport this morning described scenes of 'huge chaos'

EDINBURGH AIRPORT: One passenger travelling through Edinburgh Airport this morning described scenes of ‘huge chaos’

As passengers again reported huge queues this morning at Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast airports – and others tweeted pictures of chaos overnight at Gatwick and Bristol, easyJet made further flight cancellations.

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It axed 16 flights at Gatwick today – eight departures to Almeria, Catania, Belfast, Preveza, Krakow, Madrid, Prague and Montpellier; and eight arrivals from Belfast, Montpellier, Milan, Catania, Preveza, Prague, Madrid and Krakow.

‘An apology from TUI’: Full 300-word email from holiday operator’s boss

Dear Customer,

In recent weeks, you will have read in the news, or seen on social media, that the travel industry as a whole has been affected by delays and cancellations. I know that our customers work hard for their valuable time away, which is why we always do everything in our power to deliver a fantastic holiday.

TUI holidays rely on a complex ecosystem of services. This includes our own pilots and cabin crew, as well as operational partners that cover things like check-in, baggage and catering. Alongside that, we work closely with air traffic control and airport security teams. Our planes cannot take to the skies when the ecosystem is not working as it should be.

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Over the first weekend of the May half term, the ecosystem experienced capacity issues that impacted some of our customers. In some instances, customers were subject to delays and – in rare cases – cancellations. These customers had a poor experience – for that, and the distress caused by the cancellations, I apologise.

I would like to assure you that we have learnt from what happened, and we’re working closely with our partners to address the issues that caused the delays and cancellations. I’d also like to reassure you that situations like this are rare – this week, the vast majority of our flights have operated normally, and over 200,000 customers took off to enjoy their TUI holiday as planned. Our teams have been supporting customers who were affected in finding alternative holidays and processing any refunds due. And I can assure you that TUI would never leave you stranded overseas.

I hope this gives you the confidence to look forward to your holiday with TUI this summer, or next time you travel with us. We can’t wait to see you soon.

Best Wishes

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Andrew Flintham

Managing Director

There were ten easyJet cancellations at Luton today – those being five departures to Paris, Berlin, Jersey, Edinburgh and Malaga; and five arrivals from Lisbon, Paris, Berlin, Jersey and Edinburgh.

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At Belfast International Airport there were eight cancellations – four departures and four arrivals, all to or from Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham and Stansted.

Seven flights at Bristol were axed – those being four departures to Hurghada, Paris, Bilbao and Biarritz; and three arrivals from Paris, Bilbao and Biarritz.

There were also cancellations at Stansted, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle to and from the likes of Amsterdam as well as a series of UK airports. 

However, there were no cancellations by easyJet at Manchester or Liverpool airports as of this morning.

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MPs were told during the Committee hearing today that the aviation industry and the Government must ‘shoulder the responsibility’ for the travel problems.

Sue Davies, head of consumer rights at consumer group Which?, said the cancellation of thousands of flights and long queues at airports in recent months were caused by the impact of staffing shortages being ‘underestimated’.

She said: ‘Both the industry and the Government need to shoulder the responsibility for the chaos that we’ve seen.’

Ms Davies acknowledged that the sector has been ‘particularly affected’ by the coronavirus pandemic, but stressed that consumers have ‘lost money and suffered huge emotional stress’.

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She went on: ‘Particularly appallingly, we’ve been hearing from lots of people who have just had very little information about actually what’s happening on the ground.

‘The airlines and the Government were encouraging people to travel again, and we think they’ve just underestimated the capacity issues, and the shortages both within the airlines and the airport services, including baggage handlers.’

Ms Davies accused airlines of selling tickets when ‘they don’t know for sure that those flights are actually going to be able to go’.

She told the committee that passengers ‘haven’t really been given proper information about their rights’, adding: ‘We feel that obviously there’s some really specific issues at the moment in this case, but this is just symptomatic of some of the issues that we’ve seen in the industry for a long time.

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‘There’s just blatant flouting of consumer rights and a failure to put passenger interests first.’

