Updates on travel chaos at Manchester, Heathrow, Gatwick and Birmingham airports

The travel disruption is likely to continue for a few days ahead of the key Easter holiday weekend – but chaotic scenes at some of Britain’s busiest airports appear to have eased. Many who had planned spring getaways have reported last-minute changes that airlines and airports have blamed for staff shortages and Covid-related issues.

More than 100 flights a day were canceled last week, with easyJet and British Airways being the hardest hit. But by Saturday the number had been reduced.

British Airways reported that it had to cancel three overnight flights due to staff illness, in addition to the planned cancellations. The airline recommended that long-haul passengers arrive three hours before their flight and short-haul passengers two hours.

EasyJet said it canceled around 40 flights in advance. On Saturday it added: “We will be operating 1,422 flights today, with a small portion canceled in advance to allow customers to rebook on alternative flights.”

Officials at Manchester Airport, however, anticipated long queues for check-in and security would continue for the foreseeable future, with some passengers facing queues of 60 to 90 minutes. Heathrow, Gatwick and Birmingham airports have also been affected by delays and cancellations.

This morning Manchester Airport was reported to be busy but with passengers moving steadily through the airport. The longest queues appeared to be for passengers checking in with TUI, but travelers said operations appeared to be well organized.

There were also queues of travelers waiting to check in with Virgin Atlantic and Turkish airline Pegasus. As passengers patiently waited to drop off their bags, others said they sailed through security, which is where the worst of the problems arose ahead of the weekend. Some passengers had said it had taken five hours from arriving at the airport to reach the gate for their flight at the height of the troubles.

Meanwhile, Birmingham Airport chiefs said they would call in relief workers to deal with an expected surge in demand over the weekend. The airport expects to welcome more than 400,000 customers over the Easter weeks, with the most popular destinations being Dublin, Dubai, Amsterdam, Malaga and Tenerife. There are plans to deploy colleagues in support roles in the terminal building this weekend to ensure customers with compliant baggage are prepared before entering security.

Airport boss Nick Barton said on the radio: “In terms of staff, we will have enough people on the weekends for the passengers who come through. We look after around 25,000 people a day.

“To give you some context for how that feels, we’d probably handle 35,000 to 38,000 in a very busy summer time, so it’s not great in comparison. But the main issue here, as all industry players see, is bringing in, training and vetting staff.

“That’s really the big problem we all had. It’s only since early February that the rules and regulations have evolved to the point where we’re actually starting to think we might be having a summer.”

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Heathrow Airport has also issued guidance to passengers, advising them not to arrive more than three hours before their scheduled departure. A spokesman said: “The Easter holidays mark the first time since the start of the pandemic that UK travel restrictions have been fully lifted and we are expecting passenger numbers not to be reached since early March 2020. Like most airports, we have been preparing for this for many months, however we expect the travel experience may take a little longer at peak times.

“We are deploying additional colleagues across Heathrow and continue to work closely with all our airport partners to ensure passengers get off as efficiently as possible.”

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