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P&O Ferries suspends ALL passenger services across Channel over Easter

The holiday plans of thousands of Britons have today been left in ruins after P&O Ferries suspended all of its passenger services across the Channel over Easter – one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.

In a move that will leave Britons scrambling to find a new route to the continent for their Easter getaway, the under-fire ferry firm last night revealed it would not run any passenger services between Dover and Calais this weekend.

The company, which suspended sailings afters its controversial decision to sack 800 of its crew without warning last month, had hoped to restart Channel crossings ahead of Good Friday.

But last night the ferry firm confirmed the suspension of its services would continue over the Easter weekend. 

It comes after two of the firm’s vessels were detained by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) over safety fears.

Yesterday the MCA detained The Spirit of Britain in the Port of Dover after finding ‘deficiencies’ during a safety inspection. The Pride of Kent was also detained earlier this month.

P&O Ferries had hoped The Pride of Kent would be released by the MCA following a fresh inspection yesterday.

Has your ferry been cancelled? Has this ruined your Easter getaway plans? 

Let me know how this has impacted your weekend: Contact: james.robinson@mailonline.co.uk 

But last night the MCA revealed it had found ‘additional deficiencies’ and said the vessel would remain detained.  

Announcing the cancelling of Dover-Calais services this weekend, a spokesperson for P&O Ferries said: ‘We apologise unreservedly to all customers whose scheduled journeys with us between Dover and Calais have been cancelled whilst we are unable to sail. 

‘It is only fair and right that we make alternative arrangements for those customers, which include transferring them onto our Hull-Europoort service to Rotterdam, or booking them onto services with Brittany Ferries between Portsmouth and Caen.

‘Both of these options are at no extra cost to customers – if anyone chooses either of these alternatives we will reimburse them for any additional mileage expenses incurred and as well as all meals onboard our overnight crossing. Customers will also receive a 25 per cent discount on their original fare.

‘We also recognise that these options will not be suitable for everyone, therefore any customer who booked directly with P&O Ferries will be able to claim a full refund and a free trip for future travel.’

Rival ferry firm DFDS, which plans to run more than 100 sailings each way per day between its two routes of Dover and Calais and Dover and Dunkirk, said it hoped to run five extra crossings this weekend.

But the company urged passengers not to arrive at the Port of Dover without a booking, saying it already had high demand. 

The firm said: ‘Please do not proceed to port without a confirmed reservation, contact P&O Ferries for alternative travel arrangements.’ 

Industry insiders meanwhile say the Easter weekend is the most intense for passenger Channel crossings, because traffic is concentrated over a four day period compared to summer, which they say is usually ‘spread out’.

However they say freight traffic, which has been building up on the M20 in Kent as part of the emergency Operation Brock Zero plan, is usually less busy over Easter.  

Experts have warned there could be a build-up of freight traffic again today as lorry drivers attempt to get across the Channel before the start of the Easter weekend. 

The firm last night it would not run any passenger services between Dover and Calais this weekend, dashing the four-day weekend getaway hopes of thousands. Yesterday the MCA detained The Spirit of Britain in the Port of Dover after finding ‘deficiencies’ during a safety inspection. The Pride of Kent was also detained earlier this month.

In a move that will dash the four-day weekend getaway hopes of thousands, P&O Ferries last night confirmed the suspension of its services would continue over Easter. Pictured: Queues on the entrance to the Ports of Dover on April 9

In a move that will dash the four-day weekend getaway hopes of thousands, P&O Ferries last night confirmed the suspension of its services would continue over Easter. Pictured: Queues on the entrance to the Ports of Dover on April 9

Industry insiders say the Easter weekend is the most intense for passenger Channel crossings, because traffic is concentrated over a four day period compared to summer, which they say is usually 'spread out'. However they say freight traffic, which has been building up on the M20 in Kent as part of the emergency Operation Brock Zero plan, is usually less busy over Easter

Industry insiders say the Easter weekend is the most intense for passenger Channel crossings, because traffic is concentrated over a four day period compared to summer, which they say is usually ‘spread out’. However they say freight traffic, which has been building up on the M20 in Kent as part of the emergency Operation Brock Zero plan, is usually less busy over Easter

What are the travel pinch points Britons face this weekend?

Roads

As many as 21.5million leisure trips are expected to be made by car between Good Friday and Easter Monday. Usual pinch points, including A303 Stonehenge, the M6 north between Liverpool and The Lake District, and the M25 clockwise around Heathrow Airport.

