EasyJet has been told to start "playing by the rules" after it announced it was cancelling thousands of flights just weeks before the summer holidays.
The budget airline said it would be scrapping flights in a bid to avoid last-minute cancellations and in response to caps introduced by Gatwick and Amsterdam Schiphol airports.
A statement blamed the situation on the aviation sector across Europe, saying it is experiencing “operational issues” including air traffic control delays, staff shortages in ground handling and at airports, and increased times for identity checks of new recruits.
Announcing the measure on Monday, CEO Johan Lundgren said: “I can’t tell you how many flights will be impacted” as “we need to work this through”.
He added: “It would be misleading for me to give any numbers today because we simply don’t know.”
The airline has so far been unable to provide details on which flights will be cancelled, but said it intends to run about 90% of the 160,000 it offered in summer 2019.
It means around 11,000 flights could be cancelled in the coming months.
The decision has sparked condemnation in some quarters.
Rory Boland, editor of consumer magazine Which? Travel, said the airline has caused "chaos and distress" for passengers with last-minute cancellations.
“While reducing the number of flights it operates may be the most sensible option in delivering a more reliable service over the summer, it yet again leaves passengers panicking about whether their flight or holiday will be cancelled or delayed," he said.
“The summer holidays are just around the corner, so easyJet must immediately provide clarity on which flights are being cut.
“Crucially, it needs to start playing by the rules and rerouting its customers, including on flights with other carriers.
“That’s the legal requirement and the very least the airline can do for customers it has left in a mess.”
In recent months, easyJet has cancelled thousands of flights across the school holidays and the Jubilee bank holiday weekend.
At the beginning of April, more than 20 flights were cancelled on short notice, with some passengers being left stranded abroad.
The airline blamed the problems at the time on high levels of sickness among employees caused by COVID.
The government has denied that post-Brexit immigration policy is to blame for the chaos.
Chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke told Sky News: “I do not accept that this is simply a direct effect from Brexit.”
He pointed to an “industry which massively slimmed down” during the pandemic and now is not “resourced and manned” to meet the pent-up demand.
He added: “It’s now massively expanded its operations and the pressure is enormous, and it hasn’t managed to align the two.
“We will do our part as a Government to make sure our side of things is right, from issues like passports to border control.
“The airlines need to do their part of things”.