Explained: Why travellers to Europe are facing cancelled flights, delayed baggage, endless queues

As tourism has rebounded after a dip in travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies that fired baggage handlers, ticket sellers and cabin crew are unable to keep up with the sheer number of travellers

Flying to Europe right now?

It’s not a good time.

A severe manpower shortage coupled with a post-pandemic vacation boom has led to cancelled flights, delayed baggage and passengers facing interminable queues.

Why is this happening?

Because tourism has rebounded after a dip in travel during the pandemic. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects total passenger numbers in Europe to reach 86 per cent of 2019 figures in 2022.

Meanwhile, companies that had fired baggage handlers, ticket sellers and airplane cabin crew are unable to keep up with the sheer numbers nor can they hire quickly enough.

Which airports are affected?

As per Financial Express, top European hubs — Heathrow, Schiphol in Amsterdam, and airports in Brussels, Frankfurt, and several others — are grappling with delayed baggage.

Passenger luggage is not being loaded onto aircraft on time and several flights are departing without carrying the baggage due to a labour shortage. Additionally, airports are witnessing long queues, causing passengers to miss flights.

An arrivals board at Terminal 5, Heathrow Airport showing some delayed and canceled flights. AP

As per CNN Traveller, last week at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport over 100 flights were cancelled on after the workers’ union staged a walkout to demand higher wages.

Meanwhile in Italy, a similar situation occurred at several airports last week after air traffic controllers and cabin-crew went on a 24-hour strike.

Several Scandinavian Airlines pilots have also announced a strike at the end of June in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, over salary issues, as per the report.

As per Politico, Brussels Airport was forced to cancel all 232 departing scheduled flights because of a strike by screening staff.

“It is a complicated week,” said Nathalie Pierard, a spokesperson for Brussels Airport, adding that “such actions obviously do not work in our favour” for an industry struggling to return to business-as-usual following a damaging pandemic. “We are less than two weeks away from the summer vacations and therefore we have more and more passengers.”

Geneviève Frydman, who works in risk management for Amazon, was one of the many stranded passengers. She was supposed to fly from Prague to Brussels on Monday afternoon but was notified at 11 pm on Sunday that her flight was cancelled.

“My frustration was that there was no support for passengers. It was very much a ‘we can’t help you, there’s no solution to how we can help you, there’s no timeline that we can provide you,’” she told the outlet. “Not only are you stranded in a different country, but you are not provided with any guidance from the airline, which you trusted to help you get home.”

As per Bloomberg, London’s Heathrow, one of the worst-hit airports, asked airlines operating at two of its terminals to cancel 10 per cent of their flights.

Explained Why travellers to Europe are facing cancelled flights delayed baggage endless queues

Representational image. AP

Heathrow has asked several airlines to cancel some flights to reduce load. Experts anticipate the situation to worsen in the coming days. No flights departed from Brussels on Monday due to industrial action and the lack of security agents. The force majeure made it impossible for the airport to guarantee passengers and staff safety, as per the report.

Schiphol in Amsterdam said it was limiting the number of passengers a day to 70,000 — 13,500 fewer than that scheduled by airlines — due to shortage of workers.

‘Don’t see travel demand dissipating’

However, Emirates has said it doesn’t see travel demand dissipating any time soon.

Speaking to CNBC,  Tim Clark, president of the Dubai-based carrier and an airline veteran, said that he had “never seen anything” like the headwinds currently facing the industry. Yet, holidaymakers don’t seem to be deterred from seizing newly resumed travel opportunities.

“It’s unlikely that, irrespective of impediment — whether it be price, whether it be airport facilities — that demand is going to dissipate in the short-term,” Clark told CNBC’s Dan Murphy at the International Air Transport Association’s 78th Annual General Meeting in Doha, Qatar.

‘Asia could witness similar chaos’

Industry insiders have warned that Asia could witness similar chaos.

Straits Times quoted Iata’s regional vice-president for Asia-Pacific Philip Goh telling reporters on Monday: “Asia is not seeing much of airport congestion yet. But I qualify that this will change very rapidly when the travel momentum continues to build the way they have been building in the last few months.”

“The fact of the matter is that over two years, many people have left the industry, and it takes time to bring these workers back, train them, get them through security clearance,” he said.

“If airports and airlines are smart enough to look at the issues Europe is facing, they must be able to plan ahead of the demand curve. Otherwise we would have learnt nothing.”

With inputs from agencies

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