Flights cancelled and huge Heathrow baggage pile-up grows as summer holiday travel chaos continues


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The chaos affecting air travel in recent weeks look set to continue, as EasyJet announced further cuts to its summer timetable, while Heathrow asked airlines operating out of two terminals to cancel 10 per cent of their flights due to a baggage backlog.

EasyJet announced it is scaling back its summer schedule in a bid to avoid last-minute cancellations and in response to caps introduced by Gatwick and Amsterdam Schiphol airports.

The airline has cancelled dozens of daily flights at the West Sussex airport in recent weeks, including some when passengers were already on the plane.

In a summer trading update, EasyJet said it now expected its capacity in the quarter to the end of June to be around 87 per cent of 2019 levels, and its fourth quarter to the end of September to be around 90 per cent.

It is thought this could amount to around 10,000 of the 160,000 flights it has on sale for July, August and September being cancelled.

The airline said “the majority” of passengers should be booked onto other departures, with “many being on the same day”. Those affected should receive an email by the end of June.

EasyJet said it wants to “build additional resilience” as the aviation sector grapples with staffing shortages having let go of thousands in the pandemic, when air travel ground to a halt.

Chief Executive Johan Lundgren said: “While in recent weeks the action we have taken to build in further resilience has seen us continue to operate up to 1,700 flights and carry up to a quarter of a million customers a day, the ongoing challenging operating environment has unfortunately continued to have an impact which has resulted in cancellations.”

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A malfunction in Heathrow’s baggage handling on Friday has created a backlog, forcing some to travel without, while people hoping to collect their luggage on arrival have encountered lengthy delays.

Images shared on social media captured an “enormous luggage carpet” at the airport, while some passengers have been told the wait could be as long as two days.

The airport confirmed it has requested airlines operating in Terminals 2 and 3 to “consolidate their schedules” by 10 per cent on Monday as a result.

Around 40 flights have been cancelled at the airport by airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Emirates, which could affect 12,000 customers.

Airlines have 21 days to find and get delayed luggage to their customers. If the delay was the airline’s fault, customers can claim compensation, but this weekend’s chaos has been cited as a technical glitch, which would be considered an extraordinary circumstance, meaning no compensation is due.

However, if luggage isn’t delivered within 21 days, a lost luggage claim can be filed – the maximum claim is around £1,400.

A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport said: “We apologise unreservedly for the disruption passengers have faced over the course of this weekend.

“The technical issues affecting baggage systems have led to us making the decision to request airlines operating in Terminals 2 and 3 to consolidate their schedules on Monday June 20.

“This will enable us to minimise ongoing impact and we ask that all passengers check with their airlines for the latest information.”

The luggage system collapse left some travellers separated from their belongings for entire trips.

Heathrow has asked airlines to scale back schedules (Photo: Reuters)

Yakoob Ali’s father, Souleman, travelled to Zurich from Heathrow on Friday to visit his daughter and grandchildren, however his baggage, which contained the majority of his diabetic medication, never arrived.

The 76-year-old from Leicester made do with a limited supply carried on his person, before arranging access to further tablets in Switzerland, where he also bought new clothes. Gifts for his grandchildren remain in the marooned suitcase.

Yakoob Ali said: “It’s now been three days since he left, and we’ve been chasing them every day since Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, this morning as well. We can’t get any help out of Swiss (the airline) or Heathrow Airport. It’s a really stressful situation.”

Yakoob’s efforts to find out whether his father will even be able to collect his stranded luggage on returning to the UK tomorrow have been unsuccessful.

“There’s no way of contacting them, which is ridiculous. After getting a stock message on Twitter, I asked to speak to someone more senior.

“They gave me a link to their feedback page, which told me the current response time is up to 30 days. I’m absolutely frustrated and totally annoyed. All you get is stock responses, no help from Heathrow or the airlines.”

Last month, EasyJet said it expected to operate 90 per cent of 2019 this quarter and around 97 per cent in its fourth.

A very tight labour market for crew, compounded by increased security check times for new staff, had reduced its resilience further, the update said.

Tens of thousands of travellers have seen their getaway plans ruined by hundreds of cancellations and delays at airports in recent weeks.

Airlines have struggled to boost staff numbers to pre-pandemic levels in the three months since travel restrictions for UK arrivals were eased.

British Airways has regularly grounded around 100 short-haul flights a day to and from Heathrow airport, almost all of
which it says are pre-planned, meaning passengers are given prior notice.

Gatwick airport announced plans to slash its summer schedule on Friday, after last-minute cancellations forced thousands of people to rip up travel plans over the Platinum Jubilee week.

It will limit the number of daily take-offs and landings to 825 in July and 850 in August, down from 900 in previous years.

Airports capping flight numbers this summer could face legal challenges from service providers to recoup costs after recruiting workers based on original schedules, according to the chief executive of aviation services company Swissport.

“I think that there’s going to be some challenges, I suspect legally, to putting caps on airlines,” Swissport CEO Warick Brady told Reuters at an airline industry event in Qatar.

“We recruited enough people for the summer schedule and they cut the schedules, so we now have too many people. We are going to have a cost overhang because they are cutting.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) wrote to all airports and airlines last week, asking them to ensure that flights on sale were “deliverable”, meaning other airports could follow suit and decide to scale back their timetables.

Staffing issues could worsen next month, should potential strikes also go ahead.

BA check-in staff at Heathrow started voting on strike action earlier this month which, if approved, could affect departures from Britain’s biggest airport as early as mid-July.

Members of the GMB and Unite unions have also entered a formal dispute over what they say is failure by BA to reinstate a 10 per cent pay cut put in place during the pandemic.

By Harriet