Tens of thousands of passengers are set to see their summer holiday plans thrown into chaos as airlines are given a one-off “amnesty” for cancelling flights.
Under government plans, airlines will be able to cancel flights without being penalised for not using their airport slot, but must finalise their summer schedule by Friday 8 July.
This means that any cancellations should be announced well in advance and airlines will reach out to affected customers before the end of this week.
If your flight is cancelled, the airline must offer to book you on another alternative route as close to your original arrival time as possible.
You will be entitled to a full refund for flights but you can only accept either a refund or a rebooking, not both.
British Airways services from Heathrow are expected to bear the brunt of new cancellations that will hit thousands of passengers.
A Heathrow spokesperson 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."
Slots are used to manage capacity at the busiest airports, giving airlines authorisation to take off or land at a particular airport at a specified time on a specified day.
Airlines must use slots a certain amount of times each season in order to keep them, and this “amnesty” is giving them the leeway to put a more manageable schedule in place without the risk of losing a slot due to cancelling flights.
A spokesperson for British Airways said: “We welcome these new measures, which 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.”
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “An amnesty on slot rules is potentially good news for passengers as it should encourage airlines who need to cancel more flights to do so now rather than at the last minute and could ease disruption this summer by letting better-staffed airlines step in and fly routes.
“For this to work, carriers must surrender their slots to other airlines if they are unable to fulfil them. This will help reduce cancellations and end the unsustainable practice of airlines flying near-empty planes to retain slots.”
Holidaymakers have already been hit by months of cancellations, delays and missing baggage as fears of a summer of travel chaos loom.
Heathrow ordered flights to be cancelled because it could not handle them, while on Saturday delays were expected due to a technical fault in the airport’s fuelling system, which was temporarily closed down for an hour.
On Thursday and Friday passengers at the airport complained of long queues, cancelled flights and lost baggage as “schedule intervention” and disruptions at UK airports were exacerbated by strikes in Spain.
The threat of industrial action is also continuing to loom in Britain after union members voted overwhelmingly to strike over pay — although no dates have been announced.
BA staff are demanding the 10% of pay they had “stolen” from them last year as they faced “fire and rehire” tactics during the pandemic.