Vetting of airport staff fast-tracked to ease travel chaos

Passengers travelling abroad on Saturday faced more lengthy delays, baggage chaos and cancellations - Adam Kent
Passengers travelling abroad on Saturday faced more lengthy delays, baggage chaos and cancellations - Adam Kent

Security checks on aviation staff will be fast tracked in an attempt to cut delays at Britain's airports.

The Department for Transport said it was speeding up the vetting process for new staff to help tackle the travel chaos that has plagued travellers for months.

Holidaymakers faced more disruption on Saturday, with thousands of passengers at Heathrow hit by delays caused by a computer failure that left planes unable to refuel and "horrendous" scenes at the baggage reclaim area.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that by speeding up the vetting of new aviation security staff, the Government was "doing its bit to help deliver for passengers".

Counter terrorism checks on staff, which previously took up to 20 days, are now being done in half the time, he said. New staff are also carrying out other training while their security checks are ongoing.

Airlines are expected to announce a series of cancellations to summer flights next week aimed at minimising disruption in the peak holiday season.

A government "amnesty" to the rules on airport slots is in place until Friday, allowing airlines to change schedules without facing a potential penalty.

British Airways is expected to bear the brunt of the cancellations. It previously planned to carry 1.8 million passengers across more than 9,000 flights from Heathrow during July alone.

For passengers travelling abroad over the weekend however, lengthy delays, baggage chaos and cancellations were commonplace.

A computer failure at Heathrow's Terminal 5 left planes unable to take on fuel and led to flights being suspended for up to an hour.

Incoming flights were told to take a double load of fuel, according to passengers.

A Heathrow spokeswoman said the issue was fixed within an hour but it was "likely there are going to be delays" for departing flights.

She added: "We are working with all airport partners to minimise disruption, however flights out of Heathrow may be subject to delays. We apologise for any impact this has on people's journeys."

Incoming passengers to the country’s busiest airport were met with scenes akin to a “disaster movie” at baggage reclaim.

There was 'lost luggage everywhere' at Terminal 3 in Heathrow on Saturday - Adam Kent
There was 'lost luggage everywhere' at Terminal 3 in Heathrow on Saturday - Adam Kent

Adam Kent had arrived at Terminal 3 from Orlando, Florida. The 59-year-old, from Worcestershire, said: "(There was) lost luggage everywhere, stacked between baggage belts, everyone stepping over it and no one doing anything about it.

"No one visible on the ground to explain the carnage or sort out the mess, it seems like lots of luggage has not arrived with passengers and just been dumped."

Mr Kent added there was "appalling customer service" at the airport.

Despite the potential disruption to flights over the summer, one industry expert told The Telegraph that travellers should not try to move their holidays to later in the year.

Paul Charles, of travel consultants The PC Agency, said the overwhelming majority of flights were still operating as scheduled and that changing plans risked passengers suffering a financial hit.

He added: "Over 95 per cent of flights are still operating normally so most people will get away."

On Saturday, Spain-based cabin crew at Ryanair announced they were planning to strike for 12 days this month to demand better working conditions.

The announcement came on the final day of the crews' current strike, which began on Thursday and forced Ryanair to cancel 10 flights in Spain on Saturday.

Cabin crew will strike on July 12-15, 18-21 and 25-28 across the 10 Spanish airports where Ryanair operates, the unions said in a statement.

A Ryanair spokeswoman said: “Ryanair expects minimal (if any) disruption to its flight schedules in July (12th-28th) as a result of minor and poorly supported Spanish labour strikes."

However, she acknowledged that air traffic control strikes and staff shortages "beyond their control" may cause minor disruption.