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Summer holidays are facing another threat with huge delays in processing for millions of passports.
Minister are now urging people to get their applications in ‘as soon as possible’ after it was revealed that five million Britons delayed renewing their passports because of coronavirus restrictions.
Post-Brexit travel rules from the EU have complicated matters further as they require travelling Britons to have at least three months validity remaining when travelling to EU member nations.
This is adding to the strain, with one mother saying she submitted an application for her daughter five months ago and is still waiting to hear back. Their holiday is next week.
Kevin Foster, the immigration minister, has warned of ‘unprecedented demand’ for new passports, which is putting severe strain on the system.
According to the Times, MPs have accused the Passport Office of presiding over an ‘absolute shambles’ with the ten-week target for processing passport applications being routinely breached.
The Passport Office claims the backlog was caused by Britons delaying their applications during the pandemic – but MPs claim the issue was entirely ‘foreseeable’.
They have also shared stories of constituents being lied to about the progress of their applications, among other issues.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds up one of the new passports on a flight to Newcastle Airport on the day the UK left the EU
Five million Britons delayed renewing their passports because of coronavirus restrictions
MPs have accused the Passport Office of presiding over an ‘absolute shambles’ with the ten-week target for processing passport applications being routinely breached
Some say that even after approval, they have had to wait months for their passports to be delivered – raising questions about the courier firm TNT which has a £77million contract to deliver documents.
Stuart McDonald, the SNP’s home affairs spokesman, said: ‘All our constituents are having to cancel holidays, miss funerals, rearrange visits, with even a new ten-week target routinely being failed.
‘What will be done to avoid this predictable mess getting worse? And can we be assured that the ten-week target will not be lengthened further as we approach the summer?’
Immigration minister Foster replied: ‘We dealt with a million passport applications last month alone. To put that into context, we usually deal with seven million in a whole year.’
An HM Passport Office spokesman said: ‘We urge people who need a new passport to apply for one as soon as possible and we do offer urgent services for applicants who need a passport more quickly.’
Passengers queue inside the departures area of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London, during the Easter getaway, April 15, 2022
Meanwhile, Britons are facing further travel misery, with industry chiefs warning holidaymakers hoping to fly abroad at any time this year to brace for 12 months of travel hell due to unprecedented airline staff shortages caused by Covid self-isolation and mass layoffs during the pandemic.
Experts said that airlines ‘are simply unable to cope with that demand due to a lack of resources’ and warned that the ‘nightmare’ disruption – of the sort seen over Easter, where hundreds of flights were cancelled by airlines including British Airways and easyJet – could last all year.
BA has axed hundreds of flights up on some routes to the US and the Far East until September, affecting thousands of travellers after it had already cancelled more than 1,000 flights in little more than three weeks.
Routes affected have included from London to Berlin, Dublin, Geneva, Paris, Stockholm, Athens and Prague.
There are fears that other carriers could also be hit with issues after easyJet cancelled hundreds of flights over Easter.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, told Times Radio that airlines had underestimated demand.
Kully Sandhu, managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network, told the Express: ‘In my opinion, it could be up to 12 months before we see staffing at airports back to pre-pandemic levels. Recruitment for people at airports takes longer than roles elsewhere because of necessary, additional security and background checks.
‘Routine recruitment campaigns ground to halt during the pandemic and have been slow to start again as international travel has had a number of restrictions on it until recently. That means the recruitment pipeline was cut off and needs to be re-established.
Left, George Morgan-Grenville, chief executive of Red Savannah Luxury Travel. Right, Kully Sandhu, managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network. Both are warning of further travel disruption this year
‘Aviation has lost its appeal, not only for returners but also for people who have never worked in an airport environment before.’
George Morgan-Grenville, chief executive of Red Savannah Luxury Travel, added: ‘It is an unfortunate perfect storm and airlines and airports are trying to ramp up again after the pandemic.
‘The travel industry is not an industry that can be turned on and then off again and it was inevitable it was going to take time. My own feeling is I don’t think we are going to see a problem-free summer by any stretch of the imagination. If it is as bad as it has been purported to be, I think you will get a lot of very upset people.’
The transport chaos over Easter saw flights to destinations into Europe and the US cancelled by BA and easyJet as they were hit by Covid absences, lack of staff and a surge in demand for travel as restrictions were lifted.
Industry experts have also pointed the finger at security checks for issues with staff numbers, with vetting for new staff taking up to twice as long as the 14 weeks it is supposed to. They also believe that loss of thousands of experienced staff who were laid off during the pandemic has had an impact, with many not returning after finding jobs elsewhere.
BA boss Sean Doyle originally told staff in an internal message that flights would be cancelled until the end of next month, partly due to staff shortages.
At the World Travel and Tourism Council’s summit in Manila in the Philippines, Paul Charles, of travel consultancy The PC Agency, suggested disruption could last many months.
‘Covid travel restrictions have brought about a destruction of talent through job losses,’ he said.
He also told the Telegraph: ‘In the short-term you have got Covid [absence] which is becoming less of an issue, but in the longer term, there are still complications over recruiting enough staff.
‘BA is only recruiting staff who already have security passes. The airline’s planners obviously believe there is a maximum number of people they feel they will recruit, therefore it has to cut back on frequency now based on its expected level of recruitment.
‘It is readjusting in order to give as much notice as it can before it’s inevitable that they have to cancel those flights anyway. It is responding to concerns expressed by their customers and Government ministers about the lack of notice given to consumers.’
More than 1,140 flights were grounded at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham during the Easter getaway – with EasyJet and British Airways both cutting 60 and 98 flights respectively in a single day.
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