Surge of jubilee holidaymakers adds to Britain travel hubs stress

Heathrow, Europe's busiest hub prior to the Covid-19 crisis, has been operating at reduced capacity. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Britain's airports, airlines and ports face their most frenetic weekend for years, as a surge of vacation-bound passengers puts further stress on travel hubs already hobbled by a staffing shortfall and other issues.

London's Gatwick airport said Friday (May 27) was set to be its busiest day since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, surpassing April's Easter rush, with more than 800 scheduled flights set to transport 120,000 passengers.

The great getaway will continue in the coming days, as school holidays and a four-day weekend for Queen Elizabeth's platinum jubilee celebrations combine to trigger an exodus of Brits to sunnier climes.

Numbers will be swollen this weekend by an estimated 70,000 fans of Liverpool football club heading to the Champions League final in Paris.

While Gatwick said it had "no significant queues", passengers earlier took to social media complaining of long delays for security, boarding and even water fountains. Traffic lined up on roads near the Port of Dover as P&O Ferries continued to run a reduced service.

Discount airline EasyJet is cancelling more than 200 Gatwick flights between Saturday (May 28) and June 6, the Evening Standard reported, citing a spokesman for the company. This comes after the carrier scrapped more than 200 flights on Thursday amid an IT outage.

Travel firms have urged people to arrive in good time for their departures after the Easter holiday saw chaos at hubs, including Manchester airport, with facilities unable to cope amid worker and equipment shortages.

Staff shortages have been the chief trigger for disruption, with companies that dismissed workers or lost them to other sectors at the height of the pandemic struggling to make up the gap as bookings rebound with the easing of travel curbs.

The situation has been compounded by issues such as the EasyJet IT glitch, with British Airways suffering a similar incident in March. P&O also had its ships confined to port for safety checks after firing experienced seafarers and replacing them with lower paid ones, though the fleet is almost back to strength after several vessels cleared inspections.

"The industry is grappling with shortages across functions, including security, cabin crew and baggage handling, and the coming week promises to be the next big test," said Mr Rob Morris, global head of consulting at Ascend by Cirium.

"There's a risk that if things go awry it could put people off travelling," he said.

While Britons are currently still in "a euphoric phase" as borders reopen, significant upheaval now could hurt demand later in the year when increased household costs are likely to be weighing on travel budgets, he said.

London Heathrow airport reported that operations were running smoothly while suggesting customer numbers may build towards June 2, when the jubilee holiday begins.

Europe's busiest hub prior to the Covid-19 crisis, Heathrow has been operating at reduced capacity with the long-haul flights in which it specialises taking longer to return.

British Airways said flights were operating normally on Friday. The unit of IAG SA has pared back its timetable by 10 per cent through October following disruption earlier in the year as it struggled to hire sufficient workers in ground-services roles.

EasyJet has cut capacity on its smallest planes for a limited period to allow operations with fewer crew while it seeks to recruit staff.

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