Traveling To Europe? Expect More Strikes, Cancellations And Delays This Fall And Winter

It’s becoming a mainstream and social media cliché to associate “air travel in Europe” with “chaos”. Still, staff shortages and back-to-back strikes at many of the major airports and major airlines have made flying extremely chaotic, with record numbers of cancellations and delays.

The avalanche of complaints from passengers about ruined vacations, five- and six-hour queues and lost luggage have set new records as airports and airlines struggle to manage the disruptions that have paralyzed the airline industry this year.

Thousands of passengers across the continent have had flights canceled or missed while waiting in nightmarish queues in recent months. Despite this, the demand for trips to Europe for the fall is very high.

Understaffing was at the root of the problems, as approvals for new hires take months to process. But in recent weeks, the situation has been exacerbated by numerous airport and airline strikes – and overworked and disgruntled employees who simply quit.

The Outlook from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and the European Travel Commission (ETC) warned in July that “the recovery of the travel and tourism sector could be seriously jeopardized as almost 1.2 million jobs remain unfilled across the EU ‘, as she predicted that even today ‘a significant number of vacancies remain’.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol: from the chaos to the caps

Just days ago, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, one of Europe’s largest aviation hubs and one of the busiest, announced the resignation of its CEO, Dick Benschop, after a summer of travel turmoil with epic delays and hundreds of canceled flights.

Since then, the airport has restricted the number of passengers it can handle during the fall and winter seasons.

According to the airport, the decision was necessary to deal with the serious shortage of security forces. This means that airlines will be forced to make further cancellations and rebookings in 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 restrictions on the number of flights and passengers at Schiphol also come as a result of another exodus of workers, which has exacerbated existing staffing problems as airlines and airports shed jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In an effort to ramp up quickly to cater to the new outbreak of summer travelers post-pandemic, staff were paid an additional €5.25 per hour in July and August. But the bonus is gone 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.

“First and foremost, this decision is bad news for passengers and airlines,” Hanne Buis, COO of Royal Schiphol Group, told the publication.

“Nevertheless, the decision taken is necessary in terms of the safety of passengers and employees.”

The situation hadn’t improved last week, when more than 80 flights were canceled and queues stretched for hours outside terminal doors as the beleaguered airport kept urging airlines to cancel more flights. Around 650 flights were delayed.

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The unusual cap, enforced not only by Schiphol but also by other major airports including London Heathrow, has drawn criticism from airlines as several have switched their flights to other airports.

The airport apologized for the “disappointment”. “Cold consolation for thousands of frustrated travellers, many of whom took to social media to vent their anger at the long delays,” adds Euronews.

Schiphol said the impact of the cap would be clear within two weeks, but some media reports it will remain in place until November.

Add strikes to the chaos

Industrial action over pay and working conditions for air traffic controllers in France led to more than 1,000 flight bans over a week ago. They are scheduled to strike again on September 28, 29 and 30 unless an agreement is reached.

Air traffic controllers are on strike in front of authorities to demand airlines cut their flight schedules by a staggering 50% from all airports across the country. Air France said in a statement that even flights that were scheduled are flying Above France were also canceled.

Airlines and other airports across the continent and abroad have inevitably been affected as well.

Low-budget airline Ryanair said it was forced to cancel 420 flights, mostly flying via France, affecting 80,000 passengers. The airline said the strikes would “only disrupt the weekend travel plans of thousands of European citizens/visitors”.

Even Ryanair

The airline faces labor problems of its own as its cabin crew (pilots and flight attendants) and those of Vueling, another low-budget competitor, demand higher wages and better working conditions, and announce strikes across Italy for early October.

This action follows similar strikes last June and July.

Ryanair slammed the unions as “irrelevant” and assured customers there would be no impact on flights.

Despite the difficulties all around, Ryanair has managed to hold one of the best compliance records, “with the fewest cancellations among major airlines this summer, just 3%, (and) been rewarded with record passenger growth”. That Guardian reports. Ryanair is “one of the very few airlines in Europe negotiating with airports” to add capacity, according to CEO Michael O’Leary.

Ryanair operated more than 92,800 flights last month and carried a record 16.9 million passengers.

Based on widespread cancellations, the company has announced the addition of more than a million seats to its winter plans, as it also warns that fares will continue to rise between 3% and 5% in the coming years and that very low fares are a Thing might be 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 when the pilots and airline reached an agreement.

Still, the airline has confirmed it is removing flights from its winter schedule and will not reinstall them until March next year due to staffing shortages, particularly at Frankfurt Airport, another of Europe’s busiest hubs.

The airline is also considering changing flight times and destinations from October.

Scandinavian airline SAS has canceled 1,700 flights over the next two months as it struggles to recover from a double whammy of a pilots’ strike in July and serious financial difficulties.

“The mass cancellation follows a punitive few months for the national airline of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, which grounded 3,700 flights in July and filed for bankruptcy in the United States,” writes Euronews.

The strike by nearly 1,000 SAS pilots protesting management’s proposed pay cuts as part of a restructuring plan to ensure the company’s survival cost the ailing company between €9 and €12 million a day.

The company reached an agreement with unions after securing bridge funding during its US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection proceedings through an agreement with private equity firm Apollo Global Management, Reuters reports.

The Swedish government has rejected a request for more cash, while Denmark has said it could deleverage 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 before October 29 due to Heathrow Airport’s decision to limit passenger traffic to 100,000 a day.

Staff shortages are among the problems that contribute to long lines at airport security, lost luggage, delays and cancellations.

The airport’s decision has also forced other major airlines to cancel or reroute flights.

Heathrow, which acts as BA’s main hub, has decided to extend the passenger cap until March next year. For the airline, that means 10,000 more flights, or about 5,000 return flights — 8% of the airline’s October 29-March 2023 schedule — will be cancelled.

In a summary of the expected situation for the upcoming season, Euronews warns that “all airlines will cancel flights until March 2023”.

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