Thousands of airline passengers are facing new disruptions as more than 150 additional flights were canceled from Heathrow and Gatwick today.
Travel agents have been inundated with calls from customers fearing the chaos will continue and ruin their summer vacations.
EasyJet canceled at least 35 flights on Tuesday, with Gatwick being the hardest-hit airport, while Hungarian carrier Wizz Air canceled at least seven flights to serve UK airports.
British Airways canceled 124 Heathrow flights, although the airline said affected passengers had been informed in advance.
The prospect of a strike by Heathrow staff is expected to exacerbate the disruption.
Hundreds of BA check-in and ground staff at Heathrow have started voting on strike action.
Members of the Unite and GMB unions are elected in a wage dispute that could wreak havoc at Britain’s busiest airport during the summer holidays.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, which represents independent travel agents, said: “About 30% of all the calls they get now are from customers who are reading the headlines and have bookings for July and August, the school holidays, and they are worried.”
She acknowledged the situation for passengers whose flights are being canceled is “horrible and disappointing” but additional travel agents are trying to reassure customers that “in the vast majority of cases, flights are departing and arriving”.
There has been a “significant increase” in holiday demand this year, she said, creating a “bottleneck” in the system.
The number of school holidays last week was 21% higher than in 2019 and bookings for the summer holidays are around 80% of normal.
“I’m confident that the industry will reach a point where these bottlenecks will be addressed,” she said.
Diego Garcia Rodriguez, 32, a Spaniard who lives in Brighton, said there had been no changes to his Barcelona flight so far but other passengers were in tears at Gatwick.
“I saw a lot of people whose flights were cancelled, some were crying and stressed, and they only got the news after they went through security, so they didn’t know how to get out,” he said.
“There was no information and it was all very chaotic.”
A passenger told Sky News: “I’ve been queuing here for over an hour and a half now because they only have one person checking in for Wizz Air. Our flight leaves in an hour and I’m not sure if we’ll be able to check in on time.”
He added: “The queue is not moving. We’ll be here all night.”
Another passenger said she was almost out of pocket after flight delays and cancellations.
“I’m just quite upset that I’ve already booked a plane and now have to pay for another one to reach my destination. My plane leaves in 40 minutes and I still have to check in even though I arrive early.”
Another passenger said he was upset that his first holiday since the pandemic might be disrupted.
“If we had known beforehand that it would be cancelled, we could have made other plans. I was really looking forward to this holiday – the first in ages and now it looks like it won’t happen.”
Today’s cancellations come after months of disruption at UK airports that have disrupted the holiday plans of tens of thousands of travellers.
The chaos is also affecting passengers flying back to the UK, and many thousands of British holidaymakers are finding themselves stranded across Europe after hundreds of flight cancellations.
The airline industry is struggling to recruit new workers after laying off thousands of people during the pandemic, and a blame game has erupted over who is to blame for the shortages.
Airlines, airports and ground handlers repeatedly called for industry-specific financial support during the COVID-19 Crisis as lockdowns and travel restrictions dampened demand.
Airlines are now suffering from staff shortages and say government bureaucracy is delaying security checks on new recruits.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has rejected calls to open the door to more “cheap” foreign workers to ease pressure on the sector.
He has claimed airlines and travel companies have “seriously oversold flights and holidays relative to their delivery capacity” despite government warnings and accused bosses of “cutting too far”.
Mr Shapps has responded to industry calls to speed up safety screening for workers and allow some non-safety occupations to start training immediately.
But he said it was up to the sector to fix the problems after receiving £8bn in government support and having access to holiday pay to keep staff on the books meanwhile COVID Travel restrictions in place.