Trains

Rail passengers are also being warned of Easter delays as Network Rail carries out 530 engineering projects costing a total of £83million. There will also be major disruption on Transpennine services due to industrial action, while London’s Piccadilly Line and Gatwick Express will disrupt travel to and from both Heathrow and Gatwick.

Airports

Industry chiefs are warning of more queues and delays at UK airports this week due to ongoing staffing issues. The union representing Border Force officials, the Immigration Services Union (ISU), is also warning that ‘catastrophic understaffing’ and an influx of passengers returning to the UK after the Easter school holidays could lead to long queues at Border Control. 

The Port of Dover  

Channel crossings have been delayed in recent weeks since P&O Ferries stopped its movements from Dover to Calais in the aftermath of its decision to sack 800 of its crew without notice. And now the firm has confirmed it will not undertake passenger sailings between Dover and Calais this Easter weekend- regarded by industry experts as the most intense for Channel crossings. The emergency Operation Brock Zero, which closes off traffic to non-freight vehicles on the M20 in order to stack lorries wanting to cross the Channel, has been activated and remains in place. P&O had planned to restart its crossings in time for Good Friday. But the firm suffered a setback yesterday when it was announced the Maritime and Coastguard Agency had detained a second vessel over safety fears. 

 

It comes as Grant Shapps yesterday warned Britons to brace for an Easter weekend travel nightmare, with the potential of clogged roads, airport understaffing and huge disruption at the Port of Dover.

The Transport Secretary warned the country’s travel network is likely to be ‘extremely busy’ this weekend – the first double bank holiday since the ending of England’s Covid measures.

As many as 21.5 million leisure trips are expected to be made by car between Good Friday and Easter Monday, according to the RAC. 

Meanwhile airports, which have already faced weeks of disruption due to staffing issues, could also be hit once more.

Millions of Britons are set to jet-off or arrive back in the UK across the four-day weekend – the first major holiday since the Government lifted all international travel restrictions.

Border Force union chiefs have already sounded the alarm, warning passengers they face long queues at Passport Control due to ‘catastrophic understaffing’. 

Rail passengers are also being warned of Easter delays as Network Rail carries out 530 engineering projects costing a total of £83million. 

Yesterday, in a round of morning interviews, Mr Shapps warned Britons that roads, ports and airports were likely to be ‘extremely busy this weekend’.

He also took aim at transport chiefs, saying he was ‘concerned’ that ports and airports had not managed to get ‘up to strength’ since the lifting of Covid measures. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘I think certainly this weekend will be extremely busy on our roads, potentially at our ports, and of course, particularly at Dover, where P&O disgracefully sacked all of their staff and then attempted to run ships that wouldn’t have been safe with replacements below minimum wage.

‘We know none of their ships are running at the moment. So I do expect there to be disruption, with no thanks to P&O there.

‘It is also the case for the very first time that Brits are able to travel much more freely that other nations because we don’t have Covid restrictions now that other places have to travel.

‘People want to travel. I’m very concerned the operators, the airlines, the airports, the ports, do ensure that they get back to strength and quickly. 

‘They have lost a lot of people during the pandemic, we have been warning them for a long time that they would need to gear up again.

‘I’m very keen to ensure that they manage, what always is at Easter weekend, a very busy weekend on our transport network.’

Grant Shapps (pictured) yesterday warned Britons to brace for an Easter weekend travel nightmare, with clogged roads, airport understaffing and huge disruption at the Port of Dover

Grant Shapps (pictured) yesterday warned Britons to brace for an Easter weekend travel nightmare, with clogged roads, airport understaffing and huge disruption at the Port of Dover

Pictured: Travel information for this year's Easter weekend

Pictured: Travel information for this year’s Easter weekend 

It comes after a second P&O Ferries vessel was detained in Kent yesterday over safety fears.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) says detained The Spirit of Britain in the Port of Dover after finding ‘deficiencies’ during a safety inspection.

It was the second of the firm’s ferries to fail a safety test by the MCA, following its decision to detain The Pride of Kent.

Q&A: What is the reason for the airport chaos – and what should passengers be doing about it? 

What is the reason for the airport chaos?

Aviation chiefs have blamed a perfect storm of problems on the recent airport disruption. Passenger numbers plunged during the height of the Covid pandemic, and airport and airline operations were downsized as a result. And some firms say they have struggled to ramp up their operations quickly enough to meet demand – which has surged again over the Easter school holidays. With all UK Covid travel restrictions now lifted, airports have reported passenger numbers have risen up to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. And they are expected to continue rising this summer – which is the busiest time of year for the aviation sector. On top of longer-term staff shortages and an increase in passenger numbers, airports and aviation firms say they are currently facing a wave of Covid absences which has exacerbated the existing problems.

