Stuck at the airport?

The scenes at the airports this week have been rather worrying.

OK, so in the grand scheme of things arriving a day late at a holiday destination may not appear to be a serious matter, but for the families involved it can be very challenging. Some are trying to have their first family holiday since the pandemic, and in many cases this has involved some belt-tightening as the cost of living spirals upwards.

Anyone who has travelled with young children will know how frustrating it can be when plans are upset. Amongst those caught up in the chaos are people with disabilities, children on the autistic spectrum and elderly people, all of whom will not find the delay and long queues easy.

Sarah Olney is our Transport spokesperson and she issued this statement yesterday:

The scenes at our airports are nothing short of a disgrace. Families are being left marooned for hours on end with no guidance from airlines or Ministers.

We need action now to break the deadlock and to save families from yet more travel carnage.

Yet travellers haven’t even heard a peep from Grant Shapps this week. The Transport Secretary has gone missing in action when the public will be looking to him for help. This is nothing short of a failure of leadership on his part.

It’s about time he fronts up for that failure with an apology to those who have had their travel plans derailed, and finally begins giving daily press conferences on the situation. Hiding away isn’t good enough – Shapps must face the music and scrutiny about his lack of preparedness for the Jubilee Bank Holiday logjam.

Since then Shapps has popped up and made some comments, mainly blaming the travel companies for overselling holidays. He has asked for a meeting with the leaders in the travel industry.  He said:

Despite government warnings, operators seriously oversold flights and holidays relative to their capacity to deliver. This must not happen again and all efforts should be directed at there being no repeat of this over the summer – the first post-Covid summer season.

Sarah has made this suggestion:

It’s not at all clear what action is being taken today and tomorrow by the Government to rescue holidays over the Bank Holiday weekend. The BBC quotes Rory Boland, editor of consumer magazine Which? Travel, who said:

The blame game over staff shortages and flight cancellations is no help at all to passengers, who need instant action to bring an end to the airport chaos that is causing so much misery and leaving many people out of pocket.

The aviation industry is suffering from staff shortages after thousands were let go during the pandemic.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Brad Barrows 1st Jun '22 - 6:41pm

    Whatever happened to the climate emergency? It does not seem that long ago that the Liberal Democrats were opposing airport expansion and arguing for a reduction in flights. Surely the way the Party should be responding to the current crisis is to argue that this is an opportunity to cut the number of flights to fit the capacity of the system to deliver those flights, rather than to seek new employees so that more flights can be flown?

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Jun '22 - 7:21pm

    Brad makes a fair point – however these flights have been paid for and the airlines involved should either be providing them or not offering them in the first place.

  • James Fowler 1st Jun '22 - 7:22pm

    I don’t think that bringing in the Armed Forces is at all sensible. What’s happening – as usual – is the product of (poor) system level decisions taken a good while ago. Again, as usual when confronted with a crisis, people are now grasping for some magic wand that will put it all right in a day. Well, it won’t be. Deploying soldiers won’t change that either. The kindest and best thing is to promptly refund the disappointed. The deeper logistic issues will take months to solve. At an even more fundamental level, international travel may just have become permanently more expensive, complex and awkward.

  • We will not constrain the increase in air traffic by welcoming incompetence by the aviation industry or accepting individuals and families facing at short notice immense disruption and disappointment on long planned trips. So yes the aviation industry needs to get its act together and consumer rights need to be enforced – and it is right that we call for that. The issue of ensuring we constrain aviation growth on a long term basis and making sure it plays its role in tackling climate change will be better addressed through fair policies – not accepting people being ripped off or let down by a commercial company they have paid money to. We will not get people on board to tackle climate change or the other disturbances created by airports by accepting what has happened this week.

  • George Thomas 1st Jun '22 - 7:38pm

    “With thousands of families facing cancelled holidays owing to the chaos at our airports, the Government should call on the Armed Forces to run the logistics to end this logjam.”

    We really need to get away from UK relying on the Armed Forces to run basic services because either government has cut the public services to the bone and beyond or, in this case, encouraged businesses to chase as much money as possible without care for people whether they’re customers or staff members.

  • Brad Barrows 1st Jun ’22 – 6:41pm:
    Whatever happened to the climate emergency?

    It’s cooled off…

    Global Temperature:

  • Zachary Adam Barker 1st Jun '22 - 9:51pm

    Calling in the Armed Forces looks a bit like an over reaction. People are missing their holidays, lives are not threatened.

    We instead should be pointing out the airline customers’ loss of rights to compensation upheld by the EU and demand that the government nationally reinstate them.

    Government intervention of some kind may be necessary to prevent this effecting refugees getting here though.

  • Whether the army, more probably the RAF (both cut backed and run down publicly funded organisations with the prime purpose of defending the UK at a time of major international crisis and uncertainty) should be tasked with bailing out badly run private enterprise organisations whose function is to make a profit is a doubtful proposition. I am far from convinced and have some sympathy with Brad Barrows on the global warming issue.

    But if they are to be drafted in, then the said private enterprise profit driven holiday companies should reimburse the public exchequer in full. Ms Olney should specify that.

  • From the interviews on the radio this morning, I concluded the real reason for the problems are wholly down to the airline industry executives and their failure to forecast and plan for what was obviously going to happen when the lid was finally taken off the pent up demand.
    The interviews clearly showcased executives trying hard to pin the blame for their failings on the government, clearly demonstrating that they weren’t up to the job of running an industry and hence not worth the inflated packages they’ve been able to pay themselves for far too long.

