UK travel cancellations: EasyJet pilots accuse airline of overseeing 'unprecedented chaos'

EasyJet pilots have accused the budget airline of presiding over “unprecedented chaos”, cancelling viable flights and suffering “operational meltdowns” after its top executives failed to heed warnings the carrier could not cope with surging summer demand.

A witheringly critical internal letter from the airline’s French pilots, obtained by The Scotsman, warned the UK-based aviation giant stands to suffer an exodus of customers after thousands were left stranded across the UK by the cancellation of hundreds of flights during the school half-term break and Jubilee bank holiday.

The detailed document, written by the easyJet branch of the French SNPL pilots’ union, said its members believed disruption to the airline’s flights this summer has yet to peak – a situation it described as a “frightening prospect”.

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The pilots also raised the issue of the effect on air crew of stress caused by the pandemic and subsequent disruption, calling for extra support and saying “mental health is at stake”.

Am Easyjet passenger jet comes in to land at Gatwick Airport. Picture: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

EasyJet said it was continuing to operate up to 1,700 flights a day across its network, transporting some 250,000 people a day. It is understood the airline offers an extensive mental health service for staff that has remained in place beyond the pandemic.

The low-cost carrier, which has its headquarters in Luton and is the largest British airline in terms of passenger numbers, has experienced a torrid fortnight during which up to 80 flights a day from UK airports have been cancelled, most of them at its main base at London’s Gatwick airport.

While other airlines such as British Airways and budget rival Wizz have also made large-scale cancellations, easyJet appears to have been particularly badly hit by factors ranging from staff shortages to an IT failure to storms in Europe and air traffic control strikes.

The pilots’ letter, addressed to easyJet’s Swedish chief executive Johan Lundgren, accused senior executives of being “fooled” into believing they could deliver a summer schedule with “less flight crew, cabin crew, or flight planning officers”, adding: “Operational employees, who knew, but were not listened to, are now witnessing the consequences.”

The four-page document cited problems including dozens of “red cancellations” caused by a lack of crew “just a few hours or even minutes” before departure.

It alleges that in some cases, managers at the airline’s Integrated Control Centre (ICC) in Luton, which oversees operations for easyJet’s entire network, have waited until the last minute to cancel an early morning “first wave” flight despite knowing the night before that no crew was available. Claiming the ICC was too stretched to monitor operations in real-time and is “lagging hours behind”, the letter added: “We have seen some cancellations which were avoidable: crew ready to go, serviceable aircraft, passengers ready, but ICC [does not have] the local picture.” EasyJet said it was in continuous dialogue with its unions and would be responding directly to the SNPL while remaining “absolutely focused” on its daily operation.

In a statement, the airline said: “Delivering a safe and reliable operation for our customers and crew is the airline’s highest priority.”

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