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Gatwick forces airlines to cancel 4,000 summer flights

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Holidaymakers flying from Gatwick this summer are to have their travel plans disrupted as the airport imposes restrictions on the number of flights for the first time in its history.   

In a move designed to mitigate further travel chaos this summer, Gatwick will limit the number of daily flights to 825 in July and 850 in August. Ordinarily, up to 900 flights would take-off and land at the airport during these months.

The restrictions mean as many as 4,000 flights will need to be cancelled at Britain’s second-busiest airport, hitting the summer holiday plans of an estimated 800,000 people.

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick chief executive, said that the cap was designed to combat high numbers of same-day cancellations by airlines.

Gatwick had agreed the restrictions with airlines such as easyJet, Wizz and British Airways and Mr Wingate insisted that passengers on cancelled flights will be rebooked on different departures.

“We have put a heck of a lot of effort into getting ready for the summer period, ” he said. “[But] the rebound is happening faster at Gatwick than any other European airport.”

“It is clear that during the Jubilee week a number of companies operating at the airport struggled in particular, because of staff shortages. By taking decisive action now, we aim to help the ground handlers – and also our airlines – to better match their flying programmes with their available resources.”

There was travel chaos at Gatwick over the Jubilee bank holiday as passengers were hit by last-minute cancellations and widespread disruption.

The airport has also been struggling with staff absences among air traffic controller staff.

Mr Wingate said that 800 flights had taken off and landed each day during the Jubilee weekend – fewer than the caps that will be put in place for July and August.

The decision to restrict the number of flights in and out of Gatwick – an unprecedented move by airport chiefs – followed a review by management to avoid a repeat of the recent chaos over the key summer months.

The return of overseas travel after two years of Covid restrictions has been marred by chaotic scenes at airports. Long queues stretching out of terminal buildings were commonplace during the Easter holidays and recent half-term break.

Airlines have been forced to cancel hundreds of flights as they grapple with staff shortages.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has accused the airlines and airports for failing to “gear up” for the crucial summer season.

Aviation leaders, however, have attacked the Government after warnings of chaos fell on deaf ears in Whitehall in January.

Gatwick’s intervention comes little more than a day after the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority demanded that airlines review their summer timetables to ensure they are “deliverable”.

Mr Shapps has previously accused airlines of selling seats on flights that they knew they would not have the capacity to operate.

Flights that are not feasible should be cancelled at the earliest opportunity, the officials said, in a further blow to British holidaymakers facing a summer of travel chaos.

Rannia Leontaridi, head of aviation at DfT, and Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the CAA, added that there will be “unavoidable cancellations” in the weeks and months ahead.

Airlines were told: “Your schedules must be based on the resources you and your contractors expect to have available, and should be resilient for the unplanned and inevitable operational challenges that you will face.

“While cancellations at any time are a regrettable inconvenience to passengers, it is our view that cancellations at the earliest possibility to deliver a more robust schedule are better for consumers than late notice on the day cancellations.”

Mr Wingate said: “The steps taken today mean that our passengers can expect a more reliable and better standard of service, while also improving conditions for staff working at the airport.”

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