Staff crisis so bad one airline is removing seats while another asks passengers to ‘bring own food’

May 9, 2022

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Airlines have made no secret of the chronic staffing crisis that has left Britain’s air-travel industry in disarray.

But the problem is currently so dire that one carrier has resorted to removing seats from their planes while another has been left in the unfortunate position of having to ask passengers to bring their own food for flights.

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Since the summer holiday flight schedule kicked in last month, airports and airlines have creaked under the weight of a surge in demand as holidaymakers scramble to get away after two years of travel restrictions.

Operators are blaming staff shortages for the issues, as they struggle to refill the thousands of roles they made redundant during the pandemic.

Related: Was Virgin Atlantic pilot forced to return mid-flight last week really ‘unqualified’ to fly?

Not so easy, jet

One of the worst-affected airlines in recent weeks has been easyJet.

The budget carrier has now announced that it will be removing seats on its A319 aircraft this summer, to allow it to operate the planes with three instead of four cabin crew.

That’s because, under Civil Aviation Authority rules, airlines must have one air steward for every 50 seats, regardless of whether those seats are filled or not.

Related: EasyJet under fire after telling Brits their EHICs are invalid — everything you need to know

Normally, easyJet’s A319’s are packed with 156 seats, requiring four cabin crew members. But by stripping out the back six seats, thereby reducing the aircraft’s capacity to 150, the airline can operate the planes with just three attendants.

“This is an effective way of operating our fleet while building additional resilience and flexibility into our operation this summer where we expect to be back to near 2019 levels of flying,” the company said, adding that the last six seats are usually booked on the final days of departure meaning holidaymakers’ summer travel plans will not be affected.

Bitten off more than you can Tui?

Meanwhile, Tui has advised passengers on some flights to bring their own food with them due to catering issues.

The operator blamed a staff shortage at its catering supplier for the measure, before offering an embarrassing apology to customers.

Related: EasyJet update passport rules — are you owed compensation?

“We can confirm that unfortunately due to staff shortages with our catering supplier, there may be limited food and drinks services available on board,” Tui UK and Ireland said.

“Customers may therefore want to bring their own food and soft drinks onboard – no alcohol permitted. Any soft drinks over 100ml will need to be purchased after you have passed through security.”

Related: What’s faster? Watch us race from London to Leeds by plane and train

Flights from the following airports are due to be affected:

  • Birmingham
  • Bristol
  • Cardiff
  • Doncaster Sheffield
  • Dublin
  • East Midlands
  • Edinburgh
  • Exeter
  • Glasgow
  • Humberside
  • Leeds Bradford
  • Luton
  • Manchester
  • Norwich
  • Teesside

The disruption will not affect long-haul flights to Aruba, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Orlando and St Lucia, it said, promising meals on these flights will continue as normal.

“Please be assured we are continuously monitoring the situation and working closely with our suppliers to limit the impact to the onboard service for our customers,” the operator added. “We are directly contacting all customers impacted. We’re very sorry for any inconvenience caused.”

Recap: Why so many issues?

When the pandemic brought the aviation industry to a standstill, many thousands of airport and airline employees lost their jobs across the country.

One trade union source told TPG in April that many of these workers found work in other industries and were quickly seduced by the same or better wages for more sociable hours.

So when airports and airlines asked old staff to come back as the industry regained, many refused.

Related: Virgin Atlantic plane forced to return to Heathrow mid-flight as pilot had not completed training

“Why would you leave a nice nine to five job in town for your old airport job, that pays the same and starts at 3am?” the source told TPG. “There needs to be a better incentive.”

Airports and airlines, however, have blamed the government for their problems.

They say one of the main issues for the crisis is the time it takes to pass new recruits through the industry’s stringent anti-terror vetting process.

A Heathrow spokesperson told TPG that this process can take anywhere between three and six months, “from recruitment to starting work”.

In response, Transport secretary Grant Shapps recently told parliament’s Transport Committee that the government will allow airports to begin training staff without security clearance.

Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said told the BBC a “dire labour shortage” in the sector was one of many reasons behind the issues. She called it a “travesty” that easyJet was removing seats from flights, adding: “This only exacerbates the issue of meeting consumer demand to travel.”

All of this combined with a huge backlog in U.K. passport applications means many Brits could be in for a chaotic summer of travel this year.

Featured image by Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

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