Aviation firms and ministers must ‘shoulder the responsibility’ for flight chaos

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The aviation industry and the Government must “shoulder the responsibility” for the chaos suffered by airline travellers, MPs were told.

Sue Davies, head of consumer rights at consumer group Which?, said the cancellation of thousands of flights and long queues at airports in recent months were caused by the impact of staffing shortages being “underestimated”.

She told the Commons’ Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee: “Both the industry and the Government need to shoulder the responsibility for the chaos that we’ve seen.”

Ms Davies acknowledged that the sector has been “particularly affected” by the coronavirus pandemic, but stressed that consumers have “lost money and suffered huge emotional stress”.

“The airlines and the Government were encouraging people to travel again, and we think they’ve just underestimated the capacity issues, and the shortages both within the airlines and the airport services, including baggage handlers.”

Ms Davies accused airlines of selling tickets when “they don’t know for sure that those flights are actually going to be able to go”.

She told the committee that passengers “haven’t really been given proper information about their rights”, adding: “There’s just blatant flouting of consumer rights and a failure to put
passenger interests first.”

Oliver Richardson, national officer for civil aviation at trade union Unite, said a ranking of the airlines making the most cancellations “almost exactly corresponds” with the number of job cuts they made during the pandemic.

“They did get rid of too many people in a number of instances,” Mr Richardson said.

“The terms and conditions for those remaining were lessened, and when it comes to attracting people to the industry, it simply isn’t as attractive as it was.”

British Airways refused to acknowledge that the job cuts are contributing to cancellations.

Labour MP Darren Jones, who chairs the committee, repeatedly questioned the airline’s corporate affairs director Lisa Tremble on the issue.

He asked her: “Do you think there was a connection between sacking 10,000 members of your staff using aggressive fire-and-rehire tactics, and now cancelling the most flights per day?”

Ms Tremble said “it’s very complicated”, stating that the company “had to protect as many jobs as possible”.

Mr Jones responded: “We’ve asked you a very direct question, I think three times, and you’ve chosen not to answer it.”

EasyJet chief operating officer Sophie Deckers said it is typically taking around 14 weeks for new cabin crew recruits to obtain their security passes, compared with 10 weeks before the pandemic.

This is due to the requirement for individuals to obtain references for all the jobs they have done in the past five years, she explained.

“In many cases, people have had 10 jobs in the last couple of years.

“Maybe some of them were only for a couple of weeks, but we’re required to get a reference from each of those, so that’s what’s taking the length of time.

“We have today 142 crew ready and trained to go online that don’t have their ID passes.

“So we have planned for this (increase in demand for travel) and we’ve planned for the ramp up. The ID processing I think has caught us by surprise and it’s taken longer than we had ever planned or anticipated.”

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