Airlines ordered to cancel summer flights now to avoid holiday misery

‘Your schedules must be based on the resources you expect to have available’ – letter to carriers

EasyJet to cancel more than 20 daily half-term flights from Gatwick

Airlines have been ordered by the government to cancel flights for July and August now to “de-risk the summer” for tens of thousands of passengers.

The Department for Transport (DfT) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have warned carriers to trim schedules now to avoid the misery of flights cancelled at short notice.

In a joint letter to airlines, they say: “Cancellations at the earliest possibility to deliver a more robust schedule are better for consumers than late-notice on-the-day cancellations.”

The instruction means that many Britons with trips already booked for July, August and September will find their flights cancelled. They will need to choose other departures – which should be at the expense of the airline that grounds their flight – or cancel for a refund.

The letter appears squarely aimed at easyJet. Britain’s biggest budget airline is currently cancelling around 60 flights per day, the majority of them to and from London Gatwick airport.

While easyJet has introduced some longer-term cancellations, extending into July, many flights are grounded at a day’s notice or even less.

Wizz Air, the third-biggest European budget carrier (after Ryanair and easyJet) has also been making short-notice cancellations.

Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the CAA, and Rannia Leontaridi, director-general for aviation at the DfT, tell the airlines: “The outcomes for too many consumers recently have been unacceptable. It is imperative that we see an improvement to the resilience in the system, planning and scheduling to reflect the available capacity ahead of the summer period.

“Our expectation is that you and all those involved in delivering aviation services will take all possible steps to prepare for and manage passenger demand that helps to avoid the unacceptable scenes we have recently witnessed.

“We all share a common goal to de-risk the summer period but we believe more needs to be done to give us all better assurance that this goal will be delivered.

“It’s important that each airline reviews afresh its plans for the remainder of the summer season until the end of September to develop a schedule that is deliverable.

“Your schedules must be based on the resources you and your contractors expect to have available, and should be resilient for the unplanned and inevitable operational challenges that you will face.”

Overall, cancellations of flights to, from and within the UK are running at close to 200 per day.

More than half are on British Airways, which has cancelled 16,500 over the summer to align its schedule with available resources. While the cancellations have a significant effect on seat availability – especially from UK regional airports – they are notified weeks in advance.

For the first time since the cancellation crisis began, the CAA and DfT have ordered airlines to comply with European air passengers’ rights rules.

The Independent has received many examples of carriers failing to offer flights on alternative airlines, and making it difficult for passengers to claim the compensation and other costs that are due to them.

Mr Moriarty and Ms Leontaridi write: “We expect that when there are unavoidable cancellations, delays and denied boarding cases that passengers are promptly, clearly and empathetically communicated with.

“This should include informing passengers of their consumer rights in relation to refund and compensation routes if applicable. Also when dealing with operational challenges, we expect you to have the processes and resources in place to keep consumers informed, such as having sufficiently staffed call centres and user-friendly digital channels to ensure refunds and compensation are paid in good time.

“If airlines cannot re-route passengers on their own services or partner airlines on the same day they should identify re-routing options on alternative airlines.

“It is also important that where passengers are delayed they receive suitable subsistence and, if they need to stay overnight, suitable accommodation promptly.

“If there is evidence that an airline is systematically letting consumers down when it comes to those rights, the CAA will not hesitate to escalate matters with its enforcement role.”

The DfT and CAA say the expectations have received a “high level of support” from the airlines.

The letter ends: “Both the Department and the CAA will play our full roles in our aim of ensuring the recovery for air travel is a success.

“Let’s start with working together to make sure the summer is a great success for the British public.”

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