British holidaymakers catching early morning flights from Manchester Airport today were packed together in massive queues at check-in due to staffing shortages caused by Covid isolation – as millions of people brace for yet another Bank Holiday weekend of travel chaos.
Hundreds of travellers were pictured filling up Manchester’s hall as early as 3.10am as the hardhit aviation industry tries to overcome pressures caused by the ‘perfect storm’ of staff absences, mass layoffs during the pandemic, and people flying abroad for European sun for the first time in two years.
But millions of families who may have tried to avoid the travel hell over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend by going on a staycation this time are now being warned to prepare for chaos, as 17million motorists are set to hit the roads while £70million worth of rail engineering works and strikes threaten to shut down whole swathes of Britain’s rail network.
More than 3million drivers will take leisure trips today alone, followed by 3million tomorrow and more than 2million on Sunday, according to the RAC.
RAC traffic spokesperson Rod Dennis said: ‘Easter might only have been a couple of weeks ago, but it looks as though plenty of drivers are still looking to make the most of this May Day bank holiday.
We expect routes to classic tourist hotspots – especially the coasts – to clog up on Friday afternoon and through Saturday morning, although according to our research Monday could turn out to be the busiest day of the long weekend.
‘Preparation is paramount though to avoid an inconvenient breakdown at the side of the road – it’s a fact that the majority of the jobs our patrols will attend this weekend will be avoidable if drivers spend just a little time checking their vehicles are ‘road-ready’.’
Meanwhile, track and signal upgrades mean 550 routes will be closed over the three-day weekend, with trains on the West Coast Mainline from the North West and West Midlands stopping at Milton Keynes Central rather than running into London Euston.
UK travellers pictured packed together in massive queues at Manchester Airport this morning
British holidaymakers queued as early as 3.10am at check-in at Manchester Airport
Frustrated passengers are pictured queueing at Manchester Airport’s check-in early this morning
Traffic queues on the A102M Blackwall Tunnel approach in Greenwich, South East London, April 29, 2022
Traffic queues on the A102M Blackwall Tunnel approach in Greenwich, South East London, April 29, 2022
Where do rail passengers face chaos this weekend?
- No Avanti West Coast or London Northwestern Railway trains between London Euston and Milton Keynes Central all weekend
- No London Overground trains between London Euston and Watford Junction all weekend
- No Gatwick Express trains between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport all weekend
- No Southern trains between London Victoria and East Croydon
- No Stansted Express trains between Waltham Cross and Stansted Airport
- No c2c trains between Basildon and Shoeburyness or between Barking and Liverpool Street on Sunday
- No CrossCountry, LNER or ScotRail trains between Edinburgh and Motherwell all weekend
- No CrossCountry trains between Birmingham New Street and Coleshill Parkway all weekend
- No East Midlands Railway trains between Sheffield, Derby and Leicester on Sunday morning
- No Grand Central trains between Sunderland and Hartlepool on Saturday and Sunday
- No Great Northern trains between Finsbury Park and Moorgate all weekend
- No Great Northern trains between Ely and Kings Lynn on Saturday and Sunday
- No Greater Anglia trains between Stansted Airport and Waltham Cross all weekend
- No Northern trains between Manchester Victoria and Stalybridge all weekend
- No Northern trains between Newcastle and Hartlepool on Saturday and Sunday
- No South Western Railway trains between Ascot and Reading on Sunday
- TransPennine Express: Strike action on Saturday and Sunday
There will also be no Southern trains into London Victoria on Sunday and Monday due to signalling upgrades, causing problems for travellers to and from Gatwick Airport and the south coast.
Some of the routes were also shut over the recent Easter Bank Holiday weekend, raising questions about why the upgrades weren’t finished then.
They will have to go via London Bridge instead, making these services much busier. There will also be a reduced number of trains through Gatwick Airport due to station building work.
Roof renewal works at London Liverpool Street mean services to and from Essex will be cancelled and will run from Fenchurch Street instead. Engineering works in the North East, Cheshire, Manchester and Cumbria will also see some Northern rail services replaced with buses.
Buses will replace trains between Newcastle, Sunderland and Hartlepool, Manchester Piccadilly, Stockport, Macclesfield and Stoke-on-Trent and Carlisle and Maryport.
There will also be disruption for passengers travelling to Stansted Airport from the capital and between London and Cambridge due to track upgrades near Bishops Stortford.
To make matter worse, a 48-hour strike ordered by the militant RMT union means TransPennine Express trains across the north of England will be severely disrupted on Saturday and Sunday.
Dave Penney, Network Rail’s passenger director for the North West and Central region, warned rail passengers to avoid travelling over the three day weekend.
