Home » Travel Chaos As Staff Shortages Ground Flights, 18,829 NHS Workers Sick A Day And Trains Suspended

Travel Chaos As Staff Shortages Ground Flights, 18,829 NHS Workers Sick A Day And Trains Suspended

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Staff shortages caused by workers having to self-isolate with coronavirus are wreaking havoc on travel and health services.

Flights have been grounded, trains trips have been slashed indefinitely and nearly 20,000 NHS employees were off sick.

Heathrow, Manchester and Gatwick airports were hit with cancelled and delayed planes over the weekend.

Rail lines including TransPennine Express, ScotRail, Avanti West Coast, Northern Rail, LNER and Greater Anglia all reported an impact on services.

And 18,829 NHS staff at acute trusts were absent due to coronavirus reasons on December 19, up from 12,240 a week earlier.

This equates to around 941 staff calling in sick or isolating per day – putting further strain on the already stretched NHS.

It comes amid fears the sectors will be further hit when people return from Christmas, having mixed with family and friends and spread the Omicron variant.

Airlines blamed staff shortages caused by coronavirus and isolation requirements for the mayhem on what is usually one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.

British Airways was yesterday forced to cancel 50 flights at Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport.

Travellers also complained of ‘utter carnage’ at Manchester Airport as they queued for hours to check in for the British flag carrier’s flights.

More than 7,000 flights were cancelled worldwide over the Christmas weekend, with US and Chinese airlines most severely affected.

China Eastern was yesterday forced to cancel more than 400 flights, while Air China cancelled 193 services. Across the world, more than 2,000 flights were cancelled yesterday on top of the 5,100 cancellations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Data recorded by the FlightAware aviation tracking website showed that 33 flights leaving Heathrow were cancelled yesterday, with 25 delayed.

More than 7,000 flights were cancelled worldwide over the Christmas weekend, with US and Chinese airlines most severely affected (file photo)

A further 29 flights due to arrive at the airport were also cancelled, with 28 incoming flights delayed.

Airlines had remained bullish in the run-up to Christmas, saying that they had yet to see a significant impact on services because of the Omicron variant sweeping the UK.

Despite the problems, the UK’s busiest airports have been operating fairly smoothly, with demand lower than usual for the festive period because of Covid restrictions. EasyJet cancelled flights to Munich, Berlin, Bordeaux, Paris and Nice after France and Germany introduced tougher entry requirements.

The airline said it had increased the numbers of standby crew and pilots on duty across the UK and Europe to ensure that its flights go ahead.

Gatwick, the UK’s second-busiest airport, said that it had only had three cancellations out of 215 flights yesterday. While coronavirus has been blamed for many of the worldwide cancellations, severe weather in the US has also contributed.

Passengers took to social media to blast their waiting times at airports due to a lack of staff.

Chaotic scenes at Heathrow over the weekend as Covid staff shortages started to hit

Jamie Gloyne said: ‘Hey @united what is going on at Heathrow? All these people will miss their flights unless you can check us in quicker.’

He added on Twitter: ‘Never seen such lack of organization. This is chaos.’

Amira Rasool said: ‘London’s airport is really trying to gain the title of top flight security of the world.

‘Like leave my travel size mascara and Korean skincare products alone, sis.

‘Never doing another transfer through London Heathrow again. How do you take people’s travel size items from their bag because it does not fit in the one small plastic bag that you allow and then make us pay to get it back or suggest we buy new ones at your airport?

‘I ask the manager why only one plastic bag instead of two and she said for security reasons. But they let us pick the items?

‘Girl, just say you know it’s about the airport wanting us to buy products from them or pay their company to have it shipped and stop with the BS.’

Robyn Hoffe posted: ‘We are still waiting for my moms bag to be delivered. She landed at heathrow from JNB 19/12.

‘We have followed all protocols, told it would arrive 21/12 then it was sent to Edinburgh.’

She added: ‘Then promised it would be here 23/12. Now we are told case closed?? Help please!’

A man called Maz put: ‘Are any of the Heathrow leadership team parents? Try going through Heathrow border control with your kids, the queues are always long esp for UK nationals, it sucks…

‘Oh and social distancing in non-existent at Heathrow. ‘Oh and social distancing in non-existent at Heathrow.’

After numerous flights were cancelled yesterday, domestic travel was also hit by illnesses among staff which hampered services.

Plans over the festive period are being badly affected by a triple threat of industrial action, planned closures and staff shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic.

West Midlands Railways announced this morning services between Leamington Spa, Nuneaton and Coventry had been suspended indefinitely.

A spokesman added: ‘The Coronavirus pandemic – and more recently the Omicron variant – has had a significant impact our workforce meaning more of our colleagues are having to self-isolate.

‘Whilst we make every effort to run the planned train service, we need to let you know that in December, we will be making changes to services between Leamington Spa – Nuneaton via Coventry. It will be served by rail replacement bus until further notice.’

TransPennine Express, ScotRail, Avanti West Coast, Northern Rail, LNER and Greater Anglia have all reported an impact on services caused by a lack of available staff.

Meanwhile, East Midlands Railway services continue to be affected by industrial action by the RMT union, with an amended service expected to run on January 2.

A number of routes are also being impacted by planned engineering works.

Southern’s Gatwick Airport trains are operating to and from London Bridge instead of London Victoria until January 3.

In the north, Leeds will have a reduced service between December 27 and January 3, including a ‘very limited’ service on January 2.

In the west, CrossCountry trains will not call at Bristol Parkway between December 27 and December 31. Some Great Western Railway services to and from Bristol Temple Meads will also be affected.

Despite the closures, National Rail said that 95% of Britain’s rail network will remain open during the festive period.

It added the 370 engineering projects it is carrying out over Christmas were planned ‘months, and in some cases years, in advance’.

Commuters and travellers to the capital can expect similar travel woes, with the Tube hit by planned closures.

The Piccadilly line has been closed between Heathrow Airport and Acton Town until December 30.

There is no service on the Jubilee line between Willesden Green and Wembley Park nor on the Metropolitan line between Wembley Park and Aldgate until December 28.

The Metropolitan and City line has been shut completely since December 23 and will not reopen until ‘early January’, according to TfL’s website.

The London Overground is shut between Gospel Oak and Stratford until December 29.

The NHS has also been struck by a number of staff absences from people off ill with Covid

Meanwhile in the stretched NHS, London was the worst hit, with Covid absence at St Barts Trust surging from 91 to 338 within seven days as doctors and nurses caught Covid or had to isolate.

Alistair Chesser, medical director of the St Barts NHS Trust said: ‘We have plans in place to redeploy staff in the coming weeks should we need to.’

Meanwhile London’s Imperial College Hospital has an absence rate of nearly 7 per cent and chief executive Professor Tim Orchard said: ‘We are having to ask some staff to move to support areas especially challenged.’

At Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, staff sickness increased from 421 to 699 over seven days. Bosses warned they lagged ‘about 10 days behind London’.

Responding to the latest figures Patricia Marquis, Royal College of Nursing Director for England, said: ‘Hospitals that were already short-staffed can ill-afford for soaring numbers to be away from work.

‘There is much more that hospital trusts and other employers can do to keep nursing and other staff protected from workplace infection, especially those caring for suspected or known patients with COVID-19.

‘Faced with growing staffing shortages and rising patient numbers in the coming days and weeks, difficult decisions will need to be made but we will not support any measures we consider to be detrimental to patient or professional safety.’