10 August 2002

Easyjet cancels flights as rota fails

By Becky Barrow

Easyjet passengers face further serious disruption after Europe's biggest budget airline yesterday admitted that a new rota system had failed and brought many of its pilots to the point of resignation.

The system, introduced two months ago, forced Easyjet to cancel 19 flights last Sunday.

The airline, which has just bought its arch-rival Go, is now planning to remove permanently several flights from its service.

A spokesman said: "We thought the new rostering system would be more efficient and better. It proved to be anything but that. Hands up, we got it wrong."

The system was "splitting up" crews, meaning that a re-fuelled plane and a pilot could be waiting at Luton airport but the cabin crew would be stuck in Barcelona. It plans to return to its old rostering system next month.

As the airline has rapidly expanded to 82 European routes, it has created a situation that is "soul destroying", according to a letter sent to its pilots from Easyjet's operations director, Vilhelm Hahn-Petersen.

The letter, dated Aug 5, reads: "The combination of volume and complexity in the summer schedule has stretched us to the limit. I recognise that we need to scale back slightly to recreate stability."

One pilot said: "They have pushed staff to the limits and now we are seeing the consequences. It would be terrible if it took a crash to force them to rein back on this breakneck expansion."

In July, 1.08 million people flew with Easyjet - a 62 per cent increase on July last year.

Since the Go acquisition, which was completed on Aug 1, there are about 750 pilots and 1,000 cabin crew working for the company.

The pilots' union, Balpa, yesterday demanded an urgent meeting with Easyjet's chief executive, Ray Webster, to discuss pay and the pressures on the airline's staff.