Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said deploying the military is not “the quick fix for every problem” and the travel industry needs to “fix it”.
Image: Mark Thomas / i-Images)
Ministers have gone to war with the airline industry over the travel chaos that threatens to derail families’ summer vacation plans.
Airlines and airports have been blown up as they cope with a surge in passenger numbers during the half-term break and the anniversary holiday, with canceled flights, staggering delays at terminals and holidaymakers forced to fly without luggage.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps targeted operators for not being prepared for the surge in demand and dismissed Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s calls for the army to be deployed.
“The airports, the airlines and the travel industry have to make sure we get this covered,” he told the BBC on Sunday morning.
“For example, it is very important that flights are not overbooked and I want to make sure there is automatic compensation for passengers.
“We will be working very hard with the industry into the summer to ensure these scenes don’t repeat themselves.
“Obviously they were surprised by the way people have come back to travel after two years of lockdown, but I’m not surprised – we’ve been like the whole time, ‘You have to be prepared for this’.”
He ruled out sending the military to help with security checks and baggage handling, saying: “The army is not a quick fix to every problem.
“Secondly, they are being deployed in increasing numbers to Eastern Europe, to the Baltics, in wartime situations, and that’s what the army is mainly for. Airports and airlines have to solve this problem.
“The government will give them all the support they need, but I don’t expect that will involve conscripting the army.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan claimed the chaos at the airports was “the government’s own fault”.
“Listen, this isn’t about Covid, this is about Brexit plus Covid,” he said.
Mr Khan proposed allowing European workers employed in the airline industry before Brexit and the pandemic to return to fill labor shortages.
However, Mr Shapps rejected calls to temporarily allow more foreign workers into the industry.
“The answer can’t always be to reach for the lever that says ‘more immigration,'” he said.
Mr Shapps also dismissed arguments that Brexit was a factor, saying there had also been delays at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
The row unfolded when Britain’s largest airport, Heathrow, ordered airlines to reduce the number of passengers departing from its terminals at certain times of the day by a third by July 3.
A Heathrow spokesman said: “Passenger numbers are now at their highest level since the pandemic began – and growing.
“We are expecting an extremely busy summer season and have prepared for it. However, nearly 80% of our markets are still under COVID restrictions – meaning airlines and their check-in colleagues are taking longer to process each passenger check-in.”
Trade body Airport Operators Association (AOA) said the UK had one of the most restrictive travel regimes during the pandemic and the industry was unable to plan properly until the rules were lifted.
A spokesman said: “Airports expected it would be challenging at peak times as the industry looks to restart and major recruitment campaigns have been underway since earlier this year.
“But until restrictions were lifted, uncertainty about the future of travel made this difficult. Since then there has been a very positive response and additional staff will now be completing and deploying the necessary screening and training at the airports.
“As a result, while queues at some airports can be longer at certain times, most passengers make it through airport security smoothly – and off they go on vacation.”
The airports are working closely with the government ahead of the summer holidays, the spokesman said.
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/transport-secretary-blasts-travel-industry-27150507 Transport minister wreaks havoc on travel industry with holiday chaos but doesn't send in an army