But surely companies were aware this rush was coming – why haven’t they just restaffed?

Airline and airport staff, like any job, require training. But unlike many professions, there are extra steps, including obtaining security clearances and background checks. This whole process can take up to six months in the most sensitive of roles – such as immigration officers with Border Force – and the Government, firms and unions say they have no intention of cutting corners on security. Some industry bosses have also suggested Brexit has played a role, because airlines no longer have access to a pool of EU workers to fill the gaps.

So when will it be fixed?

Unfortunately, some travel experts have warned the delays could last up to six months in some areas of the airports where staff require more extensive training and security and background checks. The issue has, for now, mainly been with outbound passengers queuing at check-in and airport security. But the Immigration Services Union – which represents Border Force officials – warns that there could be long delays at passport control areas from Bank Holiday Monday when many UK holidaymakers return. Speaking about the airport crisis Ms Moreton told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘Border Force isn’t immune to this. There have been staffing problems within Border Force for some time. Border Force is no longer attracting enough candidates to fill the vacancies that they’ve got. Combined with the fact it takes nearly a year to fully train a Border Force officer, going into not just this summer, this weekend, catastrophically understaffed, with people beginning to travel again… we do anticipate that the queues will move from security based queues going outward to Border Force queues coming back in.’

So what should passengers do?

Many airports, including Manchester, which has been one of the worst hit transport hubs, and Stansted, have urged passengers to arrive early to mitigate for longer queues and to avoid potentially missing their flights. Usually passengers are advised to arrive at least two-hours early for their flights, but many airports are urging arrivals to turn up three-hours in advance. Unfortunately, there is no set in stone policy for compensation or refunds on flights missed due to airport delays – unlike if a flight is cancelled or delayed – so passengers should arrive early to avoid any problems. If boarding is approaching and customers are stuck in a queue, it is advised to let a member of airport staff know and they may be able to fast-track you.

What if my flight is delayed or cancelled?

Along with longer queues, passengers have also been hit with a wave of flight cancellations and delays. Yesterday, easyJet axed 32 flights. However it said all the flights were cancelled in advance and passengers had been given prior warning.  Meanwhile, BA has reduced its schedule by 50 flights due to staff shortages. Under current rules, passengers delayed by more than three hours, or those whose flights are cancelled at short notice, are entitled to at least £220 in compensation. They also have the right to be re-routed or refunded, except in ‘extraordinary circumstances’.  

The decision comes after P&O controversially sacked 800 seafarers without notice last month.

The company had planned for the Spirit of Britain to restart crossings again on Thursday, ahead of what is expected to be a busy weekend for Channel crossings.

However, after a two-day reinspection of the Spirit of Britain by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, it was yesterday confirmed that the vessel had failed a number of key safety tests.

A spokesperson for the MCA said: ‘The Spirit of Britain has been detained due to surveyors identifying a number of deficiencies which were grounds for detention.

‘We have advised P&O to invite us back once they have addressed the issues. We do not know yet when this will be.’ 

Then, in a further blow, the MCA last night confirmed the Pride of Kent would remain detained in Dover after a reinspection found ‘additional deficiencies’.

A spokesperson said: ‘The Pride of Kent will remain detained following the reinspection of the ferry today which found a number of additional deficiencies including in safety systems and crew documentation.

‘We have advised P&O to invite us back once they have addressed the issues. We do not know yet when this will be.’   

The MCA has been making its way through inspections of eight P&O Ferries to ensure they are fit to sail.

The Pride of Hull and European Causeway have been inspected and cleared to sail.

A P&O Ferries spokesperson said: ‘The Spirit of Britain will remain berthed in its current port, following inspections by the Maritime & Coastguard Authority (MCA).

‘In the past few days, both the European Causeway and the Pride of Hull have been deemed safe to sail by the MCA, and we continue to work with all relevant authorities to return all our ships to service.

‘We take the safety of our passengers and crew very seriously and look forward to all of our ships welcoming tourist passengers and freight customers again as soon as all mandatory safety tests have been passed.’

A DfT spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘P&O’s unacceptable actions have resulted in its vessels being detained, causing backlogs and traffic jams which would be substantially alleviated if its fleet was operating normally.