She also told MPs: ‘Both the industry and the Government need to shoulder the responsibility for the chaos that we’ve seen.

GLASGOW AIRPORT: One Twitter user posted this picture shortly before midnight and said it was an 'absolute shambles' at Glasgow last night, adding: '40 minutes since the flight landed and no sign of bags. Huge pile of abandoned bags in arrivals'

GLASGOW AIRPORT: One Twitter user posted this picture shortly before midnight and said it was an ‘absolute shambles’ at Glasgow last night, adding: ’40 minutes since the flight landed and no sign of bags. Huge pile of abandoned bags in arrivals’

‘There’s no doubt that we’ve gone through unprecedented circumstances with the pandemic, and the sector has obviously been particularly affected.

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EasyJet flights that have been cancelled today 

A total of 47 easyJet flights have been cancelled today. 

The total listed below is 59, but that includes duplicates – for example, Belfast-Birmingham is listed twice, once as a Belfast departure and once as Birmingham arrival.

GATWICK (16)

  • 8 departures: Almeria, Catania, Montpellier, Belfast, Preveza, Krakow, Madrid, Prague
  • 8 arrivals: Belfast, Montpellier, Milan, Catania, Preveza, Prague, Madrid, Krakow

LUTON (10)

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  • 5 departures – Paris, Berlin, Jersey, Edinburgh, Malaga
  • 5 arrivals – Lisbon, Paris, Berlin, Jersey, Edinburgh

BELFAST (8)

  • 4 departures: Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham, Stansted
  • 4 arrivals: Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham, Stansted

BRISTOL (7)

  • 4 departures: Hurghada, Paris, Bilbao, Biarritz
  • 3 arrivals: Paris, Bilbao, Biarritz

STANSTED (6)

  • 3 departures: Amsterdam, Belfast, Glasgow
  • 3 arrivals: Amsterdam, Belfast, Glasgow

BIRMINGHAM (4)

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  • 2 departures: Belfast, Amsterdam
  • 2 arrivals: Belfast, Amsterdam

GLASGOW (4)

  • 2 departures: Belfast, Stansted
  • 2 arrivals: Belfast, Stansted

EDINBURGH (2)

  • 1 departures: Luton
  • 1 arrivals: Luton

NEWCASTLE (2)

  • Departures: Belfast
  • Arrivals: Belfast

‘But so have many consumers, and at a time when they’re starting to feel that they can have confidence in travel again, booking a holiday to be put through this awful situation where people have lost money, suffered huge emotional stress.

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‘Particularly appallingly, we’ve been hearing from lots of people who have just had very little information about actually what’s happening on the ground.

‘The airlines and the Government were encouraging people to travel again, and we think they’ve just underestimated the capacity issues, and the shortages both within the airlines and the airport services, including baggage handlers.’

Oliver Richardson, national officer for civil aviation at trade union Unite, said there is a correlation between the airlines that made severe job cuts during the pandemic and those that are cancelling the most flights.

He told the Committee: ‘Where you look at the league tables of who was worst in terms of cancellations and who was better, it almost exactly corresponds (with) the companies that carried out the most redundancies and the most significant changes in terms and conditions, and those that didn’t.

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‘For example, Ryanair were very clear, we negotiated an agreement with them, the basis of the agreement was no redundancies.

‘So they are in a different position from the likes of British Airways, who went through fire and rehire, where not only did they lose 10,000 staff through redundancy, they also radically changed the terms and conditions.

‘They did get rid of too many people in a number of instances.

‘The terms and conditions for those remaining were lessened, and when it comes to attracting people to the industry, it simply isn’t as attractive as it was.’

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And Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, told the Committee that replacing security staff who left the sector due to the pandemic is ‘difficult’.

She said: ‘The industry was decimated. We’ve had two years of virtual non-operation.’

She went on: ‘Furlough helped but lots of people didn’t stay, we couldn’t keep them on. Re-recruiting with what I would describe as very, very short notice, is difficult because they’re very skilled.

