MARK PALMER: With unions gleefully predicting ‘inevitable’ flight cancellations as airport workers vote for more strikes it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same
The more things change, the more they remain the same. Last year, there was a chronic shortage of baggage handlers and other ground staff at Gatwick, resulting in huge disruptions during the peak summer period.
This led to a massive recruitment drive on the part of airlines – which hire airport staff through third parties – but 12 months on and we’re facing similar chaos and bitter disappointment following news that nearly 1,000 workers are set to go on strike at the airport during July and August.
The unions smell blood. Delays and cancellations are ‘inevitable’, warns Unite, with undisguised glee. Throw in the prospect of thousands of flights being affected across Europe when air traffic controllers walk out over staffing and rosters – with easyJet already announcing 1,700 summer flight cancellations – and it’s not a pretty picture.
Gatwick Airport Ltd is quick to point out that staff preparing to strike are not employed by the airport (and that Gatwick agreed a pay deal with its own staff earlier this year), but are hired by four firms: ASC, GGS, DHL Services and Menzies Aviation.
A spokesman for Menzies Aviation said Unite has rejected its offer of an 11 per cent pay increase, while Unite, in predictable fashion, says the likes of Menzies have failed to make offers that meet the workers’ ‘expectations’. Most sensible people might take the view that expectations need to be more realistic given that we’re in the throes of one of the worst economic crises in living memory. But Unite doesn’t do reality. It’s another blow for the travel industry, which was largely left to fend for itself during the pandemic, with the result that many companies went to the wall.
Nearly 1,000 workers are set to go on strike at the airport during July and August
The unions smell blood. Delays and cancellations are ‘inevitable’, warns Unite, with undisguised glee
Gatwick Airport Ltd is quick to point out that staff preparing to strike are not employed by the airport. Pictured, travellers queue for taxis at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex
This latest setback comes when bookings have bounced back better than many had expected. This summer was due to be a bumper one, with holidaymakers desperate to flee Britain, despite the squeeze on household budgets.
The Government wants to keep well out of it. Aviation minister Baroness Vere met easyJet boss Johan Lundgren this week, and Transport Secretary Mark Harper told the Commons his department would ‘continue to engage’ with airlines – which of course means nothing.
There’s talk of airlines introducing contingency plans to keep the disruptions to a minimum but no one seems to know what those plans comprise.
What’s crucial is that anyone going away in the next few months should make sure their travel insurance is in order. Booking through a travel agent will also offer further protection – and will mean there’ll be someone at the end of a telephone line who might be able to help.