Americans visiting the United Kingdom this summer could be faced with a number of adversities both before and/or soon upon landing, as both UK-based airlines and the country’s immigration services struggle with staff shortages which have led to major disruption.
Much like JetBlue and Alaska Airlines across the pond, British carriers have been suffering from Covid-related absences. Besides revised schedules and multiple cancellations, the fact that the UK Border Force is severely understaffed will only add to the woes of UK-bound travelers.
Dozens Of Flights Cancelled Ahead Of Easter
Again citing a temporary reduction in staff as a result of Covid isolation guidelines, multiple flights were axed at British airports this week, throwing the travel plans of many into turmoil. Flag bearer British Airways and low-cost carrier EasyJet were among the most affected.
On April 13, a total of 70 flights were canceled between the two, with customers flying via London Heathrow and London Gatwick, notoriously the UK’s two busiest hubs, taking the brunt of it. Seeing that both Heathrow and Gatwick are the main gateways into Britain, visitors are advised to make contingency plans.
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Unfortunately, it seems exercising a higher degree of caution will continue to be the norm, as Johan Lundgren, EasyJet’s chief executive, reveals the company has seen staff absence rates of 20% in ‘some cases’. This left the airline no option but to cancel a number of flights.
More worryingly, Lundgren stated processing delays in security checks for new crew were ‘also contributing to flight cancellations’, signalling other entities in the aviation sector may also be dealing with a huge backlog of work.
Staff Shortages Behind Wave Of UK Flight Cancellations
Lundgren’s concerns seem to corroborate Kully Sandhu’s statement to BBC Radio 4, the managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network Limited. According to Sandhu, ‘it is going to take at least the next 12 months for the industry vacancy-wise to settle down’.
To put it simply, despite its recent reopening, vacations in Great Britain may not be completely hassle-free for a while still, as a wave of cancellations sweeps across airports.
Despite the turbulent period, EasyJet has still flown 94% of its scheduled flights in the seven days leading up to April 12, or ‘four times higher than this time last year’.
On the other hand, Lucy Moreton, from the Immigration Services Union, warned that Border Force was “catastrophically under-staffed“, as high Covid rates translate into more absent officers, adding that it takes nearly a whole year to fully train new ones.
In an interview with the BBC, Moreton reiterated that the Border Force is failing to attract enough candidates to fill the vacancies, warning of a challenging summer ahead, as restrictions ease and people begin flying again.
While Americans visiting Britain usually enjoy smooth, fast-track entry, as U.S. citizens are eligible to use eGates when crossing the border, understaffing may still lead to longer waiting in lines.
Like Mexico did some weeks ago, in this case, due to record arrival figures, we expect the UK government to detail how the impacts of Covid on airports will be mitigated.
What Measures Has The UK Taken To Mitigate The Delays?
So far, cash incentives have been offered for those willing to work extra shifts in Heathrow, Britain’s number one airport. Staff from other airports, including in Scotland and Northern Ireland have also been flown to London to help fill in the gaps.
In light of the recent events, Heathrow has assured the public new recruits can start working between three to six months following training and security checks, and that 1,000 new security officers are expected to assume their roles by summer.
The UK Home Office, which oversees border activities, also reaffirmed their ‘number one priority is to maintain a secure border’. Accordingly, they will be deploying additional staff ‘to help minimize queuing times for passengers.
In the meantime, travelers are warned of ‘congestion in check-in areas at peak times’.
As Europe sets out on a reopening path, with some nations scrapping all existing Covid measures, more and more tourists are returning to its shores for their yearly breaks. A favorite among Americans, the UK is no exception, having removed all internal restrictions and welcoming all travelers again, without restrictive entry rules.
For more news on travel to Europe, please visit this link.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories