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Why is the chaos at airports so much worse in the UK than elsewhere?

Whether it’s down to bad decision-making by aviation bosses or Brexit, no other country’s travel situation is quite as bad as ours

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

You’d have thought airports and airlines might’ve been able to sort it out a bit by now, but alas, they haven’t. With thousands of cancelled and delayed flights and endless queuing for pretty much everything, the UK’s aviation sector is still a total mess.

And while it’s certainly true that things are also bad elsewhere (both Amsterdam Schiphol and Dublin have been pretty crap recently), nowhere is having to put up with airport chaos right across the country quite like the UK. From Manchester and Bristol to Edinburgh and London Stansted, British airports are all properly shitty right now.  

We know the general causes of the chaos – namely staff shortages caused by mass redundancies in the pandemic and Covid cases, plus a huge post-pandemic surge in demand for plane travel – but why are things so much worse in the UK, specifically?

Well, some reckon Brexit is to blame. London mayor Sadiq Khan has said that Brexit drastically reduced the employment pool for airports and that the situation could thereby be resolved by relaxing immigration rules for aviation industry workers.

Simply blaming Brexit, however, doesn’t quite paint the whole picture. UK transport secretary Grant Shapps instead blames airports and airlines for making too many staff redundant in the pandemic, saying that the industry didn’t properly use government aid to protect jobs. In this view, at the root of the chaos is bad decision-making by aviation bosses who failed to prepare for a very, very predictable surge in post-pandemic travel. 

In any case, there’s a hell of a lot of finger-pointing going on – and no short-term fix. Thanks to lengthy security checks in the recruitment process for airports and airlines, it looks like the disruption will be around for a good while yet.

Did you see that three days of rail strikes will hit the UK later this month?

Plus: staff at Heathrow could go on strike this summer.

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