Airlines flying from London’s airports have been given more flexibility to cancel flights due to staff shortages this summer.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic airlines were granted a waiver of “use it or lose it” airport slot rules. To benefit from the waiver airlines had to temporarily “hand back” any slots they don’t intend to use.
This summer season was meant to see the end of slot waivers.
Amid lobbying from some airports and airlines, there had been pressure to restore normal slot usage rules. This was to prevent airlines from hoarding slots and allow new entrants to secure new slots.
This summer airlines are required to use their slots for 70% of the season to avoid forfeiting them. There are special dispensations should new travel restrictions emerge.
As has been widely publicised, this summer has not turned out as planned. Many airlines have been forced to cut schedules due to staff shortages. Some, notably easyJet, have been criticised for short notice cancellations.
The New Slot Waiver
The UK government has, today Tuesday 21 June 2022, laid new legislation before Parliament for an amended slot waiver.
Airlines will have a window of two weeks, from Saturday 25 June to Friday 8 July, to hand back up to 30% of their slots for the remainder of the summer season. This runs from Saturday 9 July to Saturday 30 October.
To benefit from the waiver airlines must hand back their slots at least 14 days in advance. So a slot handed back on 25 June will benefit from a waiver from 9 July. A slot handed back on 8 July would only benefit from a waiver from 22 July.
Passengers must also be notified of their cancelled flights at least 14 days in advance.
This measure is clearly intended to encourage airlines to properly assess their resources for the rest of the summer and cut schedules now. Airlines that make many short notice cancellations will be at a risk of forfeiting slots.
Whilst this should hopefully avoid the worst of short notice cancellations it does not mean the risk of ongoing summer disruption is removed. Many airline employees in mainland Europe are carrying out industrial action this summer. Given the pressures on staff at UK airlines and ground handlers, and a worsening industrial relations climate due to the rising cost of living, this could well extend to UK airlines.