EasyJet executive quits after weeks of turmoil and flight cancellations

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Eric Gaillard/Reuters

EasyJet is parting ways with its chief operating officer, after weeks of turmoil and last-minute cancellations hit the airline’s reputation for reliability and customer service.

The airline said Peter Bellew had resigned at the end of last week “to pursue other business opportunities” after two and a half years in the role.

Bellew joined from rival Ryanair shortly before the pandemic, in a move that the Irish airline attempted to block in court.

Peter Bellew.
Peter Bellew. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Reuters

However, his star has since waned and senior executive level changes had been looming since the new chair of easyJet, Stephen Hester, started taking closer charge in response to the crisis. Problems at its main base at Gatwick, in particular, led to the airline cancelling hundreds of flights at the last moment during the half-term holidays.

David Morgan, who was interim COO before Bellew’s appointment, will step up to the role again. EasyJet said he delivered “significant improvements in operational performance” during his previous tenure, despite not retaining the job.

The departure of Bellew will put increased focus on the chief executive, Johan Lundgren, to turn around the airline’s fortunes. EasyJet’s share price dropped a further 5% on Monday, taking it to its lowest level in more than a decade.

Lundgren said: “Everyone at easyJet remains absolutely focused on delivering a safe and reliable operation this summer.

“[Morgan] has significant experience and deep knowledge of the business and operation and will provide strong leadership for the airline this summer.”

EasyJet’s executive team will be meeting in Palma, Mallorca, this week to discuss plans for the crisis-hit summer. A spokesperson said it was “entirely appropriate for the management board to undertake business meetings around the network as well as regularly travel to our European bases”.

The entire aviation industry has been affected by labour shortages, from ground handling to air traffic control as well as airport security and cabin crew. While easyJet said it had filled all its crew roles, shortages among ground staff – including those contracted to the airline through outsourcing companies such as Swissport – have hampered operations.

Lengthy security clearances have further hindered recruitment in a tight labour market. Airlines that laid off thousands of staff have been struggling to meet passenger demand after travel restrictions in the UK and elsewhere were lifted earlier this year.

While British Airways acted soon after the airport disruption in Easter, cancelling thousands of flights months in advance, easyJet initially resisted such a move. However, pressure had grown after the carrier found itself to operate dozens of flights daily at half-term.

Last month, easyJet cancelled about 10,000 flights from its summer schedule, reducing overall capacity from 97% of pre-pandemic levels to about 90%.

The airline said on Monday that all customers whose flights were affected had now been notified, with the majority rebooked on alternative services within 24 hours of the original flight. The airline will continue to operate up to 1,700 flights a day around Europe, carrying up to 250,000 passengers.

EasyJet also faces the prospect of more disruption throughout July because of continued cabin crew strikes in Spain. However, the airline said none of the cancellations and delays at the affected bases this weekend – in Málaga, Barcelona, and Palma – were due to the strikes.

Last week the UK government published a 22-point plan to head off further travel turmoil in the summer, including measures to quicken recruitment. Airlines would also, under the plan, be allowed to temporarily relinquish departure slots at airports without permanently forfeiting them, easing the pressure to run a full schedule.

However, ministers said airlines needed to deliver. It is “now on airports and airlines to commit to running the flights they have promised or cancel them with plenty of time to spare”, said the transport secretary, Grant Shapps.

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