The UK government attempts to fix travel crisis — could this help US travelers?

Jul 1, 2022

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Travel in the United Kingdom has been a mess so far this summer — to say the least.

From long security lines at Manchester Airport (MAN) to baggage mountains at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR), Brits have had a rough start to their summer holidays.

The country’s transport minister has now released a 22-point plan to help get the current aviation crisis under control and save the summer travel season.

The hope is that the new guidance could help the industry quash spiraling delays, last-minute cancellations and record queues that have gripped airports across the country.

The road map from Grant Shapps has been designed to “help recruit and train staff,” “ensure the delivery of a realistic summer schedule,” “minimize disruption” and “support passengers when delays and cancellations are unavoidable.”

“While it’s never going to be possible to avoid every single delay or cancellation, we’ve been working closely with airports and airlines to make sure they are running realistic schedules,” said Shapps. “The 22 measures set out what we’re doing to support the industry.”

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(Photo by bunhill/Getty Images)

The transport chief also made no attempt to hide his thoughts on where the blame lies for the current strife, adding: “It’s now on airports and airlines to commit to running the flights they’ve promised or cancel them with plenty of time to spare so we can avoid the kind of scenes we saw at Easter and half-term. With 100 days having passed since we set out that restrictions would be eased, there’s simply no excuse for widespread disruption.”

Related: British Airways has scrapped its flexible ‘Book with Confidence’ policy

Unfortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, for those same aviation industry executives urging the government to allow temporary visas to hire European Union workers to deal with increased demand, Shapps still isn’t playing ball: “There have been calls for a seasonal worker scheme to allow EU workers to fill vacant roles in our aviation sector. But the government is clear that more immigration is not an obvious solution.”

There has been some progress, however, with one of the points stressing that the government has “changed the law so [the aviation] industry has more flexibility to train staff and allow them to deploy staff quickly and flexibly while maintaining security standards.”

Other ways the plan attempts to tackle chronic understaffing issues include a Generation Aviation campaign to promote awareness of careers in the sector and a “£700,000 skills funding competition” which launches this autumn to raise awareness of aviation careers for youngsters, as well as an Aviation Skills Recruitment Platform which is already supporting “skills retention and recruitment in the sector.”

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Worryingly for those looking for fast solutions, the latter points hint toward a long game plan as a way of fixing issues over time, which does little to address alarming staffing issues in the present.

But what of the other points raised by the new plan? Well, it’s likely you will recognize many of them already, including a landing slot amnesty, which the government hopes could play a pivotal role to “ensure that airline schedules are manageable and reduce flight disruption over the summer peak.”

Related: Traveling to Europe this summer? Here’s what to expect

In fact, many of the points have an air of deja vu to them, following up on the guidance already issued to airline executives by the government and Civil Aviation Authority in a letter last month.

This includes a weekly Summer Resilience Group with “airline, airport and ground handler operational directors to help them work through their pinch-points in the aviation system as they emerge and work collaboratively on solutions.”

In other words: The government wants airlines and airports to work closer on day-to-day and weekly recurring issues, steered by newly created bodies — including a “joint Home Office and DfT Ministerial Border Group to identify and prepare for high levels of demand at the UK border” — in order to ensure more industrywide accountability.

One important area the plan looks to address is the safety and experience of disabled passengers, a topic of growing concern lately with a host of issues, including passengers left on board and even a recent fatality that saw a disabled passenger fall down an escalator at Gatwick Airport last month. The new guidelines state that “disabled and less mobile passengers must be given the assistance they require.”

(Photo by Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg)

Another boost for passengers is the launch of the Aviation Passenger Charter, “a one-stop guide for passengers informing them of their rights, responsibilities and what they can reasonably expect of the aviation industry when flying.”

At a time when last-minute cancellations are threatening to be the rule rather than the exception (“We have written to airlines to remind them of their legal responsibilities in providing information, care and assistance, refunds, and compensation,” reads another point) and the cost of living is skyrocketing, this could prove vital for passengers being hit in the pocket.

Plan ahead: The key dates for when travel is set to be disrupted in Europe this summer

But will any of this actually work? At present, it’s easy to read the 22-step plan as more of a warning to airport and airline chiefs than any sort of tangible rescue package — an approach that will simply pile further pressure onto industry chiefs and could even exasperate things further in some areas.

