Airport chaos: European travel runs into pandemic cutbacks

LONDON (AP) — Got European journey plans this summer time? Don’t overlook to pack your passport, sunscreen and loads of endurance.

Liz Morgan arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport 4 1/2 hours earlier than her flight to Athens, discovering the road for safety snaking out of the terminal and into a giant tent alongside a street earlier than doubling again inside the primary constructing.

“There’s aged folks within the queues, there’s children, infants. No water, no nothing. No signage, nobody serving to, no bogs,” said Morgan, who is from Australia and had tried to save time Monday by checking in online and taking only a carry-on bag.

People “couldn’t get to the toilet because if you go out of the queue, you lost your spot,” she said.

After two years of pandemic restrictions, travel demand has roared back, but airlines and airports that slashed jobs during the depths of the COVID-19 crisis are struggling to keep up. With the busy summer tourism season underway in Europe, passengers are encountering chaotic scenes at airports, including lengthy delays, canceled flights and headaches over lost luggage.

Schiphol, the Netherlands’ busiest airport, is trimming flights, saying there are thousands of airline seats per day above the capacity that security staff can handle. Dutch carrier KLM apologized for stranding passengers there this month.

London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports are asking airlines to cap their flight numbers. Discount carrier easyJet is scrapping thousands of summer flights to avoid last-minute cancellations and in response to caps at Gatwick and Schiphol. North American airlines wrote to Ireland’s transport chief demanding urgent action to tackle “significant delays” at Dublin’s airport.

Nearly 2,000 flights from major continental European airports were canceled one week this month, with Schiphol accounting for nearly 9%, according to data from aviation consultancy Cirium. A further 376 flights were canceled from U.K. airports, with Heathrow accounting for 28%, Cirium said.

It’s a similar story in the United States, the place airways canceled 1000’s of flights over two days final week due to dangerous climate simply as crowds of summer tourists grow.

“In the vast majority of cases, people are traveling,” stated Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of the Advantage Travel Group, which represents about 350 U.Ok. journey brokers. But airports are affected by employees shortages, and it is taking loads longer to course of safety clearances for newly employed staff, she stated.

“They’re all creating bottlenecks in the system,” and it also means “when things go wrong, that they’re going drastically wrong,” she said.

The Biden administration scrapping COVID-19 tests for people entering the U.S. is giving an extra boost to pent-up demand for transatlantic travel. Bue-Said said travel agents her group represents reported a jump in U.S. bookings after the requirement was dropped this month.

For American travelers to Europe, the dollar strengthening against the euro and the pound is also a factor, because it makes paying for hotels and restaurants more affordable.

At Heathrow, a sea of unclaimed luggage blanketed the floor of a terminal last week. The airport blamed technical glitches with the baggage system and asked airlines to cut 10% of flights at two terminals Monday, affecting about 5,000 passengers.

“A number of passengers” might have traveled with out their baggage, the airport stated.

When cookbook author Marlena Spieler flew again to London from Stockholm this month, it took her three hours to get by way of passport management.

Spieler, 73, spent at the least one other hour and a half looking for her baggage within the baggage space, which “was a madhouse, with piles of suitcases everywhere.”

She virtually gave up, earlier than recognizing her bag on a carousel. She’s bought one other journey deliberate to Greece in a number of weeks however is apprehensive about going to the airport once more.

“Frankly, I am frightened for my well being. Am I strong enough to withstand this?” Spieler said by email.

In Sweden, lines for security at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport have been so long this summer that many passengers have been arriving more than five hours before boarding time. So many are showing up early that officials are turning away travelers arriving more than three hours before their flight to ease congestion.

Despite some improvements, the line to one of the checkpoints stretched more than 100 meters (328 feet) Monday.

Four young German women, nervous about missing their flight to Hamburg while waiting to check their bags, asked other passengers if they could skip to the front of the line. Once there, they bought fast-track passes to avoid the long security queue.

Lina Wiele, 19, said she hadn’t seen quite the same level of chaos at other airports, “not like that, I guess,” earlier than speeding to the fast-track lane.

Thousands of pilots, cabin crew, baggage handlers and different aviation business staff had been laid off throughout the pandemic, and now there’s not sufficient of them to deal with the journey rebound.

“Some airlines are struggling because I think they were hoping to recover staffing levels quicker than they’ve able to do,” stated Willie Walsh, head of the International Air Transport Association.

The post-pandemic employees scarcity will not be distinctive to the airline business, Walsh stated on the airline commerce group’s annual assembly this week in Qatar.

“What makes it difficult for us is that many of the jobs cannot be operated remotely, so airlines have not been able to offer the same flexibility for their workforce as other companies,” he stated. “Pilots have to be present to operate the aircraft, cabin crew have to be present, we have to have people loading bags and assisting passengers.”

Laid-off aviation staff “have found new jobs with higher wages, with more stable contracts,” stated Joost van Doesburg of the FNV union, which represents most employees at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. “And now everybody wants to travel again,” however staff don’t desire airport jobs.

The CEO of funds airline Ryanair, Europe’s greatest provider, warned that flight delays and cancellations would proceed “proper all through the summer time.” Passengers should expect a “less-than-satisfactory experience,” Michael O’Leary told Sky News.

Some European airports haven’t seen big problems yet but are bracing. Prague’s Vaclav Havel international airport expects passenger numbers to swell next week and into July, “once we may expertise a scarcity of staffers, particularly on the safety checks,” spokeswoman Klara Diviskova stated.

The airport remains to be quick “dozens of staffers” regardless of launching a hiring marketing campaign firstly of the yr, she stated.

Labor strife also is causing problems.

In Belgium, Brussels Airlines stated a three-day strike beginning Thursday will pressure the cancellation of about 315 flights and have an effect on some 40,000 passengers.

Two days of strikes hit Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport this month, one by safety employees and one other by airport personnel who say salaries aren’t conserving tempo with inflation. 1 / 4 of flights had been canceled the second day. Some Air France pilots are threatening a strike Saturday, warning that crew fatigue is threatening flight safety, whereas airport personnel vow one other salary-related strike July 1.

Still, the airport issues are unlikely to place folks off flying, stated Jan Bezdek, spokesman for Czech journey company CK Fischer, which has bought extra vacation packages to this point this yr than earlier than the pandemic.

“What we can see is that people can’t stand waiting to travel after the pandemic,” Bezdek said. “Any problems at airports can hardly change that.”


Corder reported from The Hague. AP reporters Aleksandar Furtula in Amsterdam, Karel Janicek in Prague, Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Angela Charlton in Paris, Samuel Petrequin in Brussels and David Koenig in Dallas contributed.

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