As the Omicron variant sweeps through England, causing a surge of COVID-19 infections, British Airways was forced to cancel scores of flights on Sunday evening, with insiders claiming the carrier was ‘desperately short’ of employees.
The problems began early Sunday morning, according to one source, when at least eight planes were delayed due to a lack of senior cabin staff personnel.
Other planes took off with fewer crew members than usual, but in compliance with legal standards.
Due to ‘under wing’ staff shortages, including baggage handlers and other specialty tasks, problems quickly increased throughout the day.
Customers at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 complained of ‘chaos’ in the baggage reclaim corridor, with some waiting hours for their luggage to arrive.
Some flights were canceled due to a shortage of baggage handlers who could retrieve bags from freshly landed planes.
At least 1,000 suitcases were abandoned in a holding area at Heathrow Airport without being returned to their owners or transported to a connecting flight, according to estimates.
After numerous travel restrictions were lifted and demand restored far faster than managers had anticipated, British Airways was said to be short-staffed for several months.
Despite the airline’s efforts to attract new cabin crew and ground staff, the airline’s workforce remains well below pre-pandemic levels.
COVID-19 instances have recently risen sharply across the UK and most of Europe, causing widespread illness.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, warned government officials last week that the dramatic surge in infections will result in mass staff shortages.
Previous COVID-19 versions are thought to be significantly less transmissible than the Omicron type. Infection rates in the UK have remained high since the summer, but the number of daily cases has just nearly surpassed 100,000.
The spike of Omicron cases and the pressure it was placing on the health service prompted London Mayor Sadiq Khan to declare a major incident on Saturday.
British Airways advised passengers to depart Heathrow without their luggage last night, and offered to courier bags to their homes at a later date.