The Civil Aviation Authority has demanded that airports and airlines take action over the impact of staff shortages which are causing delays, cancellations and long queues in the run up to Easter.

The CAA has warned the widely reported late-notice cancellations and “excessive” delays could hit consumer confidence. Staff shortages caused by recruitment issues have been exacerbated by widespread Covid infections. Schools in some areas have already broken up for Easter – the first school holiday since the end of the pandemic travel restrictions which have fuelled a rise in demand for foreign trips.

The BBC has reported that EasyJet and British Airways have cut dozens of flights. It added that the aviation industry has struggled to recruit quickly enough after making staff redundant earlier in the pandemic.

“Excessive” delays could affect consumer confidence

Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), warned late notice cancellations and “excessive” airport delays were distressing for consumers but also could affect confidence just as passengers were returning to flying.

He added that while firms had been working hard to recruit staff ahead of the spring and summer period, it was clear this had not happened fast enough to cope with the increased passenger travel.

Moriarty urged airlines to provide deliverable schedules given their available staff, with contingencies for staff sickness. He added that where capacity was “unavoidably restricted” planning was needed to identify problems early so pre-emptive cancellations could be made.

He said passengers should be given notice “at a minimum” so that they did not have to travel to airports unnecessarily. Moriarty also reminded airlines that they were legally required to inform passengers of their rights when flights were disrupted, to provide care and assistance during the disruption and offer a choice of refund or alternative travel.

“Speed and scale” of recovery “caught us”

Manchester Airport has seen some of the worst disruption, with long queues for check-in and security, passengers missing their flights and warnings that emergency services could be called in to deal with the situation. Ken O’Toole, deputy chief executive at Manchester Airport, told the BBC: “The speed and the scale of recovery has caught us and it has meant we are short-staffed at the moment.”

The Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee said a surge in passenger demand had been expected after the lifting of restrictions: “Airports have been preparing for this for some time, but at peak times passengers may not have the experience they are used to. Airports are working hard to recruit more staff in a very competitive labour market and are working with the UK government to resolve any delays in the necessary checks before staff can start work.

“For many passengers this will be the first time they have travelled abroad since the beginning of the pandemic and the processes required may seem unfamiliar. The advice airports (and airlines) are issuing should help ensure passengers are as prepared as they can be. If airports and passengers work together in this way, we can get everyone on their way as smoothly and quickly as possible.”

orts and passengers work together in this way, we can get everyone on their way as smoothly and quickly as possible.”

Subscribe to the FINN weekly newsletter