Watch this space to hear what the airline bosses respond with.

Here’s the ’22-point plan to tackle aviation disruption’ in full

Ensuring the aviation industry delivers a realistic summer schedule

1) We and the CAA have set out 5 specific expectations to the industry to deliver a successful summer operation:

  • Summer schedules must be reviewed to make sure they are deliverable
  • Everyone from ground handlers to air traffic control must collaborate on resilience planning
  • Passengers must be promptly informed of their consumer rights when things go wrong and – if necessary – compensation in good time
  • Disabled and less mobile passengers must be given assistance they require
  • Safety and security must never be compromised2) We have introduced new regulations on airport slots that give airlines the tools to ensure that airline schedules are manageable and reduce flight disruption over the summer peak.3) We have strengthened industry-government working, by establishing a new weekly Strategic Risk Group, chaired by ministers and attended by airline, airport and ground handler CEOs to ensure they are prepared for summer and can meet the schedules.4) We have established a weekly Summer Resilience Group with airline, airport and ground handler operational directors to help them work through their pinch-points in the aviation system as they emerge and work collaboratively on solutions.5) We have established a joint Home Office and DfT Ministerial Border Group to identify and prepare for high levels of demand at the UK border.6) We have worked with the major airlines and airports to get weekly updates and assurances to government that they can run their schedule of summer flights.7) We are working with international partners, neighboring countries and EUROCONTROL, to ensure that disruption is minimized through coordinated planning and cooperation across airspace boundaries.8) We are undertaking a review of the ground handling market to seek out opportunities to improve quality and consistency of service.

Supporting passengers

9) We will launch a new Aviation Passenger Charter, a one-stop guide for passengers informing them of their rights, responsibilities and what they can reasonably expect of the aviation industry when flying.

10) We have worked with the CAA and industry to publish and promote guidance for passengers as part of a joint campaign of activity to communicate things they need to know and do when traveling by air this summer, helping to speed up processing time and reduce queues and delays.

11) We have written to airlines to remind them of their legal responsibilities in providing information, care and assistance, refunds, and compensation.

12) We are working with the CAA to review airlines’ current practices to ensure legal responsibilities in providing information, care and assistance, refunds and compensation are being met and encouraging best practices.

Comair British Airways plane. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

13) We intend on strengthening consumer protection for air passengers such as additional enforcement powers for CAA, our proposals are set out in the aviation consumer consultation.

14) The CAA has written to airports to set out their plans for additional measures to improve provision of assistance to disabled and less mobile passengers and support the sector by providing guidance.

Supporting the aviation industry to recruit, retain and train staff

15) We changed the law so the industry has more flexibility to train staff and allow them to deploy staff quickly and flexibly while maintaining security standards.

16) We are launching a Generation Aviation campaign, working with the industry to promote awareness of aviation careers and increase the number of people applying for jobs in the sector.

17) We are working with the CAA to launch a £700,000 skills funding competition this autumn to support outreach across the sector and raise awareness of aviation careers to young people.

18) We have launched the Aviation Skills Recruitment Platform to support skills retention and recruitment in the sector.

19) We are building partnerships with colleges and universities to ensure students are attracted to and prepared for a career in aviation – and to support this we have launched the Talentview Aviation platform to connect students to aviation sector employers.

20) We are working with the Department for Work and Pensions to promote aviation roles and recruitment via job centers and training for jobs coaches.

21) We are delivering our Reach for the Sky outreach program, supported by our Aviation Ambassadors to promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility in the sector.

22) We introduced the Airport and Ground Operations Support Scheme (AGOSS) to support commercial airports and ground operators with fixed costs, through £161 million in grants.

Bottom line

The plan from the government is definitely welcomed, but we’d imagine much of this is likely to leave airline and airport chiefs unimpressed. While certain initiatives are great from a passenger perspective with regards to rights and protections — if they’re adhered to — much of the proposition has already been mooted or is arguably already in place.

Stating that airlines should follow rules they already should be following isn’t wholeheartedly a plan, it’s a reemphasis. The formalization of this strategy might well be the jolt the aviation industry needs to get things on track but it’s hard to ignore that there’s little here in the way of short-term tangible fixes that don’t place more pressure on an already struggling industry. Sure, it’s a step forward and a loose commitment to tackle current issues but will we see an obvious impact soon? That remains to be seen.

Featured photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy.

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