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British Airways and Heathrow Airport have welcomed measures to help airlines prevent last-minute flight cancellations over the summer.
Government regulations will allow a one-off “amnesty” on airport slots rules, enabling airlines to plan ahead and deliver a more realistic summer schedule with a view to minimising disruption at airports.
Airlines will be able to cancel flights without being penalised for not using their airport slot, but must finalise their summer schedule by this Friday.
It is understood that flights cancelled or removed from airline schedules after the Friday deadline will not fall under the slot amnesty.
Slots are used to manage capacity at the busiest airports, giving airlines authorisation to take off or land at a particular airport at a specified time on a specified day.
Airlines must use slots a certain amount of times each season in order to keep them, and this “amnesty” is giving them the leeway to put a more manageable schedule in place without the risk of losing a slot due to cancelling flights.
A spokeswoman for British Airways said: “We welcome these new measures, which help us to provide the certainty our customers deserve by making it easier to consolidate some of our quieter daily flights to multi-frequency destinations well in advance, and to protect more of our holiday flights.”
A spokesman for Heathrow said the slot amnesty is “good news for passengers”, adding: “This amnesty will enable airlines to make early choices to consolidate their schedules, boosting the resilience of summer operations and giving passengers the confidence they deserve ahead of their journeys.
“We encourage airlines to take this opportunity to reconsider their summer schedules without penalty and inform passengers as early as possible of any changes.”
Last month, the Department for Transport (DfT) said it would give airlines a short window to hand back slots for the rest of the summer season that they are not confident they will be able to operate.
“This will help passengers find alternative arrangements ahead of time, rather than face the kind of last-minute cancellations seen over the Easter and half-term holidays,” the department said.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “An amnesty on slot rules is potentially good news for passengers as it should encourage airlines who need to cancel more flights to do so now rather than at the last minute and could ease disruption this summer by letting better-staffed airlines step in and fly routes.
“For this to work, carriers must surrender their slots to other airlines if they are unable to fulfil them. This will help reduce cancellations and end the unsustainable practice of airlines flying near-empty planes to retain slots.”
This week, Heathrow ordered flights to be cancelled because it could not handle them, while on Saturday delays were expected due to a technical fault in the airport’s fuelling system, which was temporarily closed down for an hour.
A Heathrow spokesman said: “A technical fault with the airport’s fuelling system has now been resolved.
“We are working with all airport partners to minimise disruption, however flights out of Heathrow this afternoon may be subject to delays.
“We apologise for any impact this has on people’s journeys.”
On Thursday and Friday passengers at the airport complained of long queues, cancelled flights and lost baggage as “schedule intervention” and disruptions at UK airports were exacerbated by strikes in Spain.
The threat of industrial action is also continuing to loom in Britain after union members voted overwhelmingly to strike over pay – although no dates have been announced.
BA staff are demanding the 10% of pay they had “stolen” from them last year as they faced “fire and rehire” tactics during the pandemic.