EasyJet reveals how little slack it has in the system, even at its home base

Exclusive: Providing back-up for a flight delayed by less than an hour would involve ‘intolerable sacrifices’, says airline

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 28 October 2017 23:03 BST
Passengers were initially told that flight EZY2061 was delayed by 45 minutes, but it was then abruptly cancelled
Passengers were initially told that flight EZY2061 was delayed by 45 minutes, but it was then abruptly cancelled

After Ryanair was slammed for cancelling thousands of flights, its rival easyJet has revealed just how fragile its own schedules are.

A slightly delayed flight from Luton, where easyJet is based, was cancelled because the crew were “out of hours” and the airline had no back-up staff available.

Britain’s biggest budget airline claims that to have enough crew to cover would involve “intolerable sacrifices”. The revelation indicates that flights may be grounded without compensation because of mild disruption.

In June a Friday evening flight from Luton to Geneva and back was cancelled because the incoming aircraft due to operate the service was just 56 minutes late. The minor delay on the journey from Pisa to Luton was due to a combination of weather-related air-traffic control issues and a pilot feeling unwell.

Passengers were initially told that flight EZY2061 was delayed by 45 minutes, but it was then abruptly cancelled.

One of the passengers, Phillip Berry, applied for €250 in compensation for the cancellation. His claim was rejected, with the airline saying: “Your flight cancellation was caused by a [sic] Air Traffic Control restrictions [sic]”.

He then took the case to a dispute-resolution service, and has now been sent easyJet’s defence. In it, the airline makes clear how little back-up it has.

The airline claims the cancellation of the flight was caused by “extraordinary circumstances which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken”.

The inbound aircraft due to operate the flight arrived 56 minutes late at Luton from Geneva. “The crew due to operate the flight would have ‘gone over hours’ if they had in fact operated the flight,” said easyJet.

Instead, the crew were deployed on a trip from Luton to Inverness and back. In justifying this decision, the airline says: “A flight to Scotland is a much shorter flight”; easyJet schedules 10 minutes extra for a Luton-Geneva flight than it does for Luton-Inverness.

The airline’s submission says it “did not have the technical or financial means to source another aircraft, captain or crew at such short notice”, and therefore was not liable to pay compensation under European passengers’ rights rules.

​Coby Benson, a solicitor for the flight-delay specialist Bott & Co, said: “I struggle to see how it was not technically and economically viable for easyJet to have had a spare crew available for situations such as this.

“It is clear that easyJet were aware of the delay at approximately 1pm, which would have provided them with five hours to organise a replacement crew.”

A European court judgment ruled that an airline which encounters a delay on an earlier flight must “provide for a certain reserve time to allow it, if possible, to operate the flight in its entirety once the extraordinary circumstances have come to an end”.

But easyJet argued that providing back-up would have involved “intolerable sacrifices”, and therefore the ruling did not apply.

Mr Berry called easyJet’s response “rather pathetic”, adding: "The events that day that caused the flight cancellation were totally in easyJet's control to mitigate, but it failed to do so.”

He is now waiting for a final ruling on his claim.

A spokesperson for easyJet told The Independent: “We are structured in terms of to be able to manage normal levels of disruption in peak summer periods and therefore implement sufficient levels of standby cover.

“On this particular day there was widespread disruption across the network because of thunderstorms in Southern Europe which meant our standby crew at Luton was fully utilised and therefore we could not cover the cancelled Luton-Geneva flight in addition to the other flights affected that day.”

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