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Industry had hoped for bumper Easter holiday after two years of misery
Thursday 07 Apr 2022 Author: Steven Frazer

The UK’s airline industry is facing another slap in the face with hundreds of flights cancelled because of widespread Covid staff sickness, hiking the risk that prolonged disruption could impact revenue and profit.

Budget flyer EasyJet (EZJ) axed 222 flights during the weekend of 2 and 3 April 2022, with another rough 60 flights to and from the UK grounded on 5 April following 62 cancellations the day before.

British Airways, owned by International Consolidated Airlines (IAG), also cancelled 62 flights on Monday (4 April) as travellers faced frustration on journeys ahead of Easter, the first holiday since the end of coronavirus travel restrictions.

‘As a result of the current high rates of Covid infections across Europe, like all businesses, EasyJet is experiencing higher than usual levels of employee sickness,’ said the airline. Staff absences were running at around double their normal levels.

‘We expect to make similar levels of pre-emptive cancellations over the coming days, due to the ongoing high level of sickness,’ said EasyJet.

Latest data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics showed that the percentage of people in England testing positive for Covid-19 continued to increase in the week to 26 March 2022. ‘We estimate that 4,122,700 people in England had Covid-19, equating to 7.6% of the population or around one in 13 people,’ the ONS said in its latest research note released on 1 April.

ONS figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were similar.

The removal of virtually all coronavirus restrictions has brought a surge in passengers wishing to travel but exacerbated staff shortages in the aviation industry through rising sickness. Airlines had been betting on a bumper Easter holiday to help boost their recovery after two years of pandemic misery.

Investors seemed to be taking a relaxed view for now, with share prices remaining stable, yet the concerns will grow if further cancellations in the run-up to Easter are perceived to put revenue and profit forecasts at risk.

The use of vouchers to compensate passengers affected by the disruption is also a big headache for a sector which is still working its way through similar vouchers issued during the pandemic.

And the rising cost of fuel and the significant debts carried by airlines are further pressures which could contribute to turbulence in share prices.

Yet both EasyJet and IAG were largely flat during trading on 4 and 5 April, at 550p and 142p respectively, while Wizz Air (WIZZ), another low-cost carrier, even gained more than 1% to £29.37 over the same period.

EasyJet is scheduled to update on first half trading on 12 April, while IAG posts its first quarter results on 6 May.

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