Photography: Ashok Saxena/Alamy
The government has announced an “amnesty” on airport slot rules, making it easier for struggling airlines to plan schedules with fewer flights as fresh strikes at easyJet threaten to add to the summer of disruption for passengers.
Airlines typically need to use takeoff and landing slots allocated at the busiest airports such as London Heathrow and Gatwick at least 70% of the time or they risk losing a valuable asset.
With many carriers unable to recruit sufficient ground personnel, flights were canceled at short notice. The government said airlines can now return slots they weren’t confident they could operate.
Grant Shapps, Secretary of Transport, said the move is aimed “to help airlines provide passengers with safety and ensure that the next few months are as smooth as possible.”
News of a planned shutdown by the Spanish union USO has added to more problems at the UK’s biggest carrier, easyJet, which announced on Monday it would cut around 11,000 flights from their daylight savings schedules. The reduction came after the covers were placed on Gatwick flights, where much of easyJet’s operation is based, as well as Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.
The USO union is seeking a 40% increase in the base salary of low-paid cabin crew. The strikes, three 72-hour stoppages at fortnightly intervals starting July 1, would mean hundreds of crew would stop working at easyJet bases in Barcelona, Malaga and Palma.
Related: ‘Bagage mountain’ leads to Heathrow cancellations as easyJet cuts schedule
An easyJet spokesperson said: “We are extremely disappointed in this action as we have made considerable progress towards a new collective bargaining agreement and therefore would like to continue constructive dialogue with them.
“If industrial action continues, there may be some disruption to our flight schedule to and from Malaga, Palma and Barcelona during the strike period, but at this stage, easyJet plans to run its full schedule and we would like to assure customers that we will do so. everything possible to minimize any disruption.”
The union said it remains open to negotiations. USO members who work as Ryanair’s crew also voted to strike and plan two three-day shutdowns in the coming weeks.
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said passengers should expect disruptions to persist during peak season due to a shortage of airport staff in air traffic control, baggage handling and security.
He told Sky News: “This problem will continue particularly at airports like Gatwick and Heathrow throughout the summer. It will be worse on weekends and better during the week.”
EasyJet said it was starting to let customers know today whose flights were affected by the shortened schedule and that most would be rebooked on an alternative departure within 24 hours. The company expects to inform most customers of any changes this week, a spokesperson said, with most changes in the UK affecting those booked in Gatwick.
Meanwhile, the airline said it was adopting options to buy 56 A320neo family planes from Airbus, to modernize the fleet. The planes, which are expected to arrive between 2026 and 2028, will have more seats and use less fuel, and the airline paid an undisclosed price, deemed “substantially lower” than the official figure of $6.5 billion.