Why are flights and holidays being cancelled? Reason for queues at UK airports and why they are so busy

EasyJet, British Airways and Tui have all axed services with large queues of more than four hours reported at major airports

Thousands of British passengers have faced disruption to their flights over the past few weeks with last-minute cancellations and lengthy queues forming at major UK airports.

EasyJet, British Airways and Tui have all axed services as the school break began for many children across the UK.

Large queues have been reported at Gatwick, Manchester and Bristol airports with some waiting for more than four hours.

Some passengers at a number of airports missed flights due to hold ups at security checkpoints.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said one of the reasons for the chaos is that airlines and operators have “seriously oversold flights and holidays” relative to their capacity to deliver.

Around 240 easyJet departures were grounded in the last two days with last minute cancellations made on Monday morning (30 May).

Meanwhile British Airways continues to cut more than 100 flights each day as part of its pre-planned reduction in services.

Why are flights being cancelled?

There are a number of problems occurring at the moment including staffing problems, IT glitches, runway works and air traffic restrictions.

Staffing problems due to Covid has meant that airports and airlines are looking to recruit new workers but the process is more complicated now due to safety issues.

Many workers were made redundant or changed jobs during the pandemic.

Before Covid, airports and airlines across Britain employed around 140,000 people, but since then thousands of jobs have been cut.

Around 30,000 jobs were cut for UK airlines alone.

They have to go through counter-terror checks by the Government in order to start the job, which has taken longer than usual thanks to the overwhelming numbers of staff being recruited.

The aviation minister Robert Courts announced he would be relaxing the vetting process last month to ease the pressure, allowing airports and airlines to train staff before the checks had been finished.

The Manchester Airport operator said more than 500 people were going through background checks and security training, but only 200 are due to join this month.

Meanwhile Heathrow Airport is hiring 1,000 staff.

There are also still large numbers of people catching Covid with many staff therefore calling in sick and causing chaos for timetables.

Airlines UK said the sector had “only a matter of weeks to recover and prepare for one of the busiest summers we’ve seen in many years.”

But, despite this, “the vast majority” of flights this week would be operating as scheduled.

What has the Transport Secretary said?

Grant Shapps said it had been “very distressing” to see people facing more disruption at airports.

He said the government had been clear that it was up to industry leaders to tackle travel disruption, and he will meet with airports, airlines and ground handlers to “find out what’s gone wrong and how they are planning to end the current run of cancellations and delays”.

He added: “Despite government warnings, operators seriously oversold flights and holidays relative to their capacity to deliver.

“This must not happen again and all efforts should be directed at there being no repeat of this over the summer - the first post-Covid summer season.”

However, Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency and a former Virgin Atlantic director, said the government itself was “responsible for this chaos”.

He told the BBC: “[The transport secretary] has got a bit of a nerve I’m afraid.

“It’s because of government restrictions that changed so much during the pandemic, and then the shutdown of the industry with the Omicron variant last December, that has created this problem.”

Why are airports so busy?

This year, many passengers are heading abroad for the first time in two years due to the Covid pandemic causing long queues at airports and congestion on the roads.

Large queues built up at the port of Dover for travellers waiting to cross the Channel. 

Airport officials have said many passengers are using vouchers or credit notes from trips cancelled during Covid, fuelling demand.

This week also marks the first school holidays in England and Wales since the lifting of all UK Covid travel restrictions and the easing of coronavirus test requirements for many EU countries. 

Many consumers saved money when they were unable to holiday during lockdown, resulting in pent-up demand for foreign trips.

Which airlines have cancelled flights, and why?

EasyJet cancelled more than 200 flight cancellations last week due to IT problems.

On Friday (27 May), the airline announced it would cut an additional 240 flights up until 6 June.

There were also some unscheduled cancellations on Monday (30 May) and Tuesday (31 May).

Passengers who were due to travel from Gatwick to Seville and Rome were only informed an hour in advance.

The airline said this was due to air-traffic control restrictions on Sunday.

British Airways continues with pre-planned cancellations to domestic and international services, with more than 100 flights a day affected.

Tui passengers also experienced cancellations and delays over the weekend, although on a smaller scale.

Tens of services were either axed or pushed back between Friday and Sunday.

The airline said in a statement: “While flight delays and cancellations with us are rare, unfortunately the sudden increase in people going on holidays, combined with various operational and supply chain issues, has meant that a small number of our flights have been impacted.”

Where is disruption the worst?

Gatwick has seen the most easyJet cancellations, followed by Manchester.

Hours-long queues were pictured at both Gatwick and Bristol, with Twitter users reporting waits of up to five hours at the London airport.

Large queues have also been forming at Dublin Airport and Amsterdam Schipol Airport.

Eurostar services from London St Pancras station also led to slow moving queues stretching outside the railway station over the weekend.

What are my rights if my flight is cancelled or delayed?

If your flight is cancelled or delayed by a certain length of time you should be eligible for compensation.

If your flight is cancelled you have the right to choose between being refunded or rerouted – this could be a new flight with the same airline or a different carrier.

The airline is supposed to give you the chance to get to your destination on the same day.

For cancellations within 14 days of travel, you can claim compensation.

How much depends on the type of flight, if you choose to take a refund and not travel, or on how much later your new departure and arrival are than your original plan.

If an airline cancels at the last minute and you are forced to buy a new flight with a rival carrier, you can claim the cost of the replacement ticket.

For delays under two hours, you are not entitled to anything.

After that, for a short-haul flight under 1,500km you get food and drink (probably in the form of vouchers to use at the airport) and phone calls paid for.

You are also entitled to accommodation and transport.

Compensation applies after three hours, and starts at £220.

If the delay goes beyond five hours you can get a full refund if you do not travel, or might be due compensation even if you do get the later flight, depending on the reason for delay.