Travel is back: is the British aviation industry ready for the big take-off?

Following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, and with the Easter and summer holidays on the horizon, British tourists are once again preparing to pack their bags for international travel.

When the UK government approved the removal of the remaining measures last month, it meant the end of passenger locator forms and testing requirements for returning citizens and arrivals. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes would mean “greater freedom for travellers” ahead of the Easter holiday. And the end of the Covid rules gives “a much-needed boost to the battered travel industry”, the i news site said.

Consumer confidence in international tourism is “up”, said Abta – The Travel Association. According to the association’s research, 57% of people have booked holidays abroad for the next 12 months, up from 44% in October 2021. “These figures are close to the levels seen before the pandemic, and it is clear that confidence to travel is on the rise as restrictions ease.

Are UK airports ready?

Easter bookings are “nearly back to pre-pandemic levels,” Travel Weekly reported. According to data from the Advantage Travel Partnership, departures for the period are down just 10% from Easter 2019 and Spain and Turkey “remain travellers’ favourites”.

With return travel the order of the day and tourists once again flocking to airports, a big question remains. “Are UK airports really ready? asked Matt Blake on The Points Guy. Airlines “are enjoying an interest they could only have dreamed of a year ago”, but airports “are struggling to cope with this increase in demand”.

Staff shortages blamed for ‘chaotic scenes’

‘Chaotic scenes’ have been reported at a number of airports across Britain and Ireland in recent days and some passengers have ‘even missed flights due to long queues’, Blake added .

UK airports have been ‘mired in chaos’ after staff shortages led to hundreds of canceled flights and hour-long delays over the weekend, The Independent reported. With 222 flights axed due to staff shortages, easyJet was “one of the worst affected airlines” and a spokesperson said that “due to the current high rates of Covid infections across the ‘Europe, like all businesses, easyJet is experiencing higher than usual levels of employee illness.’ British Airways also canceled ‘hundreds of flights’ on Saturday and Sunday, with a further 90 cancellations so far.

As the Easter holidays began, passengers faced long queues at a number of airports, including Heathrow and Manchester, The Guardian reported. There have been ‘long waits’ for check-in at Heathrow, due to Covid checks, high passenger volumes and reported staff shortages.

A Manchester Airport spokesperson apologized to passengers. “As we recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, our entire industry faces staffing shortages and recruitment challenges,” the spokesperson said. “As a result, we are advising customers that security queues may be longer than usual, and encouraging them to arrive as early as recommended by their airline.”

Problems are “not terminal”

Airports blamed an “interprofessional staffing crisis” for the problems, which were caused by a “deadly combination” of staff illness and post-pandemic recruiting issues, Blake said. “But the problems, they promise, are not over.”

The Daily Express said ‘Brexit Britain’ is heading for the skies again as airlines and airports offer hundreds of new jobs. Luton Airport has announced over 400 new jobs across the board, with several roles offered in security, firefighting, hospitality and retail staff.

At Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, 12,000 staff will be hired to handle an “expected summer holiday boom”, The Guardian said. John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, said: “We need to make sure we are ready to meet potential peak demand this summer.”

Aviation expert John Strickland, of JLS Consulting, said the staffing shortage resulting from the pandemic is something that “is going to be more prevalent” with airlines because of the number of people who have been made redundant.

A British Airways IT glitch last week saw dozens of flights delayed or canceled at Heathrow and the disruption caused by repeated IT outages is exacerbated by staff shortages, The Independent reported. Strickland told the PA News Agency that “once the dominoes start falling, if your workforce isn’t up to the expected establishment, you flounder even more.”