Georgina Clissold

UK Travel Industry Undermined by Coronavirus Delays


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For much of the UK, the Easter holidays are in full swing, and the country is entering its second month of life without coronavirus restrictions; in response, many families have been preparing excitedly for their first overseas holiday in just over two years.

This excitement has faded rather quickly as airports across the UK report delays, cancelled flights, and staff shortages. But what is causing this disruption for the UK's air travel industry for yet another year?

To put it plainly, coronavirus.

The difference between now and two years ago is that people can travel again, and the demand to take to the skies has soared. London Stansted Airport reported an expected 240,000 travellers over the Easter weekend, compared with 8,000 over Easter 2021.

But it's not just pent-up demand from the worst of the pandemic causing issues.

Increased coronavirus-related sickness in airport staff has only exacerbated delays. As coronavirus cases rise across the country and there is no legal requirement to wear a mask, airport staff have, as expected, been susceptible to catching the virus.

As a result, staff have had to isolate themselves at home, leaving airports under-staffed. Some airports and airlines, such as Manchester, have been unable to recruit staff at a sustainable pace, interviewing as many as 4,000 people over the past two months.

Just last week, the managing director of Manchester Airport stepped down after weeks of chaos. Another employee at the airport also walked out over fears for passenger safety. Speaking to UK television, Ray Ellis, a former trolley operative who had worked at the airport for almost 30 years stated:

"It is the first job at the airport that I have walked out on. It is dreadful at the moment and getting dangerous."

"I resigned because of the chaotic way the airport is operating. I want to shout as loud as possible about it because I am a passenger as well. Security is not being taken seriously."

Aside from coronavirus, a torrent of machinery and IT glitches have caused further problems, especially for British Airways. At the time of writing, the UK's air travel industry is cancelling upwards of 100 flights a day, with 100,000 passengers affected in the last week alone.

It's not just air travel that is being undermined over the Easter holidays, as trains, ferries and road traffic all face their own issues.

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Over 500 engineering projects are to take place on UK railways over Easter, and Network Rail has advised passengers to travel on either side of the bank holiday. On Good Friday, it's thought that almost 14 million people will travel by car to reach their bank holiday destinations, with "significant congestion" expected from the AA.

Following P&O Ferries sacking of 800 staff without notice, which has since seen a criminal investigation launched, ferry service DFDS said it would not be able to accept passengers on cancelled P&O services.

A Department for Transport spokesperson commented on the capacity issues facing the ferry industry:

“P&O’s unacceptable actions have resulted in its vessels being detained, causing backlogs and traffic jams which would be substantially alleviated if its fleet was operating normally. It’s left operators, local authorities and, of course, the government having to clear up the mess."

As the booking of overseas holidays reaches 2019 levels, the UK's air travel industry needs to overcome its current issues - and fast. If the issues facing the sector continue into the summer months, the UK’s economy could take a major economic hit – adding to current concerns over a potential recession in the third quarter of the year.

Have your travel plans been affected by cancellations? Are delays making you rethink your summer holiday plans? Let us know in the comments below.

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