Summer holiday plans are set to be thrown into chaos for tens of thousands passengers as airlines prepare to announce a new wave of cancellations next week.
The Telegraph can reveal that airlines using Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport, are this weekend racing to rework their schedules.
They have to tell officials which flights will no longer be running by Friday – just as schools begin breaking up for the summer holidays.
British Airways is expected to bear the brunt of the cancellations, triggered by an amnesty on take-off and landing slots. It previously planned to carry 1.8 million passengers across more than 9,000 flights from Heathrow during July alone.
Holidaymakers have already been hit by months of cancellations, delays and missing baggage as fears of a summer of travel chaos grow.
On Friday, passengers faced long queues as disruption at UK airports was exacerbated by strikes in Spain, with further industrial action planned across the continent.
Despite the chaos, the Government on Friday ruled out drafting in the military to help. In Ireland, the Army has been put on standby to assist in case of further disruption at Dublin Airport, amid concerns that a resurgence of Covid will cause staff shortages.
But a government source said there were “no plans” for a request by the Home Office or Department for Transport to the Ministry of Defence under the military aid to the civil authorities (MACA) scheme. “A MACA won’t be happening. The military have better things to do,” the source said.
“We are hopeful but not complacent [about avoiding travel chaos]. We’re doing all we can with slot alleviation and baggage handler security vetting. It’s up to industry to match bookings with staff resources.”
It comes as The Telegraph can reveal a fresh row between airlines and ministers. Industry sources claimed airline chief executives rebelled over demands from Whitehall officials to make a public pledge to operate every single flight on their schedules.
It is understood Department for Transport officials were knocked back during a call with industry leaders earlier this week. However, a government source said: “We haven’t asked that, but we have demanded airlines review their schedules to make sure they are realistic.”
More than one in 25 flights out of the UK on Thursday was cancelled on the day – double the rate earlier in the week – with the disruption blamed on staff shortages compounded by Covid.
It followed a 78 per cent increase in flight cancellations across Europe in the past week, with 4,384 flights grounded compared with 2,458 in the previous week, according to Cirium, an aviation data analyst.
With a fresh round of cancellations on the horizon, industrial action is erupting around the continent.
Hundreds of BA check-in staff at Heathrow have voted to walk out in a row over pay, with industrial action expected to take place later this month. It has yet to be confirmed.
Meanwhile, Spain-based cabin crew working for Ryanair and easyJet are walking out this weekend, workers at Paris Charles de Gaulle have forced cancellations in a row over pay and ground crew in Germany are demanding at least €350 more a month.
Up to 1,000 pilots from SAS, the Scandinavian airline, are in wage talks and threatening to strike.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, last month announced an “amnesty” on airport slots.
At capacity-constrained airports such as Heathrow, where take-off and landing slots are traded by airlines for millions of pounds, strict rules mean airlines must operate a minimum number of flights or hand the slots back to the UK’s slots administrator.
The amnesty is expected to trigger a wave of cancellations over the coming summer months.
BA, by far the biggest airline at Heathrow, will try to reallocate as many passengers as possible. It is understood that between 80 and 85 per cent of its passengers whose flights have been cancelled in recent days have taken up the offer of alternative departure.
A spokesman for BA said the slots amnesty would “help us to provide the certainty our customers deserve by making it easier to consolidate some of our quieter daily flights to multi-frequency destinations well in advance, and to protect more of our holiday flights”.
A Heathrow spokesman said: “We encourage airlines to take this opportunity to reconsider their summer schedules without penalty and inform passengers as early as possible of any changes.”