Holidaymakers have had to contend with waves of flight cancellations and long queues at airports such as Bristol, Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester due to staff shortages at a time of increased passenger demand.
Britain’s largest holiday company TUI announced on Tuesday that it had cancelled almost 200 flights between now and the end of next month. Meanwhile, at least 31 easyJet flights were scrapped at Gatwick on Tuesday.
In total, some 291 departures from major UK airports have been cancelled in the last seven days, according to the aviation data firm Cirium.
On Tuesday evening, transport secretary Grant Shapps demanded a meeting with aviation bosses to find out “what’s gone wrong”.
But deputy general secretary of Prospect union, Garry Graham, warned that holidaymakers may not have seen the worst of the disruption yet.
“Unions warned the government and aviation employers repeatedly that slashing staff through the crisis would lead to problems with the ramp-up post-pandemic,” he said.
“The government point to the furlough scheme but ignore that it ended well before the majority of international restrictions on travel came to an end. Now we see staff shortages across the industry, with huge reliance on overtime to get by day-to-day.
“In many areas, like air traffic control, overtime is only a temporary sticking plaster. So, things could get worse this summer before they get better.”
Elsewhere, Sharon Graham, who runs the Unite union, said British aviation bosses “should hang their heads in shame”.
However, leading figures in the industry have directed the blame at red tape, saying the government must help tweak employment rules to help speed up their recruitment processes.
Rather than seeking to apportion blame, Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel magazine, expressed his sympathy for travellers whose plans had been upended.
“The blame game over staff shortages and flight cancellations is no help at all to passengers, who need instant action to bring an end to the airport chaos that is causing so much misery and leaving many people out of pocket, with little hope of getting all their money back,” he said.
In a statement, Mr Shapps said it was “very distressing” to see how many people were affected, before seeking to distance the government from the problem by saying it “has done its part”.
The transport secretary said: “We’ve been clear that industry leaders need to tackle the issues we saw at Easter head-on. Although some steps have been taken, we are still not seeing the progress we need to.”
The government and bosses in the aviation sector will hold meetings about what has gone wrong, he added.
With the situation deteriorating on Tuesday, Labour accused the government of being “missing in action”.
“They should show some responsibility, do their job, and take concrete steps to tackle the chaos growing on their watch,” shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said.