‘As you would appreciate in our industry, safety and security is our top priority (so) there’s increased vetting for those sorts of staff.

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‘Shortages have played a particular role, certainly in the kind of queues at security that you saw earlier on, hopefully beginning to improve.’

Aviation minister Robert Courts told the Committee it has been an ‘exceptionally difficult time’ for aviation firms but they are responsible for ensuring it employs sufficient staff.

He said: ‘This has been an exceptionally difficult time for the aviation sector and I have enormous sympathy with the difficult decisions they’ve had to make. 

EDINBURGH AIRPORT: A passenger said this was the scene at Edinburgh Airport at 5.25am this morning, adding: 'What a joke'

EDINBURGH AIRPORT: A passenger said this was the scene at Edinburgh Airport at 5.25am this morning, adding: ‘What a joke’

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‘They’ve had to look at the viability of their businesses, in many cases keep operating, and then look to grow in the future. Particularly to grow under circumstances when neither they nor anyone else knows at what rate the demand would come back.’

Tui boss Andrew Flintham said a 'complex ecosystem of services' faced 'capacity issues' that impacted customers

Tui boss Andrew Flintham said a ‘complex ecosystem of services’ faced ‘capacity issues’ that impacted customers

He added: ‘It’s a privately run industry of course, and it’s the responsibility of the sector to ensure that it has the people throughout the entirety of the aviation ecosystem to be able to operate the flights that they are offering the sale.’ 

And Mr Courts told MPs it is ‘not likely’ that Brexit is having a significant impact on staffing for aviation firms. 

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He said: ‘Schiphol for example, as we’ve seen in the news, has had a major problem. There have been similar problems in Dublin and France, and also in the United States.

‘So it tends to suggest this is a global issue which is caused by a number of factors, but fundamentally, if I were to put in a sentence, it’s the close down of a sector and then having to open it up again, with all of the disruption that inevitably causes.’

Also today, airlines were ordered by the Government and the Civil Aviation Authority to review their summer timetables to ensure they are ‘deliverable’. It comes after thousands of flights were cancelled in recent weeks due to a lack of staff.

Rannia Leontaridi, director general for aviation at the Department for Transport and CAA boss Richard Moriarty wrote a joint letter to the aviation sector stating that companies must ‘take all possible steps to prepare for and manage passenger demand’ to ‘avoid the unacceptable scenes we have recently witnessed’.

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It went on: ‘We think it’s important that each airline reviews afresh its plans for the remainder of the summer season until the end of September to develop a schedule that is deliverable.

MANCHESTER AIRPORT: Holidaymakers queue for check-in in the Jet2 area of Manchester Airport Terminal Two yesterday

MANCHESTER AIRPORT: Holidaymakers queue for check-in in the Jet2 area of Manchester Airport Terminal Two yesterday

‘Your schedules must be based on the resources you and your contractors expect to have available, and should be resilient for the unplanned and inevitable operational challenges that you will face.

‘While cancellations at any time are a regrettable inconvenience to passengers, it is our view that cancellations at the earliest possibility to deliver a more robust schedule are better for consumers than late notice on-the-day cancellations.’

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Airlines charter planes to cope with staffing crisis

Airlines are being forced to charter planes to avoid cancelling holiday flights amid staffing shortages in the industry.

Tui, easyJet and British Airways are among those chartering aircraft at huge expense just so they can fulfil bookings.

It is understood the airlines have plenty of planes but not enough cabin crew to steward them.

Charter planes come with cabin crew, meaning it is preferable to lease these rather than cancel holidays. But it means flight times can change at the last minute, creating more chaos for travellers. It also means food and drink are not always available on the flights.

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Thousands are getting emails from carriers saying their flight has been changed to a charter service.

EasyJet passengers flying from Gatwick to Kalamata in Greece were sent an email at the weekend, saying: ‘Please be advised that your flight is operated by SmartLynx Latvia on behalf of easyJet. Fresh sandwiches and hot food may not be available on your flight.’