‘We continue to work around-the-clock with the Kent Resilience Forum, police and regional leaders work to ease disruption and support those affected at Dover.’

It comes as airline passengers also face potential disruption to their getaways this weekend.

Consumer groups are calling on the Government to get tough on the aviation industry – including giving authorities the power to fine airlines – as the recent airport ‘shambles’ continued yesterday.

Holidaymakers said they faced ‘carnage’ at Manchester Airport yesterday morning, with long check-in queues and delays at the security – while arrivals at Stansted said they were waiting in ‘snail’s pace’ queues at passport control.  

Consumer chiefs are urging the Government to get tough on the airline industry, who they say must quickly fix the ‘shambles’ – which has been blamed on staff shortages and a sudden surge in demand in air travel.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said airlines, airports and the Government must make it a priority to learn from the disarray seen in recent days – ahead of the summer holiday rush later this year.

Mr Boland said: ‘Lessons should be learnt from the travel shambles this Easter. With many in the industry predicting a busy summer, the Government must work with airlines and airports to ensure they have the resources and capacity to handle increased passenger numbers, as there can be no excuse for a repeat of these failings.’

Mr Boland also criticised the Civil Aviation Authority and the Department for Transport, arguing the Government should have handed the aviation regulator fining powers to punish airlines who fail to give compensation to delayed customers.

He said: ‘Airlines wouldn’t be ignoring the law and their passengers’ rights if the aviation regulator had some teeth,’ he said. 

‘The Department for Transport can support consumers by equipping the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) with direct fining powers. 

‘It should also drop its plans to change compensation rules for UK flights which are an important deterrent against passengers being treated unfairly.’ 

Under current rules, passengers delayed by more than three hours, or those whose flights are cancelled at short notice, are entitled to at least £220 in compensation.

They also have the right to be re-routed or refunded, except in ‘extraordinary circumstances’. However consumer groups have claimed that passengers are not always being offered or given what they are entitled to.

Meanwhile, the Department for Transport is also proposing changes to the legislation, which would see compensation capped at the ticket price on domestic routes. 

Holidaymakers are expected to return in their hundreds of thousands on Monday, following a four-day weekend and the end of the Easter school holidays.

Astonishing pictures show airline passengers queueing in the underfloor car park of the airport outside Terminal 1 on Tuesday morning

Astonishing pictures show airline passengers queueing in the underfloor car park of the airport outside Terminal 1 on Tuesday morning

Inside the terminal on Tuesday, pictures showed huge queues at check-in and at baggage enquiries - where passengers usually go to report damaged or missing luggage

Inside the terminal on Tuesday, pictures showed huge queues at check-in and at baggage enquiries – where passengers usually go to report damaged or missing luggage

'Shambolic' disruption is also said to have continued at Birmingham Airport yesterday. Passengers reported 90 minute queues for security on Tuesday

‘Shambolic’ disruption is also said to have continued at Birmingham Airport yesterday. Passengers reported 90 minute queues for security on Tuesday

Traffic moving freely through Dover today – despite warnings of congestion 

Traffic was moving freely through the Channel port town of Dover today, despite warnings of congestion after P&O Ferries announced they would not be operating over the Easter weekend.

Two P&O Ferries vessels – the Pride of Kent and Spirit of Britain, which usually serve the Dover to Calais routes – have been detained after Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) inspectors found safety and crew documentation ‘deficiencies’.

it comes after the firm sacked 800 of its seafaring staff and replaced them with agency staff last month.

At the start of the month, the Channel port town was left gridlocked by queues of lorries all trying to reach the port caused by a ‘perfect storm’ of the reduced number of ferries, strong winds at sea and increased demand due to the Easter getaway.

But trucks and traffic were moving freely today into the port as they were filtered through from the holding area on the M20 called Operation Brock – where 20 miles of motorway have been turned into a huge lorry park.

DFDS ferries were running to schedule but are no longer accepting P&O Ferries passengers due to high demand.

The two P&O ferries remain detained after Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) inspectors found safety and crew documentation ‘deficiencies’.

The Pride of Kent, which failed the check again on Wednesday, remains docked with the Spirit of Britain at the port.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke said: ‘With another fery impounded for safety reasons, and three weeks gone without being back on the English Channel, it’s clear P&O Ferries is in chaos and the bosses aren’t up to the job. 

‘DP World and P&O Ferries must take responsibility for this shambles, as well as the unnecessary traffic chaos they have caused to residents of Dover, countless travellers and lorry drivers – not to mention the damage to our wider national economy. They should be held accountable for the misery and damage they have caused.’

