The boss of easyJet has criticised the government’s refusal to permit more visas for EU cabin crew and ground handling staff, arguing that easing restrictions would relieve pressure on aviation after weeks of travel chaos.
Despite widespread worker shortages and recruitment difficulties for roles including airport security staff and ground handlers, industry requests to allow in more EU citizens to fill the gaps are “not something that they have responded positively to”, Johan Lundgren said.
“We know that there are exemptions being made to allow other groups of workers that are coming in, ballet dancers, circus artists, bakers and so on, but not for aviation staff,” the easyJet chief executive said. “It would help if you could get the visa operation sorted out, of course it would relieve pressure.”
However, he said it did not look like ministers planned to change visa rules for the aviation sector. “That is not something that we have seen that they feel inclined to do at this moment in time.”
EasyJet said it was challenging to find enough domestic staff to fill vacancies amid chronic worker shortages across the economy, and as unemployment remained steady at 3.8% in June.
“The level of people that all of the industry is recruiting from has become smaller, partly also because we don’t have the same amount of EU nationals available,” Lundgren said. “In terms of the government, we will continue to work with them to make sure the sector remains an attractive place to work and to make sure there remains enough people that we can recruit from.”
EasyJet said it was also facing problems on the continent amid the rebound in demand for foreign travel after pandemic restrictions were lifted, but added: “The issues here are bigger than they are across Europe”.
Lundgren’s comments came as the airline reported a £133m financial hit from disruption to air travel between April and June, leading to pre-tax loss of £114m for the second quarter of the year.
EasyJet has been one of the airlines worst affected by recent travel turmoil, and cancelled about 10,000 flights from its summer schedule in June.
Its chief operating officer departed last month after weeks of disruption and further last-minute flight cancellations, which have dented the airline’s reputation for reliability and customer service.
Lundgren said the airline’s day-to-day operations had “normalised” in recent weeks, adding that easyJet had operated more than 3,100 flights on Saturday and Sunday, the beginning of the summer getaway for many families, and had not had to cancel any UK flights on the day.
Lengthy queues for travellers, combined with flight delays and cancellations in recent weeks, have prompted a blame game between airports and airlines.
Lundgren said easyJet was discussing seeking compensation from airports such as Gatwick that have sought to cap daily flight numbers in an attempt to get a grip on travel disruption.
“In terms of potential compensation, I mean it’s definitely something that we will be discussing individually with the operators and our partners,” Lundgren said, but he declined to give any further details.