Airlines expect smooth half-term getaways from England after summer disruption

British Airways and easyJet confident of fulfilling schedule in busiest weekend before Christmas

The chaos affecting international air travel in the summer has been firmly stowed away, according to UK aviation firms, with a smooth getaway expected in the busiest weekend before Christmas.

Passenger numbers for the biggest carriers and airports will peak at the start of what is for many the October half-term holiday, with easyJet and British Airways confident of fulfilling their schedule, and Heathrow to lift its passenger capacity cap later this month.

Shortages of staff across the aviation sector, particularly in security and ground handling positions, resulted in flight cancellations and delays multiplying in the first half of 2022.

Airline and union sources said they were expecting a busy week but did not anticipate the overstretch of earlier this year.

Chaotic scenes at airports and various other problems pushed BA and easyJet to pre-emptively cancel thousands of flights during summer, with BA making cuts to the schedule until the end of October.

London Heathrow has warned that aviation’s recruitment challenges will not be resolved before next summer, should pre-pandemic demand return in full, although the airport does not expect passenger numbers this week to near the 100,000 daily limit it imposed on departures.

The cap angered some airlines, notably the Gulf carrier Emirates, when it was announced in July. It will be lifted on 29 October. A spokesperson for Heathrow said: “We have got the resources in place to meet the schedule that we have.”

Discussions are ongoing between the airport and airlines over a potential reinstatement of the cap for a small number of days over the Christmas period but sources said they were hopeful that any limits could be avoided, with an announcement expected at the start of next month.

BA, the biggest airline at Heathrow, declined to comment. Flights to South Africa and Dubai are expected to be among its busiest services this week.

EasyJet said it would operate 900 flights a day from the UK, with Málaga, Palma, Faro, Geneva and Amsterdam the most popular destinations. London Gatwick, easyJet’s main base, is running at about 85% of its pre-Covid capacity, and the airport said it had taken on about 400 security staff in the last three months to ensure a quick passage through its terminals.

Manchester airport, which experienced some of the biggest queues and worst delays earlier in the year, said it was not expecting any problems, after recruiting more than 700 people to work in security and “huge improvements” in the performance of contractors working for airlines in baggage handling.

The AA predicted a quiet half-term on the roads, with traffic peaking on Friday evening and Saturday morning but only a marginal impact from people seeking a getaway. Relatively few people are expected to drive for an autumn break in the UK, with bad weather predicted for much of the week, and many households trying to cut expenditure with the cost of living crisis.

The RAC forecast 11.5m leisure trips by drivers until the end of Sunday – compared with almost 15m for the same holiday weekend in 2021.

No national rail strikes are planned until 3 November, after the end of the half-term holiday, although an RMT strike on Avanti West Coast on Saturday will further slow and disrupt its reduced intercity timetable.


Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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