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EasyJet boss: Delays in crew security checks adding to flight cancellations

EasyJet cancelled at least 23 flights to or from Gatwick on Tuesday (Jonathan Brady/PA)
EasyJet cancelled at least 23 flights to or from Gatwick on Tuesday (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Delays in processing security checks for new airline crew are increasing the number of flights being cancelled, according to the boss of easyJet.

Chief executive Johan Lundgren said the airline is waiting for the Department for Transport (DfT) to give permission for around 100 new members of staff to start work.

EasyJet has cancelled hundreds of flights in recent days, mainly on routes serving Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren (Matt Alexander/PA)

Mr Lundgren explained this is primarily due to high levels of coronavirus-related staff absences but also blamed the time it is taking for the Government to vet new recruits.

He said: “There’s this delay of the clearance from the DfT (Department for Transport) for people to get their IDs.

“There’s a backlog there and we’re waiting currently for about 100 cabin crew to get their IDs.

“There’s a three-week delay on that. That has had an impact. If that would have been on time, we would have seen less cancellations.”

This demonstrates that the rise in coronavirus infections has “impacted basically the whole of the UK”, Mr Lundgren said.

He went on: “I understand the DfT and the ministers are doing what they can to accelerate and speed this up – which we find very constructive – but it definitely has had an impact.”

An easyJet spokesman stressed the flight cancellations were “as a result of the unusually high level of Covid sickness amongst our crew and that DfT vetting was not responsible for any cancellations”.

“We do not blame the Government, on the contrary we, alongside our partners including DfT, have all been doing what we can to expedite the process so that we can get more crew onboard in the short term,” he added.

Mr Lundgren insisted “we don’t have a shortage of crew” and it was “absolutely not” fair to accuse the airline of selling flights it could not fulfil.

“We were having in some cases up to 20% of absence, and you wouldn’t expect any airline at any point in time to be able to cover that,” he said.

“That is unfortunate for people who have been affected but I would like to reiterate that those cancellations were made pre-emptively.

“People got notice on that in the beginning of last week. The majority of them had the opportunity to rebook to flights that we have on the same day, however unfortunate that is.

“We’re carrying up to 260,000 customers per day, so I think it’s important to put that into context.”

EasyJet cancelled at least 23 flights to or from Gatwick on Tuesday, affecting routes between the airport and locations such as Berlin, Milan, Valencia and Venice.

The airline said cancellations are being made “in advance to give customers the ability to rebook on to alternative flights”.

Mr Lundgren said it is “too early to tell” how long the flight disruption will continue.

He told reporters: “You would expect however, that the spike that we’re seeing in Covid infections that really exists here in the UK and also in (other) parts of the network, is going to come down, but this is something that we don’t see yet.”

EasyJet said more bookings for summer flights were made during the past six weeks than in the same period in 2019.

The airline expects to operate “near” pre-pandemic levels of flying this summer.

It operated at 80% of 2019 capacity in the first three months of this year.

Mr Lundgren said he is “not worried” about whether the airline will be able to ramp up its services this summer.

The number of flights currently being cancelled are a “relatively small proportion” of its total operations, with 94% of its planned schedule running in the last seven days, he added.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “There are absolutely no delays to security vetting of applicants.

“It is wrong to suggest otherwise and we are prioritising vetting applications from the aviation industry.

“It is for the aviation industry to manage resourcing at airports and staff absences, especially at busy times of the year.”

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh accused the Government of being “missing in action” while “Brits are facing travel chaos”.

She said: “They were warned about staffing shortages, and yet the Tories have comprehensively failed to take action to tackle the security backlog hampering recruitment.

“They need to get a grip, do their jobs, and act to ease the disruption by prioritising the huge backlogs in security checks so airport staff can safely begin work.”

EasyJet said it expects to make a loss before tax in the range of £535 million to £565 million for the six months to the end of March.

This reduction in its losses compared with the same period 12 months earlier is “ahead of market expectations”, according to the airline.