Gatwick airport will reduce its summer capacity to ward off potential chaos, after dozens of last-minute cancellations wrecked the travel plans of holidaymakers over the platinum jubilee and half-term holiday.
London’s second busiest airport will limit the number of daily take-offs and landings to 850 in August – about 50 more than the average in early June, but more than 10% below its pre-pandemic maximum.
The airport is the biggest base for easyJet, which operates more than half of Gatwick slots, and the airline said it would be reviewing the details. It is likely to have to trim its summer schedules after it made hundreds of last-minute cancellations, more than any other UK carrier, in recent weeks due to multiple problems.
The move comes after the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority told the industry this week to ensure that flights on sale were “deliverable”, and called on airport chief executives to set up working groups with airlines and ground handlers to minimize the risk of summer disruption.
Gatwick said it was “temporarily moderating its rate of growth” to allow airlines to “manage more predictable and reliable flight programmes” for the summer holiday peak period.
A review by the airport found a number of companies would still have a severe lack of staff resources over summer, which could have led to airport passengers “continuing to experience an unreliable and potentially poor standard of service” – including more queues, delays and last -minute cancellations.
Ground handling companies employed by airlines to manage check-in areas, turn aircraft round on the airfield and handle baggage were understood to be the main concern.
Gatwick’s chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said there had been a “remarkable turnaround” in the number of flights, quadrupling since January, and that the airport had reopened its South terminal and recruited 400 new staff for security.
“All large airports were stretched in half-term week and we’re no exception. We’re calling on airlines now to only schedule flights they are confident in operating.”
He said more air traffic controllers were based at Gatwick now than in 2019, and Gatwick had the staff in security now to handle 900 daily flights. But he added: “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 programs with their available resources.
“As has already been the case, the vast majority of flights over the summer will operate as normal.”
An easyJet spokesperson said: “We are aware of the capacity cap announced by Gatwick and are now reviewing the details to assess what this means for easyJet’s Gatwick operation.
“We recognize the need for Gatwick to do this, as airports across Europe have visibility across all airlines and are well placed to decide what capacity is realistic in the current challenging operating environment, so all airlines can provide reliable services for their customers.
“Given the high frequencies of our services to and from Gatwick, we expect to be able to react to the majority of customers whose flights are affected by the cap.”
Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, another large European base for easyJet, was expected to make a similar announcement, limiting total daily passenger numbers this summer. Customers have been faced with enormous queues and widespread cancellations in recent weeks.
The industry has blamed the chaos on labor shortages and difficulty in clearing enough new recruits through background security checks, as travel demand rebounded when restrictions were lifted suddenly after the pandemic.