Passengers should expect travel disruption this summer as the staffing shortages that caused long queues and flight cancellations last year have not been fixed, a union has warned.

GMB Union – representing ground staff working for Swissport and British Airways (BA) – claimed that some airlines had not learned the lessons of last summer, when staff shortages coupled with a rebound in travel demand after the Covid pandemic sparked chaos at major airports.

A union spokesperson said: “Many parts of the UK could once again see travel chaos this summer. Some airlines are totally unprepared in terms of staffing.”

Unionised employees at Swissport voted to accept a 10 per cent pay rise last month, which has resolved their staffing issues by making the company a more attractive place to work, according to a union source.

However, the GMB Union is still in negotiations with BA over pay. The company axed roughly 10,000 jobs in 2020 when the pandemic grounded most of its aircraft meaning it was having to recruit extra staff when international travel had already restarted.

BA said it recruited around 7,400 new employees in 2022, with the recruitment drive continuing this year, and that it has “built extra resilience” into its schedule.

The flag carrier has borrowed some fully crewed Finnair aircraft to operate some European flights this spring due to short term pilot and crew shortages, according to Rob Burgess of frequent flyer website Head for Points.

Mr Burgess told i: “It is unlikely that we will see substantial flight cancellations this summer.

“I don’t get any sense that the airlines will not be able to staff the flights that have been timetabled.”

Last summer, there was chaos across the industry, with passengers waiting for hours for luggage, standing in 400m-long queues and being stranded by last-minute flight cancellations.

Airports and airlines faced staffing shortages due to a lack of willingness and incentive for staff to return to their pre-pandemic jobs after mass layoffs and furlough.

It comes as Which? travel editor, Rory Boland, warned passengers to “expect disruption” this summer and urged travellers to “avoid Heathrow and several airlines during the peak Europe summer months”.

Mr Boland told i: “Reports that industry bosses are worried about some airlines’ and airports’ capacity to handle the expected travel boom this summer are deeply concerning.

“Following the last-minute cancellations and delays that blighted thousands of journeys last year, it would be inexcusable for any company to have yet again sold flights they aren’t sure they will be able to operate.”

A Heathrow spokesperson said the airport has prepared for summer 2023, suggesting that mass cancellations are unlikely to be repeated.

“Our passengers can see for themselves that we’re ready,” they said, adding: “We’ve successfully met the year’s first peaks and are focused on continuing to work collaboratively with all partners to provide the world-class experience at Heathrow that our passengers expect.”

Britain’s busiest airport, Heathrow, has scheduled 9.5 million more passenger seats this summer season compared with summer 2022, according to John Grant from OAG, a data platform for the global travel industry,

Heathrow has said it will prevent airlines from adding extra flights to their schedules during the peak in a bid to avoid disruption affecting passengers, according to a report by the Financial Times.

Data from OAG reveals that, among UK airports, Heathrow had the second highest proportion of flights (1.9 per cent) cancelled within 48 hours of planned departure last year – Gatwick saw the highest (2.3 per cent).

Recent analysis of Civil Aviation Authority data from Forbes Advisor revealed Wizz Air to have the most flight delays. The Hungarian carrier made more than 15,000 flights in and out of the UK during June, July, Aug 22, and two thirds arrived at least 15 minutes late.

The budget carrier also had the longest average delay of all airlines included in the study, with flights on average running nearly an hour late (55 minutes).

Meanwhile, Border Force officers have been ordered to “deprioritise” customs work at airports such as searching for guns and drugs in order to cut down on queues for passengers, according to The Guardian.

Matt Roberts, GMB National Secretary, said: “Overselling flights continues to be common practice in the industry and is largely unchanged on previous years.

“However the bigger issue is that post-Covid recovery in aviation continues to be slower in the UK than other countries.

“This is due to the poor decision-making by airlines and aviation services employers during the pandemic including the opportunism to make cuts and the lack of loyalty to their long-serving and experienced key workers.

“If trade union members had been listened to, the UK could have been six months further forward than we are in ramping the sector back up.

“On top of the failings by the employers, the UK government also failed the sector with their inconsistent decision making in regards to reopening and the need for a ‘standing start’ that this created.

“GMB Union members are working on negotiating pay deals in the sector to ensure pay is right for recruitment and retention this summer and beyond.”

A BA spokesperson: “In 2022, the entire industry was focused on rebuilding the aviation ecosystem after facing the worst global crisis in its history. Despite some of the challenges we faced, the vast majority of customers were able to travel to their destinations as planned.

“We remain focused on making sure we’re flying to where our customers want to travel to this summer and we’ve built extra resilience into our schedule so that we can deliver the service our customers expect of us. We recruited approximately 7,400 new colleagues in 2022 and we continue with our recruitment drive this year.”

Strike action could prove a source of disruption at Heathrow this Easter with 3,000 Unite members working at the airport voting in a ballot for a strike that may coincide with the school holidays. The results of the ballot are due in mid-March.

Despite the threat of travel strikes in the UK and Europe, it appears that the industry is preparing for a busy summer season.

John Strickland, an aviation consultant and director at JLS Consulting, told i: “The evidence that I see around the industry on recruitment and training is that airlines and airports are in a much stronger position than last year and are making every effort to be adequately resourced.”

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