Travel ‘unfairly stigmatised’ for disruption, says Abta chief

The government has “stigmatised” the industry over disruption due to staff shortages after being warned in advance of the consequences of refusing sector-specific aid.

That is according to Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer, who told Travel Weekly: “Airlines and airports obviously have huge operational challenges, some not within their control, some to do with shortages of staff and support services at airports.”

But he pointed out: “Furlough stopped long before the travel restrictions lifted. There was obviously going to be a cash crunch for the industry which was going to have to lay off people.

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“To be castigated for not being able to bring people back quickly enough is very unfair from a government that didn’t support the industry in the way we asked.

“The government has stigmatised the industry.”

However, Tanzer appealed for the sector not to descend into a blame game. He said: “It’s not helpful for one part of the industry to pick on another. We’re all part of a chain which is unable to deliver a good customer experience [at present]. We should be trying to work together to sort out operational issues rather than pointing fingers of blame.”

He rejected government claims that airlines ramped up capacity too quickly, insisting: “Exiting a two-year hiatus in travel was never going to be smooth. I wouldn’t criticise airlines for having offered flights because who knew what the demand was going to be? Who knew what the pressure points would be and how quickly staff would come back?

“It’s difficult to anticipate the pressure on the system at different times and make a judgement in advance to cut flights. Obviously, as you get into the operational cycle, you see the pressure points and can make those decisions.”

Tanzer said: “I feel sympathy for customers, for agents and operators. It’s terrible when someone’s flight is cancelled and there is no information. But the vast majority of passengers aren’t experiencing delays. Most are travelling and having a good holiday experience.

“Obviously, we’re hitting peak season when more people will be travelling and more people going through airports could be a challenge. But airports and airlines are trying to get staff in place as rapidly as possible.”

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