The aviation industry must “do their bit” to resolve problems which have led to chaotic scenes at airports across the country, the Transport Secretary has told travel bosses.
Grant Shapps said while he understands there have been “resourcing strains on the aviation sector”, that is no excuse for poor planning and overbooking flights.
He described scenes at airports with lengthy queues and flight cancellations as “heart-breaking” as some holidaymakers had hoped to take their first trips abroad after the pandemic.
More than 150 UK flights were cancelled on Wednesday – the eve of the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday weekend.
On Wednesday afternoon, Mr Shapps and aviation minister Robert Courts led what the Department for Transport (DfT) described as a “productive meeting” with senior leaders from the aviation industry including airports, airlines and ground handling companies.
He emphasised to them his concerns that airline passengers are being unfairly sold tickets for holidays they cannot go on, and said he will continue to discuss options for introducing automatic refunds for passengers.
Following the meeting, Mr Shapps warned that there cannot be a repeat of such disruption over the summer.
He said: “We’re grateful to those airlines and operators who have continued to deliver good services despite the current pressures and we recognise that not all operators have been affected in the same way.
“I also understand the resourcing strains on the aviation sector but it does not excuse poor planning and overbooking flights that they cannot service. The companies who have seen the most disruption need to learn from those who ran services smoothly.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely to make sure consumers don’t lose out from any further disruption.”
He said he and Mr Courts “have made the changes needed to allow the sector to prepare for summer, but now we need industry to do their bit”.
He added: “We have been crystal clear – run services properly and according to schedule or provide swift, appropriate compensation. We do not want to see a repeat of this over the summer – the first post-Covid summer season – and will be meeting again in the coming weeks to understand the progress that is being made.”
The chief executive of Airlines UK said the problem is not “an airline issue or an airport issue or a Government issue”.
Tim Alderslade said: “We want to work collaboratively with ministers to resolve these issues as quickly as possible, in good time for the summer peak, and it was good to discuss options with the Transport Secretary during what was a productive meeting.
“We ultimately have to work together to solve this. Aviation is a complex eco-system with lots of moving parts and we can’t operate in isolation.
“This isn’t an airline issue or an airport issue or a Government issue. We’re in this together and we look forward to exploring options with ministers to move the sector forwards as we approach the summer.”
Chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, Karen Dee, described the meeting as a “good opportunity to discuss the challenges currently facing airports following the devastating impact of the pandemic” and to set out how the industry is “putting its full effort behind getting passengers away smoothly this weekend and preparing for the summer”.
Those in attendance at the meeting included British Airways, easyJet and TUI Airways.
On Wednesday, easyJet cancelled at least 31 flights at Gatwick Airport, British Airways axed 124 short-haul flights at Heathrow – but said passengers were given advance notice, and Tui Airways is continuing to cancel six daily flights at Manchester Airport, which represents a quarter of its schedule.
Airports represented at the meeting included Gatwick, Birmingham, Bristol, Luton and Newcastle.
Aviation data firm Cirium said 377 flights from UK airports were cancelled in the seven days up to and including Tuesday.
Some 10,794 flights are scheduled to depart from UK airports between Thursday and Sunday.
Airline passengers have been hit by disruption for several months, with the situation worsening this week due to the rise in demand sparked by the half-term school holiday and the four-day Platinum Jubilee weekend.
The aviation industry is suffering from staff shortages after letting thousands of people go during the coronavirus pandemic.
Airlines and airports repeatedly called for sector-specific financial support during the Covid-19 crisis as Government travel restrictions suppressed demand.
They are now struggling to recruit new workers and have their security checks processed.
The DfT said the Government and aviation industry will form a working group ahead of the summer holidays to “work through issues of shared concern together”.
Mr Shapps and Mr Courts were said to have stressed during Wednesday’s meeting that the Government remains committed to supporting the sector and called for better packages to be offered within the industry to help build a resilient workforce to meet demand.