Tui customers flying to Cyprus were told: ‘Your flights will now be operated by EuroAtlantic Airways on behalf of Tui Airways.’ The company described EuroAtlantic as an airline which ‘provides charter services and ad-hoc flights’.

British Airways has been chartering planes from Finland’s national carrier Finnair. Yesterday easyJet cancelled another 70 flights across Europe with 218 more delayed.

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Wizz Air and Tui also cancelled dozens over the half-term holidays and British Airways has removed 16,000 flights, or 8,000 round trips, from its schedules.

Tui is one of the holiday operators worst hit by the cancellations, with many of its packages using short-haul easyJet flights which have faced major disruption.

And Mr Flintham said in an email sent late last night that customers ‘will have read in the news, or seen on social media, that the travel industry as a whole has been affected by delays and cancellations’.

He continued: ‘TUI holidays rely on a complex ecosystem of services. This includes our own pilots and cabin crew, as well as operational partners that cover things like check-in, baggage and catering.

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‘Alongside that, we work closely with air traffic control and airport security teams. Our planes cannot take to the skies when the ecosystem is not working as it should be.’

He said that over the first weekend of the May half-term holidays, the ‘ecosystem experienced capacity issues that impacted some of our customers. In some instances, customers were subject to delays and – in rare cases – cancellations. These customers had a poor experience – for that, and the distress caused by the cancellations, I apologise’.

Mr Flintham continued: ‘I would like to assure you that we have learnt from what happened, and we’re working closely with our partners to address the issues that caused the delays and cancellations.

‘I’d also like to reassure you that situations like this are rare – this week, the vast majority of our flights have operated normally, and over 200,000 customers took off to enjoy their TUI holiday as planned.

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‘Our teams have been supporting customers who were affected in finding alternative holidays and processing any refunds due. And I can assure you that TUI would never leave you stranded overseas.’

He finished: ‘I hope this gives you the confidence to look forward to your holiday with TUI this summer, or next time you travel with us. We can’t wait to see you soon.’

Separately, new Home Office data revealed the number of full-time civil servants working at the Passport Office has fallen from 3,913 to 3,232 over the past five years, with agency replacing many of them.

A parliamentary answer to shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper also revealed more than 35,000 people waited more than ten weeks for a passport between January and March 2022.

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This figure disputes the claim given by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Parliament last month that everyone was receiving a passport within four to six weeks of their application, reported The Times. 

A HM Passport Office spokesman told MailOnline today: ‘Staff are processing approximately 250,000 passport applications each week and the latest figures show that 98.5 per cent of applications have been completed within 10 weeks. 

‘But we cannot compromise security checks and people should apply with plenty of time prior to travelling.

BRISTOL AIRPORT: Holidaymakers and commuters flying from Bristol encounter lengthy queues before 4am yesterday

BRISTOL AIRPORT: Holidaymakers and commuters flying from Bristol encounter lengthy queues before 4am yesterday

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‘Since April 2021, we’ve clearly stated that people should allow up to ten weeks when applying for their passport to factor in the increased demand, which has seen five million people delay their passport application due to the pandemic. 

‘An expedited service is available to help the small percentage of people whose applications take longer than ten weeks to receive their passports before they travel.’

Tui managing director Andrew Flintham issued a 300-word email to all customers last night entitled 'An apology from Tui'

Tui managing director Andrew Flintham issued a 300-word email to all customers last night entitled ‘An apology from Tui’

It comes as airlines are being forced to charter planes to meet soaring passenger demand due to the aviation staff crisis.

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TUI, easyJet and British Airways are among those chartering planes at great expense just so they can fulfil holiday bookings.

It is understood the airlines have plenty of planes but not enough cabin crew to steward them.

Charter planes come with cabin crew, meaning it is preferable to lease these rather than cancel holidays.

But it means travellers’ flight times can change at the last-minute, creating more chaos for holidaymakers.

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This particularly affects those who have booked train tickets in advance in accordance with their departure time. It also means food and drink is not always available on flights.

