Thousands of UK holidaymakers have been left stranded overseas after the travel disruption gripping airlines and domestic airports worsened over the weekend.
Airlines cancelled nearly 500 flights into and out of the UK over the four-day platinum jubilee holiday, including scores at short notice, data company Cirium said.
EasyJet made up many of the last-minute cancellations, and on Monday the low-cost airline said it had cancelled a further 37 flights, but that passengers had been told before arriving at the airport.
The airline said the vast majority of its flights operated as normal, and blamed “the ongoing challenging operating environment” for the disruption. It has said it is fully staffed for the summer and does not expect to recruit more crew.
In all, about 15,000 passengers were hit by last-minute changes on Sunday alone, and it was expected to take three days to clear the backlog, according to travel consultancy the PC Agency.
Would-be passengers, including some school staff and pupils with exams this week, complained of being stuck abroad after half-term holidays.
Michael Norman, who tried to fly back to Manchester from Faro, Portugal on Sunday, said easyJet did not tell passengers their flight was cancelled until they were at the departure gate.
He estimated he had spent £750 on hotel accommodation and new flights, after easyJet said he had been rebooked on to the “next available flight” without telling him when it would leave.
“We have no idea, it is as if they abandon you . . . they should not be flying people out on holiday if they cannot fly you back,” he said.
Passengers have endured 10 days of disruption, delays and cancellations across many of the UK’s airports, as the aviation industry has struggled to cope with the rise in demand for travel.
The problems have been acute in the UK but have stretched across many parts of Europe, including the Netherlands, Ireland and Sweden. In the US, problems have persisted for more than a year.
In the UK, the government, airlines and airports pledged to work together to solve the crisis after an emergency meeting last week, and have set up a working group to look at whether there is more ministers could do to help companies get staff on to the frontline more quickly.
Airlines have suggested reducing the length of employment history subject to background checks, and allowing details to be issued directly to the employer from HM Revenue & Customs, according to one person familiar with the matter.
Ministers have rejected requests to loosen Brexit immigration rules to allow skilled foreign workers into the country to help ease the crunch, and have blamed the industry for sacking too many staff and overselling flights.
Andrew Crawley, chief commercial officer at American Express Global Business Travel, said: “The airline sector was the first in and last out of government restrictions . . . Now travel is returning faster than anticipated, and airlines are late to an already saturated labour market.”
The government’s confrontational public tone frustrated some within the industry, who feel that government support during the crisis did not go far enough.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps last week said the government provided £8bn in support during the pandemic.
Airlines have also repaid £2.3bn in loans from the UK government’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility, according to industry data.
On Monday Heathrow airport said it was looking to recruit another 1,000 staff, and that on June 14 Terminal 4 would reopen for the first time in two years to help free up space in other terminals. Staff from head office have also been deployed to terminals to get more people on to the frontline.