Travel agents inundated with calls over summer holiday fears

Travel agents are being inundated with telephone calls from customers worried that their summer holidays will be disrupted as flight chaos continues.

Thousands more airline passengers saw their travel plans thrown into disarray on Tuesday as the sector struggles to cope with staff shortages.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, which represents independent travel agents, said its members are receiving “a significant number of calls” from concerned customers.

She told the PA news agency: “About 30% of all calls that they’re receiving now are from customers that are reading the headlines, have bookings for July and August in the school holidays, and they are worried.”

Ms Bue-Said acknowledged that the situation is “hideous and disappointing” for passengers whose flights are being cancelled.

But she said travel agents are attempting to reassure customers that “in the vast majority of cases flights are departing and arriving”.

She added: “We’re trying to give a bit of perspective.”

EasyJet axed at least 35 flights on Tuesday, with Gatwick the worst affected airport.

Hungarian carrier Wizz Air scrapped at least seven flights due to serve UK airports.

British Airways cancelled 124 Heathrow flights, although the airline said affected passengers were given advance notice.

In recent months many passengers whose flights have gone ahead reported being stuck in airport queues for several hours.

Ms Bue-Said revealed that the number of people who jetted off during last week’s half-term school holiday was 21% higher than 2019 levels, while summer holiday bookings are at around 80% of normal.

This represents a “huge surge in demand” compared with the previous two years when the industry was “shut down” due to coronavirus restrictions.

She said: “The significant surge has created a bottleneck in the system.

“The industry is now working really hard to make sure that over the next few weeks we are building resilience and scaling up as much as we can from a workforce point of view to meet customer demand and, frankly, give them a much better experience in some cases than they’re experiencing now.”

She added: “I’m confident that the industry will get to a point where these bottlenecks will be sorted.”

Diego Garcia Rodriguez, 32, a Spanish national who lives in Brighton, said passengers at Gatwick Airport on Tuesday were left in tears due to last-minute cancellations.

He told the PA news agency: “I’m flying from Gatwick to Barcelona and I was at the airport three hours before but almost didn’t make it to board.

“The flight hasn’t been delayed so far but I have seen lots of people whose flights have been cancelled, some crying and stressing out, and they only got the news after having gone through the security control so they didn’t know how to get out.

“There was no information and it was all very chaotic.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of check-in and ground staff employed by British Airways at Heathrow began voting on strike action on Tuesday.

Members of the Unite and GMB unions are being balloted in a dispute over pay which could cause chaos at the UK’s busiest airport during the summer holiday period.