Flying from Gatwick this summer? Stand by for changes

Passengers on easyJet will bear the brunt of cancelled flights, with British Airways and Wizz Air also expected to ground departures

Business secretary says government is working with airports amid flights chaos

Airline passengers booked to fly from Gatwick this summer could be contacted and told their flight has been cancelled.

The airport, the second busiest in the UK after Heathrow, has announced plans to cap operations in July and August – with airlines instructed to cut some departures.

Here are the key questions and answers:

What’s the background?

In the three months since international travel restrictions for arrivals to the UK were eased, the aviation industry has struggled to cope with demand. With staff in short supply for ground handling companies and airlines, dozens of flights are being cancelled each day at Gatwick and other airports.

At least 50 easyJet departures and arrivals were grounded at Gatwick on Thursday, along with further flights on British Airways and Wizz Air. An estimated 10,000 passengers did not travel as booked.

While most were notified at least a day or two in advance, some were grounded at very short notice. When disruption such as air-traffic control delays intervenes, there is no slack in the system.

What’s the plan?

Two weeks before the start of the July-August peak season, Gatwick airport’s bosses have asked airlines to trim their proposed schedules in the hope “that passengers experience a more reliable and better standard of service”.

The plan is to make cuts now, rather than risk further distressing “on the day” cancellations.

An airport statement said: “After a significant and rapid upturn in traffic, Gatwick airport is working with airlines to implement deliverable timetables to help prevent short notice and last-minute cancellations.

“Under-resourced airline ground handling companies will cause poor service this summer and delays, unless urgent action is taken.”

How will the cull of flights work?

The vast majority of passengers will fly as planned. But on the busiest days, airlines will be told to cancel up to 50 flights – requiring thousands of passengers already booked on them to find alternative departures.

The airport has agreed with airlines to reduce planned operations from a maximum of 900 departures and arrivals to 825 in July and 850 in August.

Airport Coordination Ltd, the body that assigns take-off and landing “slots” at Gatwick and other hubs, will stipulate the number of cancellations that each airline must make.

Passengers on easyJet will bear the brunt of the cancelled flights, with British Airways, Wizz Air, Vueling and Tui also expected to ground departures.

Where does that leave holidaymakers whose flights are cancelled?

Under European air passengers’ rights rules, any passenger whose flight is cancelled can insist on being rebooked on the same day if a seat is available, even if it requires the airline that grounds the original departure to pay for a ticket on a rival airline.

So this could be a very expensive exercise for some airlines, but by giving at least two weeks’ notice they don’t have to pay passengers cash compensation.

Are similar reductions in flying likely at other airports?

Yes. The Department for Transport (DfT) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have ordered UK airlines to align schedules with available resources to “de-risk” the summer.

Heathrow is talking to airlines about reducing flights – but already the biggest airline, British Airways, which has more than half the slots at the UK’s busiest airport, is cancelling around 120 departures a day – taking around 20,000 seats out of the system.

At Manchester Airport, Britain’s third-busiest, Tui has cancelled an average of six daily departures to reduce the strain on the ground-handling operation. Tui also has five fully crewed aircraft on standby, rather than the normal two./

Presumably for people hoping for a late deal, this isn’t good news?

Capacity will be very tight in July and August, but bargains will start to appear again in September.

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