British Airways was forced to cancel dozens of flights on Sunday evening with insiders saying the airline was ‘desperately short‘ of staff as the Omicron variant rips through England leading to a surge in COVID-19 infections.
Problems started on Sunday morning when one source said at least eight flights were delayed because there weren’t enough senior cabin crew members available. Other flights departed with fewer crew members than normal although in line with minimum legal requirements.
Problems quickly escalated through the day due to ‘under wing’ staff shortages including baggage handlers and other specialist roles. Customers complained of ‘chaos’ in the baggage reclaim hall at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 with some waiting hours for their baggage to appear.
Some flights were cancelled because there weren’t enough baggage handlers available to remove luggage from recently landed aircraft. Heathrow airport estimates that at least 1,000 bags had to be dumped in a holding area without being returned to their owner or being sent to a connecting flight.
British Airways has reportedly been short-staffed for several months after many travel restrictions were lifted and demand returned far quicker than managers had anticipated. Although the airline is trying to hire new cabin crew and ground staff, numbers are still far below pre-pandemic levels.
Sickness levels have recently skyrocketed as COVID-19 cases surge across the UK and much of Europe. Last week, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned government ministers that the sharp rise in infections would lead to mass staff shortages.
The Omicron variant is believed to be far more transmissible than previous COVID-19 variants. Infection rates in the UK have remained high since the summer but daily cases numbers nearly breached 100,000 in recent days.
On Saturday, London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident due to the surge in Omicron cases and the pressure it was putting on the health service.
Last night, British Airways was advising people to leave Heathrow without their luggage and was offering to courier bags to their home address at a later date.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.