He said: ‘We made great progress on major railway improvements over Easter and I’d like to thank passengers for their continued patience while we carry out more must-do work between 30 April and 2 May.
‘We know there is never an ideal time to shut the railway but bank holidays continue to be the least disruptive time for us to carry out this essential maintenance.
‘With Euston closed our advice is once again to travel either side of the bank holiday on Friday 29 April and Tuesday 3 May where possible.’
There could also be disruption on the roads with millions expected to jump behind the wheel for the three-day weekend.
Around half of Britain’s 33million motorists are expected to take to the roads, with the RAC predicting that Monday will be the busiest day.
Stretches of the M6, M25, M3, M20 and A303 around Stonehenge could become congested.
It follows warnings that holidaymakers face a summer of travel misery after Grant Shapps revealed British Airways is ‘proactively’ axing more flights.
The Transport Secretary said he spoke to BA boss Sean Doyle on Tuesday amid growing fears of a summer of travel chaos.
It comes after the flagship carrier cancelled more than 1,500 flights over the last month as it struggles to meet surging post-pandemic demand amid recruitment problems. The airline says customers were given at least several days’ notice.
But critics say it causes chaos for travellers who have booked train tickets or transfers to airports or who may have to cut trips short if they can’t fly on the original departure date or reach an event on time. They also accuse airlines of scheduling an unrealistic number of flights after sacking thousands of staff during the pandemic.
BA, which sacked around 10,000 staff, cancelled another 94 flights yesterday. Rival carrier easyJet, which has also cancelled hundreds of flights in recent weeks, slashed another 70.
Last week the Mail revealed how BA was cutting hundreds of flights to America and the Far East up until September, raising fears other routes face the axe this summer.
It comes after travellers were hit with huge airport queues and hundreds of flight cancellations over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. They were also left waiting several days to receive luggage due to baggage handler shortages.
Appearing before the Commons transport committee, Mr Shapps was asked by Labour MP Ben Bradshaw: ‘BA is cancelling nearly 100 flights in and out of Heathrow again today, so can you guarantee that the British public are not going to suffer a summer of travel chaos as it did over Easter?’
Mr Shapps replied: ‘You’ll be interested to know that I had Sean Doyle into my office yesterday to ask him exactly this question.
London Euston station, pictured when it was shut during the Easter weekend on Good Friday, will be completely closed again
‘He told me they were proactively, in advance now, slimming down their programme in order to be able to meet the demand. He also explained that the problems were actually growing pains in lots of different directions very, very quickly.
‘So they’re primarily OK with pilots, but those on the ground, the baggage handling side of things for example, have been much harder [to recruit] in a very tight employment market.’
Asked what he thought was the cause of the Easter chaos, he added: ‘Over coronavirus, when we got to the point of perhaps only 10 per cent of usual 2019 traffic, there was the temptation of those involved in aviation to continue to cut back, perhaps they felt they had no alternative, and in the end things have got going a lot faster than they anticipated.’
Britain became one of the first countries in the world to scrap all Covid travel restrictions last month, even for unvaccinated people.
Mr Shapps rejected suggestions that other European countries have avoided the same level of disruption because they supported aviation industries more during the pandemic and cut less staff.
He said the Government provided £8billion-worth of taxpayer-funded support. But he admitted for the first time that he believed ministers made ‘too many changes’ to foreign travel rules during the pandemic.
A report by the committee last week concluded that the border curbs, including the traffic light system, were ‘disproportionate to the risks to public health’ and ‘confusing’ for holidaymakers and families who needed to visit relatives abroad.
Mr Shapps added: ‘In our mitigation, in defence, the world was trying to work out how to handle this once-in-a-hundred-years event and we had to learn as we went.’ Today the Transport Secretary will lay a statutory instrument before Parliament aimed at slashing red tape so aviation firms can recruit staff quicker.
At present, firms must get references from each new recruit’s employer for the past five years. But the new measures could reduce this to as much as two years, cutting the time spent on conducting mandatory checks.
Heathrow Airport boss John Holland-Kaye called on ministers to go one further and allow operators access to HMRC records showing a new recruit’s previous employers.
He said this could speed up the recruitment process further by two to four weeks and help avoid summer disruption.
He told the Mail: ‘The thing that takes time is, we have to call all of the previous employers from the past five years to validate where people have worked and we have to do that by physically picking up the phone and getting people to check their records.
‘That takes weeks and weeks to do and we could get the same information from HMRC at the click of a button.
‘That’s something the Government could help with to make sure that all airports and airlines can get as many people in as quickly as possible ahead of the summer.’ A Government spokesman said: ‘Using our post-Brexit freedoms, we are looking at ways to help industry speed up job reference checks.’