    As for “Anyone who has travelled with young children will know how frustrating it can be when plans are upset. ” remember the problems at the airports were known about last year, so to some extent people chose to put their families through this uncertainty… And Brad Barrows is right, we have a climate emergency, we also have some uncertainty over fuel supplies and perhaps now is the time to start stockpiling aviation spirit, as war will burn a lot in a hurry.

  • David Evans 1st Jun '22 - 10:58pm

    While I have a lot of time for Sarah, suggesting that bringing in the Armed forces to run huge complex logistic systems they have no knowledge of is surely a recipe for disaster. Indeed it worries me that we seem to have adopted the second choice knee jerk reaction of the Conservatives to any problem – Call in the Army, Navy, Air Force. Of course the Tories first choice is to throw huge amounts of taxpayers money at their supporters. At least we haven’t gone for that one.

  • john oundle 2nd Jun '22 - 12:20am

    Shapps is to blame for airline / travel companies scheduling flights that they don’t have sufficient staff to operate?

    Apparently equally chaotic in Dublin & Amsterdam.

  • I travelled by air from Bordeaux to Manchester on Monday. I had travelled to Bordeaux by train, but am put off by the totally needless bureaucracy at St Pancras. Anyway no problems at Bordeaux, and we took off on time. Arrived early in Manchester, but had to wait for the steps to be brought to the plane. Made our slow way through the needless border. Then I joined those waiting for an hour for the luggage to arrive. Then there was an announcement apologising for delay – saying it was due to staff shortages. I can see no reason why we could not have been kept informed throughout the journey about any problems – and of course why somewhere to sit down could not have been provided.
    And I am not willing to accept that any of this can be blamed on state control or private enterprise. It is all down to people of course. Especially those in government who take credit when things go right and blame someone else when they go wrong.

  • David Goble 2nd Jun '22 - 9:45am

    Why should the Armed Forces continually be brought in to bail out private companies’ basic incompetence?

    Surely, the answer is simple: if companies cannot provide the transport that they allege they can, remove their licences to provide flights/holidays!

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Jun '22 - 10:24am

    I second David Goble’s point. The responsibility lies with the airlines concerned.

    I wonder what the airlines managements’ next bonuses will be…. payment for failure? Instead of the massive pay cut they deserve?

  • Jenny Barnes 2nd Jun '22 - 11:02am

    This all seems very odd. On the one hand we have a “cost of living crisis” with essential items, particularly food and fuel, rising out of reach of a large proportion of the population. I think of it more as the political choices that have been made since 2010, rather than some natural event, but still.
    On the other hand we have many people deciding to spend £1,000s on holidays, burning large quantities of kerosene, adding to climate change, and – of course – being upset when the aviation industry completely fails to deliver.
    It might have been a good idea to put airline passenger duty up. I can’t see the aviation industry surviving very long as it is now with oil at over $120/ bbl, but apparently there are several new entrants who picked up cheap aircraft during the lockdown

  • Andy Boddington 3rd Jun '22 - 6:09am

    Michael O’Leary, Ryanair’s chief executive has also called for the army to help solve the problems:

    “Bringing in the army, which they do in many other European airports, would at a stroke relieve the pressure on airport security and would mean that people have a much better experience.”

  • Mick taylor 3rd Jun '22 - 7:32am

    Andy Boddington. Not sure that quoting the boss of the appalling Ryanair is sensible. This is he man whose contempt for his passengers knows no bounds and who makes them pay for everything. (He even thought of getting them to pay for using the toilet). He also treats his staff like dirt. Bringing in he army would save his company money so of course he’d be in favour of it.
    The responsibility for this chaos lies almost exclusively with greedy airline bosses who simply don’t employ enough staff to run their airlines effectively. It’s one of he main drawbacks of the so-called cheap airlines.
    As Liberal Democrats we should be seeking to reduce the impact of flight on the environment by encouraging massive reductions in the pollution caused by aeroplanes and encouraging people to use other forms of environmentally sound transport for their holidays.
    Calling for the army to be used is a rather stupid political gimmick and we should know better.

  • Nonconformistradical 3rd Jun '22 - 7:35am

    Bringing in our country’s armed forces to help civilian emergency services out after a major disaster (major flooding etc.) is one thing.

    Using them to help out airlines who have fouled up is another thing altogether – not what I pay my taxes for.

    Could it be that cheap air travel will become a thing of the past? Could it be that people who feel they have to fly away for a holiday might still do so but less often and at greater cost per trip – so staff can be paid properly and rather less greenhouse gas emitted?

  • Jenny Barnes 3rd Jun '22 - 9:15am

    Apparently Ryanair are taking a row of seats out of their aircraft to cut the required number of cabin crew!

  • john oundle 3rd Jun '22 - 1:17pm

    Andy Boddington

    Did O’Leary confirm if the army had been called in to help with the chaos at Dublin & Amsterdam airports?

  • Nonconformistradical 3rd Jun '22 - 5:32pm

    “A passenger chased me down the plane galley – for cabin crew, this is just a normal day at the office”

    “Crew members are flying more than ever. Our hours are longer, our schedule more gruelling and our pay a pittance. Working for airlines used to be about luxury and glamour. Now, many of us can’t even afford to live near the airports, so we drive for hours to get home after long-haul flights on dangerously little sleep. “

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