It has become a cliché for mainstream and social media to link “air travel in Europe” with “chaos”. Nevertheless, staff shortages and successive strikes at many major airports and major airlines have made flying extremely chaotic with record numbers of cancellations and delays.
The flurry of passenger complaints about ruined vacations, five- and six-hour queues and lost luggage has set new records as airports and airlines struggle to cope with disruption crippling the industry aeronautics this year.
Thousands of passengers across the continent have had their flights canceled in recent months or missed them while waiting in nightmarish queues. Even so, the demand for travel to Europe is very high for the fall.
Staffing shortages have been the source of the problems, as clearances for new workers take months to process. But in recent weeks the situation has been made worse by numerous strikes at airports and airlines – and by overworked and disgruntled employees who have simply quit.
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and European Travel Commission (ETC) outlook warned in July that “the recovery of the travel and tourism sector could be seriously threatened as nearly 1.2 million ‘jobs remain vacant in the EU’. expected, even today “there remains a significant number of vacancies”.
Schiphol in Amsterdam: from chaos to traffic jams
Just days ago, Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, one of Europe’s largest and busiest aviation hubs, announced the resignation of its CEO, Dick Benschop, after a summer turbulence with epic delays and hundreds of canceled flights.
Since then, the airport has imposed restrictions on the number of passengers it can handle during the fall and winter seasons.
The decision, according to the airport, was necessary to deal with a severe shortage of security guards. This means that airlines are forced to make more cancellations and reroutings for the coming months, not only at Schiphol, but also at most international airports in Europe due to the number of daily flight connections.
The new limits on the number of flights and passengers at Schiphol are also the consequence of a new exodus of workers which has exacerbated existing staffing problems due to airline and airport job cuts during the Covid-19 pandemic. 19.
In an effort to ramp up quickly to serve the new wave of post-pandemic summer travellers, employees received an additional allowance of €5.25 per hour in July and August. But the bonus is over and many say they’ve had enough – or not enough without the extra pay.
“Schiphol will reduce the maximum number of departing passengers by around 9,250, or 18% per day,” reports Euronews.
“This decision is first and foremost bad news for passengers and for airlines,” Hanne Buis, COO of Royal Schiphol Group, told the publication.
“Nevertheless, the decision taken is necessary taking into account the safety of passengers and employees.”
The situation had not improved last week when more than 80 flights were canceled and queues lasted for hours outside the terminal gates as the beleaguered airport kept asking airlines to cancel more of flights. About 650 flights were delayed.
The unusual cap applied not only by Schiphol, but also by other major airports, including London Heathrow, has come under heavy criticism from airlines, with many switching flights to other airports.
The airport apologized for the “disappointment” it caused. “A bit of comfort for thousands of frustrated travellers, many of whom have taken to social media to express their anger over the long delays,” adds Euronews.
Schiphol said the impact of the cap will be clear within two weeks, but some media reports it will remain in place until November.
Add strikes to chaos
More than a week ago, industrial action over the wages and working conditions of air traffic controllers in France blocked more than 1,000 flights. They must start the strike again on September 28, 29 and 30 unless an agreement is reached.
The air traffic controllers’ strike leads the authorities to ask airlines to reduce their schedules at all airports in the country by 50%. Air France said in a statement that even flights which were to fly more France was also cancelled.
Airlines and other airports across the continent and overseas have inevitably been affected as well.
Budget airline Ryanair said it was forced to cancel 420 flights which mainly flew over France, impacting 80,000 passengers. The airline said the strikes “only disrupt the weekend travel plans of thousands of European citizens/visitors”.
The airline faces its own labor problems as its cabin crew (pilots and flight attendants) and those of Vueling, another budget competitor, demand higher wages and better working conditions. work, announcing strikes throughout Italy for the beginning of October.
This action follows similar walkouts in June and July.
Ryanair called the unions “irrelevant” and assured customers there would be no impact on flights.
Despite the difficulties, Ryanair managed to maintain one of the best compliance records “with the fewest cancellations among the main carriers this summer, just 3%, (and) was rewarded with record growth in passenger numbers “. The Guardian reports. Ryanair is, according to its CEO Michael O’Leary, “one of the very few airlines in Europe to negotiate with airports” to add capacity.
Ryanair operated more than 92,800 flights last month, carrying a record 16.9 million passengers.
Capitalizing on widespread cancellations, the company has announced the addition of more than a million seats to its winter schedules, as it also warns that fares will continue to rise by 3% to 5% in the years to come. and that very low fares might be one thing. of the past, at least for now.
And the rest of Europe?
In Germany, a pilots’ strike at Lufthansa earlier this month forced the cancellation of more than 800 flights affecting more than 130,000 passengers. A second strike announced for this week was averted as the pilots and the airline reached an agreement.
Still, the airline has confirmed it will cut flights from its winter schedule and not reinstall them until March next year due to a lack of staff, particularly at Frankfurt airport, a another of the busiest European hubs.
The airline is also planning to change flight schedules and destinations from October.
Scandinavian Airline SAS has canceled 1,700 flights over the next two months as it struggles to recover from the double whammy of a pilots’ strike in July and severe financial difficulties.
“The massive cancellation follows a harrowing few months for the airline of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, which grounded 3,700 flights in July and filed for bankruptcy in the US,” writes Euronews.
A strike by nearly 1,000 SAS pilots to protest pay cuts proposed by management as part of a restructuring plan to ensure the company’s survival, cost the struggling company between 9 and 12 million euros per day.
The company has reached a settlement with labor unions after securing bridge financing during the U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection proceedings, through a deal with private equity firm Apollo Global Management, reports Reuters.
The Swedish government rejected the request for more cash, while Denmark said it could write off some debt and inject funds as long as SAS finds support from other investors.
In Great Britainlast month British Airways (BA), announced the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights by October 29 due to Heathrow Airport’s decision to cap passenger traffic at 100,000 per day.
Staffing shortages are among the issues that contribute to long lines at airport security, lost baggage, delays and cancellations.
The airport’s decision also forced other major airlines to cancel or reroute flights.
Heathrow, which operates as BA’s main hub, has decided to extend the passenger cap until March next year. For the airline, this means that 10,000 additional flights, or around 5,000 round trips – 8% of the airline’s schedule from October 29 to March 2023 – will be cancelled.
In a summary of the expected situation for the coming season, Euronews warns that “all airlines will cancel flights by March 2023”.