By Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) -Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has told airlines to stop selling tickets for flights they cannot staff after a spate of cancellations caused widespread disruption for holidaymakers.
Airports across Europe have struggled to cope with a post-pandemic rebound in demand, but British airports are facing a particularly difficult week as a school half-term holiday combines with a long public holiday weekend to mark Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne.
Airports faced similar queues over the Easter vacation earlier this year and Shapps said that while some steps had been taken, there had not been the progress that is needed.
“We need to make sure there is no repeat of the scenes witnessed over the last few days. Despite government warnings, operators seriously oversold flights and holidays relative to their capacity to deliver,” Shapps said, adding he would meet industry officials to discuss the issues.
“This must not happen again and all efforts should be directed at there being no repeat of this over the summer.”
Airlines had hoped for a bumper summer for passengers after two years of COVID-19 travel restrictions.
But they have struggled to recruit staff after the turmoil of the pandemic, and complain it is taking longer to recruit new employees and vet them for security clearance.
Shapps said the government had helped the industry by changing the law to speed up the recruitment of staff, adding that the “government has done its part.”
However Huw Merriman, chair of parliament’s Transport Select Committee, said government had in fact told airlines to fly by saying they had to use 70% of their flight slots or lose them, adding that Shapps’ language was unhelpful.
“I think it’s disappointing for the government to appear to blame the industry. This is an industry that’s lost billions,” Merriman, a Conservative lawmaker, told Sky News, adding that airlines had been waiting for clarity on changing rules.
“We need to find the solutions between government and industry to help the industry cope,” Merriman added.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Kate Holton and David Holmes)