As the world moves again, transport has faced obstacles that have disrupted commuters all year: staff shortages, Brexit and the war in Ukraine. Some of those problems exist, or are in the process of being solved, but the demand for travel is not slowing down.
As China begins to open its carefully closed borders — potentially letting loose millions of travelers — there are challenges ahead. We take a look at some of the biggest issues travelers faced in 2022 and whether they’re likely to resurface this year.
1. Flight Delays and Cancellations
Eamon Brennan, director general of Eurocontrol – the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation – warned that while capacity and staffing issues were “gradually being resolved”, this year will be “the biggest challenge in terms of dealing with capacity issues and keeping delays to the lowest level the network has faced in a decade.”
Eurocontrol expects total air traffic to grow to 92 percent this year from 83 percent of last year’s 2019 levels.
“It will not be easy to reach pre-pandemic traffic levels in the face of supply chain issues, possible industrial action, airspace unavailability, sector constraints, growing demand and system changes,” it warned.
Flight capacity to Asia and Australia still lags behind pre-pandemic levels, and in Europe only Ryanair has surpassed 2019 daily flight numbers so far.
The significant disruption experienced by passengers last summer has eased significantly for the October half-term, but Border Force raids at several UK airports over Christmas and New Year have had little impact on arrivals.
Heathrow, which imposed a 100,000 daily passenger limit last summer to manage disruption, said companies at the airport predicted 16,000 new starters would be hired in 2022 and that it is “on track to return to pre-pandemic employment levels before peak summer. Holiday season in 2023.”
2. Passport backlogs
HMPO recently announced that passport fees will increase by around 10 per cent next month, which is likely to trigger a surge in applications ahead of the February 2 price hike. However, it still advises a 10-week turnaround for applications – unchanged from last year.
A National Audit Office report found that 360,000 applicants had to wait more than 10 weeks for renewals in the first nine months of 2022. Limitations in processing applications digitally, as well as overwhelming demand for the telephone helpline and shifting of staff from applications to fielding enquiries, were blamed.
In December, Matthew Rycroft, the permanent under-secretary at the Home Office, told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that the Passport Office should be ready for “an extra million” applications in the first half of this year, after a record number – more than nine million, including 1.2 million in May alone – were processed in 2022. .
Since the Foreign Office clarified the rules for passport validity for travel to the EU last spring, many holders found their documents to be less than 10 years old at the date of entry into the EU and at least three months remaining from the date of return to the UK do not meet the new requirements.
3. Gridlock at the channel
The continent saw its first influx of holidaymakers since Brexit travel rules came into force last summer. The result was tailbacks of six hours or more at the ports of Dover and Folkestone, blamed on insufficient customs officials across the Channel to process the new EU entry requirements.
This year, two new laws will come into force for third-country nationals – including from the UK – visiting the EU. By the end of this year, a new Entry/Exit System (EES) will begin, registering visitors from non-EU countries when they enter the bloc for three years.
The automated IT system records the entrant’s name, type of travel document, biometric data (fingerprints and captured facial images) and date and place of entry and exit in place of manual passport stamping.
While the goal is to make the immigration process “quicker and more convenient for travelers,” the reality is that any time the new technology fails to be implemented on a large scale, there will be significant delays.
By November, another layer of red tape will be implemented by the EU: Etias is a €7 visa-waiver that British passport-holders must apply for before traveling to the Schengen area. Current guidance states that in most cases authorization is granted “within minutes” after online EU information system checks, with further checks taking up to 30 days in some cases.
Along with Etias passport checks manual checks are carried out by border officials.
4. Industrial action
More than 1,000 Border Force workers are on strike over Christmas and New Year, and the PCS union has warned that strike action could increase significantly with an order to strike until May this year, although disruption to travelers will be minimal.
In Spain, some cabin crew at low-cost airline Wooling are going on strike every Monday, Friday and Sunday until January 31.
Domestically, the RMT’s mandate for strike action on the railways will last until May, with Aslef announcing new industrial action alongside train drivers on February 1 and 3 after a pay offer was rejected on Tuesday.
Strikes in the UK and elsewhere are likely to disrupt travel when inflation is high.
5. High prices
According to the Office for National Statistics, flight prices rose 44.1 percent in December 2022, the largest annual rate recorded since at least January 1989.
Flight Center UK’s head of aviation Justin Penny noted that on average, economy airfares have risen by 36 per cent since last year, with flight capacity up to 81 per cent to destinations such as Australia, where flight capacity is still subdued.
Eurocontrol estimated that – stripping out the effects of inflation – air fares in Europe were 14 percent higher in November than in 2019. The high cost of jet fuel was a contributing factor, but has stabilized recently, dropping to about the same level. Before the invasion of Ukraine.
Hotel rates are also high. OTA Insight, which processes 1.5 billion rates daily, saw hotel rates advertised in key European markets rise 37 percent last year compared to 2019.
What is Research by User Group? The cost of package holidays, released on Thursday, also rose from last year, with Greece seeing steep increases. A week’s holiday will cost an average of 30 per cent more this summer than in 2022, with an average price of £867pp. Prices rose by a fifth or more in Italy, Spain and Turkey.
Although the price of petrol is expected to fall from last year’s high levels, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has warned that fuel duty could rise by 23 per cent this spring, raising petrol and diesel prices by around 12p per litre.
6. Shortage of rental car and taxi
Car rental prices rose last year as a result of car rental companies selling off stock during the pandemic and a global shortage of semiconductors.
According to data from Holiday Extras, a week’s rent in Tenerife rose from £78 at the end of April 2021 to £250 in 2022. However, prices fell slightly in the summer as fleets were replenished, before fluctuating again in the fall as cars sold off. In Tenerife, the price this year is about 15 percent lower than a year ago.
Some rental companies continue to waive cancellation fees this year to boost demand, meaning it’s best to book a car early to get the best rates.
Says Seamus McCauley at Holiday Extras i “The same structural challenges remain for the holiday car hire industry – fleets are smaller than before 2020, so – particularly in popular resorts such as Alicante and Tenerife – prices are higher than before the impact of the pandemic.”
Taxi companies across Europe have also reduced their fleets due to pandemic-related workforce shortages. In Paris, recent recruitment is seen as insufficient to meet current and future demand, with concerns over the Rugby World Cup taking place in the city and elsewhere in France this autumn.
7. Tourism taxes
This vexing issue continues to be divisive in 2023. Venice has repeatedly postponed its controversial visitor tax, only to be suspended again starting this month. Admission ranges from €3 to €10 depending on the date and time of day, with an exception for overnight visitors. It is unlikely to come into effect before the summer. Meanwhile, years-old plans to impose a €2 entrance fee for Rome’s Pantheon have been revived, proving unpopular with residents.
Elsewhere, Barcelona is increasing its tourism tax and Valencia is set to introduce one by the end of the year. Thailand hopes to implement a 300 baht (£8) tourist fee by June.
Last November, Edinburgh City Council approved plans to introduce a £2 tax on visitors, charged per night they stay and capped at seven nights. It is unlikely to be implemented by the end of this year.
The Welsh Government has proposed giving local authorities discretionary powers to apply overnight visitor charges in their areas, although none have been put forward for approval.