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'Total chaos' at Heathrow as airport cancels 30 flights

·Finance Reporter, Yahoo Finance UK
·6 min read
Passengers queue inside the departures terminal of Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Heathrow Airport announced more flight cancellations. Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Passengers at Heathrow have been plunged into chaos after the airport asked airlines to remove 30 flights from Thursday morning's schedule because it is expecting more passenger numbers than it can currently cope with.

Thousands of travellers were disrupted by a rare “schedule intervention”, with some passengers not finding out their flights were cancelled until they arrived at the UK’s busiest airport.

Amid this chaos, the government has just announced it is launching a 22-point plan to tackle flight disruption this summer as tens of thousands of passengers have suffered flight cancellations and huge queues at airports in recent months.

Travel writer and broadcaster Andy Mossack tweeted that there was "total chaos" and "zero customer service" at the airport on Thursday morning.

A Heathrow spokesperson said the airport would work with airlines to try to rebook passengers onto other flights, "as many as possible" for later the same day.

A "small number" of British Airways flights are among those affected, with the airline saying it is in contact with affected customers. It is expected that 98% of flights out of the airport will operate as planned.

Read more: Cost of living: Brits cutting back on holidays and using up savings

Customers who have been affected by the cancellations should be contacted by their airline and given advice on the possible alternatives.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there is “no excuse for widespread disruption” and holidaymakers “deserve certainty”.

The government is launching a 22-point plan aimed at avoiding a repeat of the chaos seen at UK airports during the Easter and Jubilee holidays.

The government’s action plan includes a number of measures previously announced, such as encouraging airlines to make sure their schedule are “deliverable”, an amnesty on slot rules and permitting new aviation workers to begin training before passing security checks.

A new passenger charter will be published in the coming weeks, providing passengers with a “one-stop guide” informing them of their rights and what they can expect from airports and airlines when flying.

Since the disruption during the Jubilee half-term, ministers and officials have been meeting with the aviation industry weekly to discuss the summer plans and issues that could cause problems this summer.

Shapps said: “Holidaymakers deserve certainty ahead of their first summer getaways free of travel restrictions.

“While it’s never going to be possible to avoid every single delay or cancellation, we’ve been working closely with airports and airlines to make sure they are running realistic schedules.

“The 22 measures we’ve published today set out what we’re doing to support the industry.

Read more: Heathrow airport told to cut passenger charges

“It’s now on airports and airlines to commit to running the flights they’ve promised or cancel them with plenty of time to spare so we can avoid the kind of scenes we saw at Easter and half-term.

“With 100 days having passed since we set out that restrictions would be eased, there’s simply no excuse for widespread disruption.”

Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the Civil Aviation Authority, said: “We share Government’s ambitions for resolving the travel issues that we’ve seen in previous months.

“These actions will help the sector to be more resilient in dealing with strong consumer demand.

“We will work alongside Government and the wider industry to help deliver a better experience for passengers.”

Demand for travel will surge again as schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland break up for summer this week, while the academic year for those in England and Wales ends in around three weeks.

Amid the travel chaos, consumer body Which? is calling for a major overhaul of travel rules to rein in airlines.

Which? is asking for significant reforms, including a code of conduct for airlines and new, stronger powers for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), so it can hit operators with heavy fines when they flout the rules.

The consumer body looked at seven major airlines’ Ts&Cs and uncovered examples of carriers “blacklisting” passengers, charging extortionate fees, making misleading claims about compensation and riding roughshod over consumer rights.

Ryanair’s terms state that it might refuse to carry someone on the grounds that the passenger "owes us any money in respect of a previous flight owing to payment having been dishonoured, denied or recharged against us".

Read more: Heathrow flight cancellations: 15,000 passengers left stranded

The airline confirmed to Which? that this term had applied to nearly 850 customers who it claimed had "unlawfully" used debit or credit card chargeback claims to get a refund for flights - effectively blacklisting them. This term may have applied to customers who struggled to get a refund from Ryanair for flights they were not able to take legally due to COVID restrictions or lockdowns.

While Ryanair was the only airline Which? has heard of enforcing this rule against customers, Wizz Air’s Ts&Cs allow it to do the same thing.

The consumer body found instances of airlines making erroneous claims about passengers’ rights to compensation for flights cancelled at short notice. BA incorrectly tells customers it will compensate them in some circumstances if it ‘delays a flight by five hours or more’. But compensation rights are activated after three hours, not five.

TUI includes a term which gives the incorrect impression that when a flight is cancelled it is up to the airline to decide whether to reroute or refund customers – but the rules state that it is the passenger who decides which option they prefer.

Despite previous warnings from the CAA that excessive fees could be open to legal challenge, some airlines continue to charge a premium for simple admin services, such as ticket transfers, correcting names and checking in at the airport. Wizz Air lists 51 fees on its website, including up to €13 (£11.17) for ‘admin’ and €15 (£12.89) for booking through a call centre.

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “Consumer rights and laws are meaningless if they are not enforced. Our analysis shows some airlines are routinely ignoring their legal obligations and ripping off their customers, with little fear of facing any consequences.

“Passengers have suffered for too long due to a lack of accountability and weak enforcement of the rules. The immense disruption of recent weeks can be a watershed moment and used as a springboard to reform the industry for their benefit.

“The government must take action to restore consumer confidence in travel. That should start with a consumer-focused code of conduct all airlines must adhere to, and stronger powers for the CAA, including the ability to fine operators directly when they break the rules.”

Watch: Airline refunds: What are your rights as a consumer?