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Shapps demands meeting with aviation bosses as travel chaos worsens

(Ben Smith/PA)
(Ben Smith/PA)

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has demanded a meeting with aviation bosses to find out “what’s gone wrong” as travel chaos worsens across the country.

Airlines continued to axe flights on Tuesday with passengers forced to wait for hours at airports including Manchester, Heathrow, Gatwick and Bristol.

Heathrow passengers trying to board their flights claimed they had “never” seen queues as long as those on Tuesday morning.

Heathrow queues
Passengers queue for flights at Heathrow Airport (Ben Smith/PA)

Passengers have been hit by disruption for several months, with the situation worsening this week due to the rise in demand sparked by the half-term school holiday and the Platinum Jubilee bank holiday period.

The aviation industry is suffering from staff shortages after laying thousands of people off during the coronavirus pandemic and is struggling to recruit more.

Airlines and airports repeatedly called for more financial support during the Covid-19 crisis as Government restrictions suppressed demand.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, Mr Shapps said the Government had “done its part”, adding that airlines and ground handlers need to ensure there is no more disruption.

Mr Shapps referred to the £8 billion given to the aviation industry during the pandemic as well as legislation he introduced last month which allows new aviation recruits to begin training before passing security checks.

He said: “It’s been very distressing to see passengers facing yet more disruption at airports – having well-earned holidays cancelled and plans left in disarray.

“We’ve been clear that industry leaders need to tackle the issues we saw at Easter head-on.

“Although some steps have been taken, we are still not seeing the progress we need to.”

He said the Government “will be meeting with airports, airlines and ground handlers again to find out what’s gone wrong and how they are planning to end the current run of cancellations and delays”.

He added that operators “seriously oversold flights and holidays relative to their capacity to deliver” despite Government warnings.

Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps (Victoria Jones/PA)

“Government has done its part,” he said.

“It is now on airports, airlines and ground handlers to make sure everyone’s well-deserved holidays can go ahead free from the major disruption we’ve seen in recent days.”

As the situation escalated on Tuesday, the Labour Party accused ministers of failing to provide enough support to the aviation sector.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh accused the Government of being “missing in action”.

“They should show some responsibility, do their job, and take concrete steps to tackle the chaos growing on their watch,” she said.

Louise Haigh
Louise Haigh (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham said those in charge of UK aviation companies “should hang their heads in shame”.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said there are staff shortages across the industry, adding: “Things could get worse this summer before they get better.”

Rory Boland, editor of the magazine Which? Travel, said: “The blame game over staff shortages and flight cancellations is no help at all to passengers, who need instant action to bring an end to the airport chaos that is causing so much misery and leaving many people out of pocket, with little hope of getting all their money back.”

Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, said in a statement that the UK’s aviation sector had only had “a matter of weeks” to recover after being “grounded for almost two years”.

It added: “Despite this, and without the ability to know when restrictions would be completely removed or predict how much flying would be possible over the summer, the vast majority of the many tens of thousands of UK-departing flights a week will be operating as scheduled.

“The focus now should be on our customers, with airports, airlines and Government working together in the best interests of Britons to ensure they get away over the summer.”

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