When will airport chaos end? What is causing delays at UK airports and why more flights are being cancelled

EasyJet has warned it expects to make further cancellations in the coming days due to ongoing high level of Covid-related sickness among staff

Airline passengers are being warned to expect further flight cancellations over the coming days as staff shortages continue.

Aviation data firm Cirium said 1,143 UK flights were cancelled last week, the vast majority of which were by easyJet and British Airways.

Cirium said easyJet cancelled 357 flights to and from the UK in the week up to 3 April, while British Airways cancelled 662.

Airline passengers are being warned to expect further flight cancellations over the coming days (Photo: PA)

Why are flights being cancelled?

The volume of UK flights being cancelled in recent days has been blamed on high levels of staff being off sick amid a rise in Covid cases.

Industry experts also said airlines and airports are struggling because of the number of job cuts made during the pandemic.

Easyjet said the rate of staff absences is around double their normal levels due to coronavirus, and around 60 of its flights scheduled for Tuesday (5 April) were cancelled. This followed 62 cancellations on Monday.

The airline said it had decided to cancel more flights in advance "in order to give customers notice".

A spokesperson for easyJet said: “As a result of the current high rates of Covid infections across Europe, like all businesses, easyJet is experiencing higher than usual levels of employee sickness and so we have taken the action to cancel some flights in advance, in order to give customers notice.

“We have focused on consolidating flights where we have multiple frequencies so customers have more options to rebook their travel, often on the same day, and we expect to make similar levels of pre-emptive cancellations over the coming days, due to the ongoing high level of sickness.

“We are very sorry for any inconvenience this may cause to customers on affected flights. We are contacting customers directly and providing them with their options which include rebooking onto an alternative flight, or receiving a voucher or full refund.”

British Airways cancelled at least 98 flights to and from Heathrow on Tuesday. However, that figure includes routes suspended for several months because of the pandemic, such as those featuring some Asian destinations.

The airline announced last month that it had reduced its schedule until the end of May due to the rising number of Covid cases.

Which airports have been affected?

Passengers travelling from Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham airports have reported disruption due to flight cancellations, as well as long queues, in recent days.

Heathrow blamed congestion at the airport on Sunday (3 April) on Covid checks required by destination countries and “high passenger volumes”.

There were also reports of problems with the e-gate passport checkpoints, with some passengers complaining on social media that they had waited hours to take off.

Long delays at security and check-in were also reported at Birmingham Airport due to struggles with staff shortages.

The disruption is impacting many families heading abroad for the school Easter holiday, which is the first since the UK lifted all coronavirus restrictions for international travellers.

Passengers faced long delays at security and check-in at Birmingham Airport (Photo: PA)

When will airport chaos end?

The disruption at UK airports is expected to continue over the coming days as airlines struggle to cope with the high volume of passengers heading abroad for Easter amid the ongoing staff shortages.

EasyJet has said it expects to make further cancellations “over the coming days, due to the ongoing high level of sickness”.

Analysis by the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council published in December 2021 warned that one in eight UK travel and tourism jobs would be unfilled entering this year, with 205,000 vacant roles.

It claimed staff shortages could have an “enormous impact” on the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “This is a staggering level of flight cancellations caused by a cocktail of not having enough staff in place and Covid-induced staff shortages.

“Airlines are certainly seeing a high level of demand to fly, but are simply unable to cope with that demand due to a lack of resources.

“It’s a nightmare situation for airlines and airports at the moment.”