Flight disruption in the UK was the worst in Europe in recent months, according to Tui, while Manchester was the most-affected airport, as the travel operator reported a €75m (£63m) hit from air traffic chaos.
“We had significant challenges and interruptions, especially on the UK side,” said Sebastian Ebel, Tui’s incoming chief executive, who will take over the top job at the start of October.
“We have never before invested so much into standby aircraft, into wet lease [short-term] capacity, into people to take the calls,” Ebel said.
He said the company had not anticipated such levels of disruption as consumer demand for foreign holidays bounced back in the spring after the lifting of coronavirus travel restrictions.
“There were airports which were by far worse than others, and it was more or less that the workforce was not available, mainly on security but also sometimes on baggage handling,” Ebel said.
In May, Tui announced the cancellation of 180 flights from Manchester airport until the end of June, representing six flights a day, as it battled to send customers to their destinations during school half-term holidays.
The German-headquartered firm said these cancellations represented 1% of its summer programme. It has previously insisted it has cancelled fewer flights than its rivals, including easyJet and British Airways, and promised its customers it had learned from flight delays and cancellations.
Passengers trying to get away on long-awaited holidays have faced weeks of lengthy queues and cancelled takeoffs.
Tui said disruption had mostly abated over the past fortnight, declaring it as “back to normal” despite the large numbers of customers jetting off on summer holidays.
It said it had brought 96% of its customers to their destination on time or with a delay of less than three hours in May and June.
Europe’s largest tour operator carried 5.1 million customers between April and June – an 84% increase in passenger numbers compared with 2019.
Tui said it would have made a profit during the quarter for the first time since the pandemic had it not been for the €75m hit from flight disruption.
As a result, it made a €27m underlying pre-tax loss in the three months to June, instead of a near €50m profit.
Declaring the “crisis” in tourism wreaked by the pandemic over, Ebel said the company remained optimistic about the future despite the squeeze on consumers’ incomes.
“We are cautious when it comes to capacity … but overall we see stable demand in a more challenging environment,” Ebel said.