BACK to the drawing board go ScotRail and Aslef, after another week of misery for Scotland’s rail travellers. Here’s hoping a deal can finally be reached this week – one that won’t burst the Scottish Government’s budget as demands from council workers, nurses and police officers loom on the horizon.

Getting rail services back on track will bring huge relief to those who are being worst hit – from commuters and their employers to all of the business owners who depend on customers being able travel home safely after an evening meal, drink or concert – and also those planning summer getaways by train. However, for those looking to travel by air in the months to come, the picture is even less certain.

Sympathy is probably in shorter supply for air travellers than for rail passengers, who are much more likely to be travelling to work than trying to enjoy a holiday. Millions of people in the UK can only dream of foreign trips at this time of spiralling food costs and huge anxiety about winter fuel bills. But on hearing some of those who phoned into Radio 2 last week to tell Jeremy Vine about their experiences during the English half-term break, only the most heard-hearted would dismiss these as “first-world problems”.

These weren’t just tales of woe and disappointment at a trip away being cancelled, or people complaining about a bit of inconvenience at the airport. Callers described queuing for hours and hours with young children in tow, finding themselves trapped on stationary planes with no food and barely any water, then effectively imprisoned within airports after their flights were eventually cancelled but they were not permitted to leave until all of the right boxes had been ticked.

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In some cases the flights were cancelled altogether due to staff shortages, in others individuals were told they’d drawn the short straw due to overbooking and wouldn’t be allowed to get on board. To add insult to injury, one woman who experienced this was later informed by another passenger that there had been dozens of empty seats on the plane in question.

One family of five spent nearly 48 hours in an airport, a hotel, then back at the airport before being sent right back where they started with three very exhausted and upset children. When the woman mentioned that they’d been given half a glass of water each despite her son having only one kidney, I started to wonder if the Red Cross should have been drafted in. There were extraordinary scenes in Manchester when police officers were assigned the task of breaking the news to one group of passengers that their flight to Greece was cancelled, and elsewhere powerless members of airline staff were required to simply read aloud emails announcing the cancellation of holidays.

So who is to blame for this awful state of affairs? Naturally, that depends on who you ask.

The airline industry is blaming the UK Government for providing it with insufficient support during the pandemic, the government is blaming the airline industry for failing to prepare for a huge surge in passengers this summer, and The Telegraph has the audacity to apportion some blame to passengers for being “distinctly rusty when it comes to the basics of travel” and, among other things, not having their boarding cards ready.

While I suppose it’s possible some people have been queuing for four hours or more to get to the check-in desk only to find they don’t have their boarding passes ready, I think it’s more likely said passes have disintegrated due to being held in increasingly sweaty palms for most of that time, or their mobile phones have eventually run out of battery.

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Scenes of people queuing outside through the night, packed like sardines into departure halls and sleeping on luggage carousels would be shocking at the best of times, but if you’d shown them to the average British person two years ago they might think the UK had now gone completely mad. Either that or they would celebrate the fact that Covid-19 has been totally eliminated – which, of course, it has not. If airlines overbooked their flights in the expectation that there would be cancellations due to Covid-19 infections, then they appear to have seriously overestimated either the current prevalence of the virus, or people’s willingness to voluntarily test before travel.

English Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been meeting with representatives of airports, airlines and ground handling firms and demanding reassurances on their plans for the summer holidays, but he can demand all he likes – that won’t magic up the necessary trained staff. The global airline industry made more than four million workers redundant during the pandemic, and they haven’t all been waiting patiently to be invited back, especially not those who were on poor pay and conditions.

Only time will tell if the chaos carries on into July and starts to disrupt the Scottish school holidays, but one factor is within the travel firms’ control. The overbooking has to stop, along with treating passengers – and the skeleton staff who remain, and are run off their feet – with total contempt.