Tens of thousands of people face weeks of holiday uncertainty as it emerged airlines have yet to agree which summer flights will be scrapped despite Gatwick announcing up to 50 cancellations a day.
Holidaymakers with trips booked from the Sussex airport could be waiting up to two weeks to find find out whether their flight will be cancelled, one travel expert told The Independent.
And even then, many might not be able to rebook due to an ongoing lack of capacity.
Gatwick airport announced on Friday that it was reducing the number of flights during July and August because of staff shortages. Daily flights will be cut to 825 in July and 850 in August.
This means 478 flights could be cancelled in the crucial summer months leaving around 76,000 passengers stranded, according to analysis of data from aviation analytics company Cirium.
Travel expert Paul Charles, from the PC travel agency, told The Independent that a “sizeable number” of people affected will not be able to re-book their flights, despite easyJet – the biggest airline at Gatwick airport – reassuring customers that they could have their holidays rearranged.
Affected travellers have yet to find out if their holidays will go ahead because airlines haven’t yet decided which flights will be axed. They will have to negotiate with the Airport Coordination Authority before schedules are finalised.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, criticised Gatwick for making the announcement “without first agreeing with airlines operating from Gatwick which flights would be cancelled”.
“Passengers with trips booked are now in a panic about whether their flight will be one of those disrupted,” he said.
He urged the airport to “provide clarity” for the thousands of customers who are now in limbo wondering whether their holidays will go ahead.
“The airport should have worked with airlines to confirm and communicate all changes to customers first, as this drip feeding of information is hugely unhelpful”.
A spokesperson for Gatwick told The Independent that the airline schedules were not the responsibility of the airport. “We have done this with the support of our airlines and they have said they are confident many people will be able to re-book,” they said.
Ryanair and TUI both insisted that their scheduled flights from Gatwick would be able to go ahead, with Ryanair saying in a statement: “Gatwick should be looking to the airlines who are already making mass cancellations across the UK for these cuts.”
The biggest flight cuts are likely to come from easyJet and the company told The Independent it “recognised the need for Gatwick Airport to do this”.
Charles said although airlines will try and re-book passengers on other planes “the problem is that most flights are already full”.
He added: “A sizeable number of the 76,000 affected will simply have to get a refund and there will be no alternative I don’t think.
“Airlines will be pushing for refunds primarily because they won’t have the space available on other flights. EasyJet can’t magic up more flihgts if they have been capped.” He predicted EasyJet, WizzAir and Tui customers could all be likely affected.
Referring to how long it would take for airlines to decide which flights will be cancelled, Mr Charles said: “I think it will a two-week process. They need to do it swiftly because the pressure is for airlines to alert customers at least 14 days before their flight.”
Air transport consultant John Strickland said that airlines would attempt to cancel flights in a way that has the “least impact on customers”.
“This should be a peak season when airlines are able to make money after two years of starvation of revenue. But they’ve got to balance that with staff shortages – there’s no point promising what you can’t deliver,” he said.
Speaking about whether airlines would be able to re-book customers on flights, Mr Strickland added: “That’s going to be challenging and will depend on the routes because it is the absolute peak period. End of June through to August is peak period and we’ve seen this resurgent demand come back as people are desperate to get away.
“At this point in time a large number of flights would undoubtedly be booked full already. There will be few and far between flights that are lightly loaded. Airlines will want to pick the ones that have the least impact.”
Mr Strickland added that BA and easyJet had already made the tough decision to cancel a number of flights even before Gatwick’s announcement. He said that making decisions about what further flights to cancel should happen soon.
“To make those decisions as quickly as possible helps everybody,” he said.