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EasyJet has started to remove seats from some planes in order to cut the number of cabin crew that it needs on each flight.

Airlines have been struggling with staff shortages as they ramp up operations following the relaxation of Covid travel restrictions.

In an internal memo, shared with workers on Friday, staff were told that easyJet plans to remove six seats from around 60 of its UK-based Airbus A319 jets.

By reducing the number of seats on board from 156 to 150, the number of cabin crew can be decreased from four to three.

UK and European safety laws mandate that airlines must carry at least one cabin crew member for 50 aircraft seats – regardless of how many passengers are actually on board.

Removing six seats means that easyJet can keep complying with the rules.

Passengers were hit by thousands of cancellations over the Easter holidays, the first test of airlines and airports after Covid plunged the sector into what bosses called its “worst-ever crisis”.

Airlines cut staff numbers by tens of thousands during the pandemic in an attempt to balance the books. However, when demand rebounded carriers found themselves short of workers, especially as many would still be unable to travel to work if they tested positive for Covid.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, attacked the aviation industry for failing to “gear up” ahead of the Easter getaway.

Industry bosses, however, blamed a bottleneck in a security vetting process that was overseen by the Government.

Meanwhile, airlines struggled to convince cabin crew that had been made redundant to return to the industry.

The situation became so acute that British Airways began offering a £1,000 “welcome bonus” to lure cabin crew with security clearances from rivals amid ferocious competition for staff.

EasyJet, meanwhile, said that Covid-related staff absences were the main driver for the cancellations. The airline said that sickness rates peaked at more than double their normal rate during April.

Johan Lundgren, easyJet chief executive, has refused to publicly point the finger at the Government for staff shortages. Nevertheless, the airline is thought to be waiting for 145 fully trained crew to receive clearance.

Industry sources said the removal of the six seats would reduce the airline’s recruitment gap by around 300 workers.

Mr Lundgren has told the City that the airline plans to fly the same number of people this year as it did in 2019. The removal of six seats is not thought to affect this target.  

A spokesman for easyJet said: “This summer we will be operating our UK A319 fleet with a maximum of 150 passengers onboard and three crew in line with CAA regulations.

“This is an effective way of operating our fleet while building additional resilience and flexibility into our operation this summer where we expect to be back to near 2019 levels of flying.”

The latest twist to the aviation sector’s staffing crisis follows fresh industry turbulence last week. British Airways has now cancelled 18,000 flights this summer and downgraded capacity this year from 85pc of pre-pandemic levels to 80pc.

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph revealed on Wednesday that a Virgin Atlantic flight to New York was forced to return to Heathrow after it was discovered that one of its pilots had not completed their training after the plane had taken off.

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