Another 1,500 canceled British Airways flights and strike action by aircraft-loading workers at Heathrow threaten to wreak havoc on the UK’s summer getaway.
The airline warned on Tuesday it would cancel extra flights in the coming weeks as it struggles to deal with disruptions and staff shortages, shortly before airport staff said they were preparing to walk out on the first weekend of the school holidays.
The Union Unite said members employed by Aviation Fuel Services – one of four companies providing refueling services at the UK’s busiest airport – will stage an initial 72-hour strike from July 21 to 24 in a pay dispute.
He warned the strike would cause “significant disruption and delays” as the company provides services to almost 70 airlines operating at Heathrow – although he added there was still room to reach a deal “if AFS comes back to the table for negotiations’.
The threat of extended strike action will add to the woes of airlines as they seek to prevent a repeat of the delays and cancellations that affected passengers during the UK school term last month.
BA’s operations at Heathrow will not be affected by any industrial action at AFS as it uses different refueling companies. But the airline faces the possibility of a strike by around half of its own check-in staff at Heathrow, which could potentially take place over the same weekend – although unions Unite and GMB have yet to set a date for action.
BA on Tuesday said it would further reduce its summer schedule because aviation sector was facing “the most challenging period in its history”.
It is also said to be reconsidering whether to cut more flights later this week after the UK government announced an amnesty to strict rules forcing airlines to use or lose their lucrative take-off and landing slots.
B.A lay out plans in May to cut flights by 10 percent during its summer season, which runs between March and October, to try to bring reliability to its intermittent operations.
The carrier has now decided to cut another 1%, which equates to around 1,500 flights, most of which will be operated this month.
By ending flights earlier, BA management hopes to avoid the last-minute disruption that affected some UK airlines early last month, leading to chaotic scenes as many passengers learned of canceled flights one day after they arrived at the airport.
Still, the need to lose more flights is a blow to the airline and chief executive Sean Doyle, who had hoped decisive action in May would allow the group to fully meet its shortened schedule.
BA is understaffed after cutting around 10,000 jobs during the pandemic, but is also suffering from the wider resourcing problems facing the whole industry, including airports, subcontractors and air traffic control staff.
“As the entire aviation industry continues to face the most challenging period in its history, it has unfortunately become necessary to make some additional redundancies. We are contacting customers to apologize and offer to rebook or issue a full refund,” the airline said in a statement.
Other airlines, including easyJet and Lufthansa, have been forced to take similar action shorten their schedules after overestimating how many flights they and their suppliers could secure this summer.