Ian Uttley, director of the haulage company Stagefreight, told the BBC drivers stuck in Operation Brock were being treated ‘inhumanely’.

He said: ‘We cannot sit drivers on the side of the motorway for 20-plus hours, trying to get out of the country to just do their jobs, with no facilities whatsoever.

‘They’re sat there and when they ask where the toilet is they’re told it’s the embankment.’

The Kent Resilience Forum, which manages emergency planning for the county, said it was not possible to provide toilet facilities.

A spokesman said it was due to safety reasons, but said when queues were at a standstill previously, food and water had been provided to drivers.

 

Passenger numbers could hit as high as 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels over the weekend, experts predict, at a time when airports are still struggling to re-staff after downsizing their operations during the Covid pandemic.

Figures dropped by as much as 75 per cent between 2019 and 2020, from 297million to just 74million in 2020. However airports have struggled to recruit, train and obtain security clearance for staff in time for the Easter school holidays.

This, along with Covid absences, has been behind long queues at check-in and security at airports such as Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester since Friday.

And today Grant Shapps warned Britons face a four-day weekend of travel disruption from Friday.

The Transport Secretary has sounded the alarm for the upcoming Easter weekend, warning that roads, ports and airports were likely to be ‘extremely busy’.

He also raised ‘concern’ that transport hubs were not yet ‘up to strength’ despite all of the UK’s Covid travel restrictions being lifted.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘I think certainly this weekend will be extremely busy on our roads, potentially at our ports, and of course, particularly at Dover, where P&O disgracefully sacked all of their staff and then attempted to run ships that wouldn’t have been safe with replacements below minimum wage.

‘We know none of their ships are running at the moment. So I do expect there to be disruption, with no thanks to P&O there.

‘It is also the case for the very first time that Brits are able to travel much more freely that other nations because we don’t have Covid restrictions now that other places have to travel.

‘People want to travel. I’m very concerned the operators, the airlines, the airports, the ports, do ensure that they get back to strength and quickly.

‘They have lost a lot of people during the pandemic, we have been warning them for a long time that they would need to gear up again.

‘I’m very keen to ensure that they manage, what always is at Easter weekend, a very busy weekend on our transport network.’

Meanwhile, officials now have warned that an influx of passengers arriving back in the UK, combined with staffing issues within Border Force, could result in huge queues and long waits at airport immigration halls. 

Lucy Moreton, General Secretary of the Immigration Services Union (ISU), also said  Border Force employees were being moved from transport hub in the south to Dover to help process migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. 

Those staff, she said, are in turn being replaced by immigration officials from airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However she warned this was leading to spiralling costs for the taxpayer.

Speaking about the airport crisis Ms Moreton told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme yesterday: ‘Border Force isn’t immune to this. There have been staffing problems within Border Force for some time. 

‘And for the first time in living memory, Border Force is no longer attracting enough candidates to fill the vacancies that they’ve got.

‘Combined with the fact it takes nearly a year to fully train a Border Force officer, going into not just this summer, this weekend, catastrophically understaffed, with people beginning to travel again, and of course those that went out earlier this week will be coming back by the middle of next week, the school holidays having finished.

‘We do anticipate that the queues will move from security based queues going outward to Border Force queues coming back in.’

Grant Shapps warns of weekend of travel disruption 

Grant Shapps says Britons face a weekend of travel disruption, warning that roads, ports and airports are likely to be ‘extremely busy’.

He also raised ‘concern’ that transport hubs were not yet ‘up to strength’ despite all of the UK’s Covid travel restrictions being lifted.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: ‘I think certainly this weekend will be extremely busy on our roads, potentially at our ports, and of course, particularly at Dover, where P&O disgracefully sacked all of their staff and then attempted to run ships that wouldn’t have been safe with replacements below minimum wage.

‘We know none of their ships are running at the moment. So I do expect there to be disruption, with no thanks to P&O there.

‘It is also the case for the very first time that Brits are able to travel much more freely that other nations because we don’t have Covid restrictions now that other places have to travel.

‘People want to travel. I’m very concerned the operators, the airlines, the airports, the ports, do ensure that they get back to strength and quickly.

‘They have lost a lot of people during the pandemic, we have been warning them for a long time that they would need to gear up again.

‘I’m very keen to ensure that they manage, what always is at Easter weekend, a very busy weekend on our transport network.’

***
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