DELAYS in processing security checks for new airline crew is adding to flight cancellations, according to an airline boss.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said the airline is waiting for the Department for Transport (DfT) to give permission for around 100 new members of staff to start work.

The airline has cancelled hundreds of flights in recent days, mainly on routes serving Gatwick Airport.

Mr Lundgren said this is primarily due to high levels of Covid-related staff absences, but also blamed the time it is taking for the government to vet new recruits.

“There’s this delay of the clearance from the DfT for people to get their IDs,” he said. “There’s a backlog there and we’re waiting currently for about 100 cabin crew to get their IDs.

“There’s a three-week delay on that. That has had an impact. If that would have been on time, we would have seen less cancellations.”

This demonstrates that the rise in Covid infections has “impacted basically the whole of the UK”, Mr Lundgren explained.

“I understand the DfT and the ministers are doing what they can to accelerate and speed this up – which we find very constructive – but it definitely has had an impact.”

An EasyJet spokesman said the flight cancellations were “as a result of the unusually high level of Covid sickness amongst our crew and that DfT vetting was not responsible for any cancellations”.

“We do not blame the government, on the contrary we, alongside our partners including DfT, have all been doing what we can to expedite the process so that we can get more crew onboard in the short term,” the spokesman said.

Mr Lundgren insisted “we don’t have a shortage of crew” and it was “absolutely not” fair to accuse the airline of selling flights it could not fulfil.

“We were having in some cases up to 20 per cent of absence, and you wouldn’t expect any airline at any point in time to be able to cover that,” he said.

“That is unfortunate for people who have been affected but I would like to reiterate that those cancellations were made pre-emptively.

“People got notice on that in the beginning of last week. The majority of them had the opportunity to rebook to flights that we have on the same day, however unfortunate that is.

“We’re carrying up to 260,000 customers per day, so I think it’s important to put that into context.”

EasyJet cancelled at least 23 flights to or from Gatwick on Tuesday, affecting routes between the airport and Berlin, Milan, Valencia and Venice.

The airline said cancellations are being made “in advance to give customers the ability to rebook on to alternative flights”.

Mr Lundgren said it is “too early to tell” how long the flight disruption will continue.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “There are absolutely no delays to security vetting of applicants. It is wrong to suggest otherwise, and we are prioritising vetting applications from the aviation industry.

“It is for the aviation industry to manage resourcing at airports and staff absences, especially at busy times of the year.”