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Why is there so much disruption at UK airports?

Thousands of travellers are facing long delays and cancelled flights – and the chaos could last for another two months

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

As anyone who’s tried to use a UK airport in the past week will already know, they’re in total chaos. Thousands of travellers have been caught up in ridiculously long queues or had their flights cancelled as they try to get away for the Easter holidays. Most major UK airports, from Heathrow and Gatwick to Manchester and Edinburgh, have been affected. It’s all pretty frustrating, to say the least.

So what’s causing all this disruption? Well, the main reason is a lack of staff. A combination of both not having enough staff already plus shortages due to Covid is having knock-on effects for nearly every part of the aviation industry, from airports to airlines.

Check-in, security and baggage reclaim are all working much slower than usual. And when that’s combined with increased footfall due to fewer travel restrictions and the Easter holidays, you get the current situation: incredibly long queues and lengthy delays.

EasyJet has cancelled more than 200 flights, blaming staff shortages caused by Covid. British Airways has also cancelled flights, in addition to having suffered from technical issues for several months.

All of which probably beckons a few more questions: why are airports and airlines so short on staff? And when could all this be sorted?

Well, the staff shortages stem from the pandemic. To save money when demand for travel was low, airports and airlines made loads of staff redundant. We’re currently witnessing a failure to properly prepare for the post-pandemic travel boom. And it doesn’t help that airport recruitment often takes longer due to more extensive background checks.

Unfortunately, it looks like the situation won’t be resolved any time soon. Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said he expected the disruption to last for at least two more months, while neither BA nor EasyJet have given any indication as to when exactly things could return to normal. 

Our advice? Check in online as early as your airline allows, then get to the airport really early. Then no one – no, not even crummy airlines and airports – can ruin your hols.

Got five minutes to spare? Want to tell us what life is like in your city? Take the Time Out Index survey here.

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