Are you going on vacation this summer? Be prepared for a delay or a cancellation – especially if you are traveling anywhere in Europe.
Winding queues and mountains of abandoned luggage are becoming a common sight at airports across the continent.
Airlines have canceled tens of thousands of flights and stranded passengers since May, while airports have grappled with industrial disputes and technical disruptions.
Travel is risky everywhere. However, some destinations are significantly more chaotic than others. But why?
Is Europe the Worst Travel Chaos?
Travelers face chaos around the world. Since May, US airlines have canceled more than 21,000 flights, or about 2.7 percent of the planned total.
Hundreds of flights were canceled and more than 12,000 delayed over the weekend of July 4th – an American holiday.
However, the number of cancellations pales in comparison to the European total.
Europe had more than double the number of US airline cancellations between April and June, data from flight-tracking company RadarBox.com shows.
Between April 1 and June 29, Europe’s 10 worst performing airports canceled 64,100 mammoth flights.
Part of the reason is staffing. US airlines have also cut staff during the pandemic, laying off 90,000 workers. However, most American airlines — including big hitters American, Delta, United and SouthWest — began recruiting in mid-2021, in line with the return of domestic travel.
Another important point to note is that U.S. flight numbers have not declined as much as those in major European countries due to less stringent and varying COVID restrictions between states.
Also, American air travel recovered faster than European air travel, largely due to the huge domestic network. In 2021, domestic air travel reached more than 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
These recruitment campaigns are ongoing. Currently, Delta and United Airlines hire an average of 200 pilots per month.
The disruptions in the US are still significant. Last week, United Airlines announced it would be grounding 50 daily flights from its Newark hub. Delta Air Lines announced it would suspend 100 daily flights between July 1 and August 7.
However, it hasn’t been as sustained or as acute as in Europe, where queues and cancellations are fast becoming the norm for air travel.
Understaffing and strikes at Europe’s airports
European airports are struggling with an extreme shortage of staff.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, airports and airlines laid off around 191,000 European aviation workers.
According to a study by the European Transport Workers Federation published in January 2021, 58.5 percent of airport ground staff were on the move at that time. At least 23 percent of them were fired.
Now, with travel picking up for the first time since 2019, there aren’t enough staff to staff baggage checkpoints, security and flight crews.
Hiring campaigns have been held up by lengthy security checks and unattractive working conditions.
Meanwhile, the remaining workers have launched a series of strikes over poor working conditions and pandemic-era wage cuts. B.Aryanair, easyJetSchiphol Airport and Lufthansa are among the airlines facing industrial action.
Spanish Ryanair flight crew last week announced 12 days of strikes in July, while easyJet staff will be out of work for nine days.
Firefighters at Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport walked off duty last week while Italian pilots’ unions have threatened increased measures.
“This will only be the first in a series of protests that will heat up the summer,” warned a spokesman for the UIL Trasporti union.
Europe is leading the travel recovery – but airlines are struggling
These staff shortages and labor disputes coincided with a recovery in international travel.
According to UNTWO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) World Tourism Barometer, international tourist arrivals will reach about 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
Europe has led this recovery. In the first three months of 2022, Europe saw almost four times as many international arrivals (a 280 percent increase) as it did in the same period in 2021. In the Americas, arrivals more than doubled (a 117 percent increase). same interval.
This boom is partly due to the rapid easing of COVID rules, led by European countries. At the start of the summer season, 31 European destinations had no COVID entry requirements.
Destinations are happy to welcome visitors. However, the supply simply cannot meet the demand.
airports like Heathrow and Schiphol have asked airlines to cut flights, while many airlines have been forced to pre-emptively cut their flight schedules through thousands of trips.
“We do not take these cancellations lightly,” Peter Bellew, easyJet’s former chief operating officer, told employees after he canceled dozens of flights.
Travelers were understandably not so circumspect.
“Don’t love it when easyJet ruins your holiday,” one Twitter user posted after a flight cancellation.
The budget carrier is not alone. BA, meanwhile, has cut 8,000 flights from its October-March schedule Lufthansa reduced its summer flight schedule by 3,100 flights.
“Too many employees and resources are still missing, not only at our infrastructure partners, but also in some of our own areas,” writes the German airline in a customer letter.
How long does the travel chaos last?
Unfortunately, there is probably no end in sight.
The chaos is likely to continue through the end of the summer as passenger numbers surge beyond staffing capacity. Recruitment campaigns are underway, but training staff in roles like security and baggage takes time.
Air Council International – Europe’s trade association for airports – has predicted that delays are inevitable at two-thirds of Europe’s airports this summer.
In the meantime, follow these tips to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.
Alternatively, you can all fly together and hug each other train journey this summer.