Families should avoid carrying checked luggage on planes and using their valuables due to chaos at airports over Easter, an expert has suggested.
Almost 10,000 flights are expected to leave the UK between Good Friday and Easter Monday, a 576% increase on last year.
But the aviation industry is struggling to cope with Covid-related absences and a depleted workforce after the pandemic.
The World Travel and Tourism Council has warned that there is a labor shortage of around 200,000 across the sector. Cabin crew, security guards and baggage handlers are in short supply.
The situation has led to hundreds of canceled flights, long queues and passengers having to abandon their luggage at airports including Manchester, Heathrow and Birmingham.
Paul Stewart, managing director of MyBaggage, a company that ships luggage, said internet searches for “lost luggage” increased by 77% last year.
“Hundreds of passengers across the country find themselves separated from their luggage for hours, if not days, as baggage claim areas replenish,” he said.
“Many have been asked to file claims for lost baggage, which could mean weeks before the airline sends their belongings.
“This is due to a number of factors, including conveyor belt delays due to staffing issues. Waiting times for security are also getting longer as passengers have been waiting for hours to have their bags screened.
Stewart said while airlines should do their best to reunite passengers with lost luggage, complaints can be made to the Civil Aviation Authority. It may also be easier to make a claim using home or travel insurance, he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Stewart hinted that it might be easier to avoid checking checked baggage.
“If you are flying this week, we recommend that you pack light and only travel with hand luggage or use couriers to avoid these travel hassles, as you won’t have to worry about checking baggage at the airport.” he said.
“Keep your valuables with you, such as jewelry and electronics, to prevent them from being lost.“
Baggage handler Swissport has apologized for baggage delays at airports, including Manchester, and said it has hired nearly 1,000 new staff to improve the situation.
“We know that airport security delays and strain on the airport’s shared baggage infrastructure lead to frustrating delays for passengers,” a spokesperson said.
“We recognize that the airport has taken some initial steps to address these issues and we will continue to work closely with them and other partners to implement contingency measures.
“Our team has been working hard to bring in additional resources to ensure passengers are running smoothly.”
Labor accused the government of failing to act on transport issues and said there were delays of up to six months in vetting airport workers at the Home Office.
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh MP has urged ministers to prioritize staff from Manchester and other major airports for Home Office security checks so they can start to work as soon as possible.
Ms Haigh said: ‘Britons are facing a week of travel disruption, and this Conservative government is failing to act.
“Tory ministers must step in and act to ease the disruption. The government needs to start clearing the huge backlogs at security checkpoints so airport staff can start working safely.
The EasyJet boss confirmed that delays in selecting new staff were preventing around 100 new staff from starting. The airline has canceled hundreds of flights in recent days, mostly on routes serving Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.
Chief executive Johan Lundgren Lundgren explained that this was mainly due to high levels of coronavirus-related staff absences, but also blamed the time it takes for the government to screen new recruits.
He said: ‘There is this delay in the DfT (Department for Transport) allowing people to get their IDs. There is a backlog there and we are currently waiting for around 100 cabin crew members to get their IDs.
“There is a three-week delay on this. It had an impact. If it had been on time, we would have seen fewer cancellations.”
This shows that the increase in coronavirus infections has “affected essentially the whole of the UK”, Lundgren said.
He continued: ‘I understand the DfT and ministers are doing all they can to speed up and speed this up, which we find very constructive, but it has certainly had an impact.’
Lundgren insisted that “we don’t have a crew shortage” and that it was “absolutely not” fair to accuse the airline of selling flights it couldn’t deliver.
“We’ve had up to 20% no-shows in some cases, and I wouldn’t expect any airline at any time to be able to cover that,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate for those who have been affected, but I want to reiterate that these cancellations were done preemptively.
“People got a tip about this early last week. Most of them were able to rebook on flights we have on the same day, unfortunate as that may be.
“We transport up to 260,000 customers a day, so I think it’s important to put that into context.”