The Department for Transport (DfT) has temporarily relaxed rules around airport slots to help airlines avoid last-minute cancellations due to staff shortages.
It said airlines will be given a short window, described as an “amnesty”, to hand back take-off and landing slots they are not confident they will be able to operate for the rest of the summer season.
“This will help passengers find alternative arrangements ahead of time, rather than face the kind of last-minute cancellations seen over the Easter and half-term holidays,” a spokesperson said.
It represents something of a U-turn for the government after it had demanded airlines put on full flight schedules, previously saying that airlines had to fly 70% of their flight slots at airports or lose them.
Airlines buy slots to operate their schedules but can lose them to rivals if they fail to maintain their obligations to the airport and passengers by failing to fly.
EasyJet, along with British Airways, has been among the worst offenders for cancellations.
The budget airline revealed earlier this week that it could axe up to 10,000 of 160,000 flights on sale for July, August and September as it worked to bring greater stability to its schedules.
On top of its own recruitment difficulties, the airline has blamed issues such as staff shortages in ground handling and at airports, as well as air traffic control delays for increased turnaround times.
EasyJet, along with Ryanair, is also facing up to the prospect of strike action by staff outside the UK.
The boss of Ryanair told Sky News earlier on Tuesday that he expected the aviation sector chaos to last through the peak summer season.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said of the slot amnesty: “It’s crucial (people) don’t face disappointing last-minute
cancellations and chaos at airports when the system can’t deliver… Today’s announcement aims to help airlines provide
certainty to passengers and ensure the next few months are as smooth as possible.”
A Heathrow spokesperson responded: “DfT ministers and officials have acted swiftly to put in place responsible measures in time for the summer getaway.
“This amnesty will enable airlines to make early choices to consolidate their schedules, boosting the resilience of summer operations and giving passengers the confidence they deserve ahead of their journeys.
“We encourage airlines to take this opportunity to reconsider their summer schedules without penalty and inform passengers as early as possible of any changes.
“Everyone wants the UK’s aviation industry to get back on its feet as quickly as possible, and today’s announcement shows the UK government is helping to deliver a sustainable recovery.”
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