Heathrow boss warns travel chaos could last 18 months

Passengers queue for check-in at Heathrow Airport, in London
Queues, long delays and cancellations at Heathrow airport. The UK government faces mounting calls to bring in stricter penalties for airlines which overbook flights. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

The boss of Heathrow Airport has warned that passengers could face another 18 months of travel disruptions.

John Holland-Kaye told a Financial Times conference that it would take between 12 to 18 months for the aviation sector to fully recover capacity after it cut tens of thousands of jobs during the pandemic.

The industry is now struggling to rehire staff after demand for travel revived quickly this year.

“What we saw in some airports over the past few weeks is that supply and demand were out of balance... we need to make sure we are planning much better,” the chief executive said.

He added that ministers could help by further easing rules around security background and employment history checks for new employees.

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It comes as the UK government faces mounting calls to bring in stricter penalties for airlines which overbook flights.

MPs have called for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to be handed greater powers to crack down on airlines amid a string of recent cancellations, which left thousands of passengers stranded across Europe over the weekend.

Budget carrier EasyJet (EZJ.L) cancelled more than 30 flights on Tuesday, with Gatwick passengers most affected by the cancellations.

Meanwhile, British Airways cancelled around 120 flights from Heathrow, and Wizz Air (WIZZ.L) also scrapped at least seven flights due to serve UK airports.

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “I’ve met with the sector to express my concerns... and have made clear this cannot be tolerated. We have also run a consultation on consumer rights issues, including additional powers for the CAA, and will publish a response on this in due course."

Huw Merriman, the chairman of the transport select committee, called for immediate reforms that would entitle passengers to automatic compensation, instead of putting the onus on them to apply.

“It should be the responsibility of the airline and not the consumer to apply for compensation. Why should they have to go through the rigmarole of filling out fiendishly complicated forms?” he said.

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The warnings come as Wizz Air revealed on Wednesday that the price of plane tickets is expected to jump by close to 10% this summer as a result of increasing demand.

Jozsef Varadi, the boss of the Hungarian airline, said that disruption at airports would likely lead to the airline making an operating loss in the first quarter of its financial year.

“Shortages of staff in air traffic control, security and other parts of the supply chain are impacting airlines, our employees and our customers directly,” he said.

Watch: Aviation bosses must 'do their bit' to fix travel chaos, minister says