Thousands of travellers are receiving emails from carriers saying their airline has been changed to a charter service, which can create confusion when it comes to boarding.

EasyJet passengers flying from Gatwick airport to Kalamata, in Greece, at the weekend were sent an email saying: ‘Please be advised that your flight is operated by SmartLynx Latvia on behalf of easyJet.

‘Fresh sandwiches and hot food may not be available on your flight, we’re very sorry about any inconvenience this may cause.

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‘If you have any medical or dietary requirements, you may wish to bring your own fresh food with you. Please remember that if you buy alcohol before your flight, you won’t be able to drink it on board.’

Passengers flying from Gatwick to Cyprus with TUI this weekend are being told: ‘One or more of your flights will now be operated by EuroAtlantic airways on behalf of TUI Airways.

LONDON HEATHROW: A traveller described the 'worst passport queue I've ever encountered at Heathrow' yesterday

LONDON HEATHROW: A traveller described the ‘worst passport queue I’ve ever encountered at Heathrow’ yesterday

‘This is because we plan our flying programme a long time in advance and depending on where and when our customers are choosing to travel, we do on occasions need to change the type of aircraft we operate on a particular route. 

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Heathrow Terminal Four reopens after two years

London Heathrow Airport reopened its Terminal Four today, two years after it closed due to the pandemic.

The terminal had been shut to passengers since May 2020, which saw the likes of Air France, Etihad and KLM move to Terminal Two.

London Heathrow Airport's Terminal Four had been shut to passengers since May 2020. It is pictured in January that year

London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Four had been shut to passengers since May 2020. It is pictured in January that year

The reopening also means that Elizabeth Line train services are now serving Terminal Four for the first time.

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Qatar Airways is the first airline to move in with flights to Doha, with another 30 set to join over the next month.

These include: Air Algerie; Air Astana; Air Malta; Air Mauritius; Air Serbia; Azerbaijan Airlines; Bulgarian Air, El Al – Israeli Airlines; Etihad Airways; Gulf Air; ITA Airlines; Kenya Airways; Korean Air; Kuwait Airways; Malaysian Airlines; Omanair; Qatar Airways; Royal Air Maroc; Royal Brunei; Saudi Arabia Airlines; TAROM; Tunis Air; Uzbekistan Airways; and Vietnam Airlines.

‘We’re sorry for any disappointment this may cause. EuroAtlantic airways is a Schedule and Non-Schedule Portuguese International Airline. 

‘It provides charter services and Ad-Hoc flights to Europe and the Rest of the World.’ 

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British Airways has been warning passengers to expect Finnair aircraft to fly them abroad instead as part of a leasing deal.

It has been borrowing planes from Finland’s national carrier in a bid to avoid cancelling more flights this summer.

The industry is gripped by a staff shortages crisis, with cabin crew and baggage handlers particularly in short supply.

It means aircraft are often delayed due to planes taking longer to turn around at either end of their flight course.

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Schedules can allow as little as an hour for a turnaround but if bags are not unloaded for several hours due to staff shortages it can have a huge knock-on effect.

Yesterday easyJet cancelled another 70 flights across Europe with another 218 delayed.

Wizz Air and TUI also cancelled dozens over the half-term holidays and British Airways has removed 16,000 flights, or 8,000 round trips, from its schedules – although this was done a few months in advance.

Staff shortages have also sparked huge queues at airports.

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Yesterday it was reported that Gatwick Airport is suffering a ‘meltdown every night’ due to a staff shortages in the air traffic control tower.

It was claimed the UK’s second-largest airport is having to put restrictions on movements per hour, below its declared capacity.

But the airport denied this was the case and said there were only shortages on three occasions over the last six weeks.

Staff shortages at European airports also appear to be causing problems.

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Eurocontrol, which manages European airspace, released data showing that air traffic flow management delays (ATFM) have soared in recent weeks.

A Gatwick spokesman said: ‘Sickness among air traffic control staff in the airport’s control tower has been an issue on just a couple of evenings recently but these have not been the cause of any delays outside of these isolated incidents.’

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