French EasyJet pilots warn of ‘unprecedented flight chaos’ this summer

The airline has preemptively cancelled around 40 flights a day for the rest of June but pilots say the fact the situation could get worse is a ‘frightening prospect’

EasyJet cancellations could get worse this summer, the company’s French pilots have warned
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French EasyJet pilots have written a critical letter to the company’s management warning of the potential for wide-scale flight cancellations this summer, saying that the worst is yet to come in terms of disruption.

EasyJet has had to cancel hundreds of flights (not just France) in recent weeks citing a shortage of staff - mainly cabin crew - and operational issues. It has also reduced the number of available seats on some planes so as to be able to fly with one less crew member and maintain rules on the ratio of cabin crew to passenger figures.

Read more: France fears holiday bottleneck as transport system almost overwhelmed

The airline, which has its head office in London Luton airport, has preemptively cancelled around 40 flights per day for the rest of June in a bid to manage disruptions. This is out of a total of 1,700 daily flights.

But the airline’s French pilots, in an internal letter written on June 6 and first reported by UK outlet the I paper, say the situation could get worse over summer and warned of “unprecedented chaos”.

The pilots said that there had been dozens of cases where flights were cancelled “just a few hours or minutes” before departure due to a lack of crew, the I paper reported.

“Literally hundreds of employees in distress have fed back how chaotic our operations have become recently, to unprecedented levels… We are actually convinced that our disruption hasn’t even peaked yet and frankly this is a frightening prospect,” the pilots wrote.

“How many pennies did we save with all these loyal employees, flight attendants and crewing/rostering/flight planning staff being made redundant?

“How many hundreds of millions will this cost when travel agencies and customers stop booking with us for good, when they will consider that EasyJet is actually giving poor value for money, especially in the context of high inflation.”

Crew shortages have come after a surge in passenger demand following the Covid pandemic and the end of most associated travel restrictions, in combination with having fewer staff due to some taking days off due to catching Covid or others who were let go or left during the pandemic to find other work.

EasyJet has seven bases in France - Paris-Orly, Paris-CDG, Lyon, Nice, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes. Around 550 of its pilots are reported to be French-based.

Flights cancelled to a degree not seen in years

Arnaud Wiplier, president of the EasyJet branch of the French pilots union SNPL which was involved in crafting the letter, said that the airline is less prepared than in previous years and is having to cancel flights to a degree “not seen in 10 years”.

“If we can’t cope with a three-day weekend, can we manage over the summer?” Mr Wiplier told La Dépêche.

EasyJet plans to recruit around 100 new cabin crew staff in France, but SNPL has warned that it “takes time to recruit and train them”.

Mr Wiplier also criticised the fact that the teams in charge of planning and monitoring flights were reduced during the Covid pandemic.

“If one person is off sick, there is only one left who can assess the next day's flight schedules throughout Europe, so we have cancellations that are made late because we realise too late that there are not enough crew members,” he said.

The French pilots suggested creating new branches of the operations centre because they believe that “Luton cannot manage the network”.

EasyJet has said that "a constructive and open dialogue with its unions" is ongoing and that it would respond directly to the French pilots’ letter, La Dépêche reported.

A spokesperson for EasyJet told the Guardian that the company is sorry for the inconvenience caused by the cancellation of flights throughout June.

“We are informing customers in advance to minimise the impact on their plans and provide the option to rebook before travelling or receive a refund, and our customer service hours have been extended to support affected customers,” the spokesperson said.

“We continue to monitor the operation closely and take action in advance as needed.”

Customers affected by cancellations are entitled to a full refund.

What about other airlines?

EasyJet is not the online airline struggling to recruit - the whole industry is having issues.

British Airways (BA) made around 10,000 staff members redundant during the Covid lockdowns but since restrictions have eased and flight numbers returned to pre-pandemic levels it too has been affected by similar shortages.

Read more: UK-France flight cancellations, ferries, Navigo: eight travel updates

The Financial Times reported in May that BA has reduced flights by 10% until at least October due to lack of staff and a difficulty to recruit.

Read more: Widespread low-cost airline strikes loom, says French union

Ryanair staff in three different airports in France (Beauvais, Marseille and Toulouse) have filed an “open-ended” strike notice, notably for July 14 (France’s National day) and for peak travel times during the summer holidays.

The staff are reported to be frustrated about low salaries and difficult working conditions, in part due to a lack of the staff.

In particular, flights to Morocco, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Corsica, England, Scotland and Ireland could be impacted this summer.

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