Europe seeks ways to ease summer travel chaos

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Chaotic best describes the scenes at major European airports these days as travelers are forced to endure hours of queuing. The most unfortunate end up missing their flight.

Strikes and staff shortages have led to the cancellation of thousands of flights and frustratingly long queues at airports as people rush to fly to their dream destinations after being grounded during the pandemic in the over the past two years.

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“We are angry because we are on vacation. We organized everything and arrived five hours early. It’s just a waste of time. We could do something else,” a passenger queuing at Dusseldorf airport told DW.

“My neighbor works at the airport, and he said it was because of a lack of security staff – and that’s stupid. You pay a lot of money for your flight, so it’s annoying if you miss it,” said another traveler.

Traffic jams in European hubs such as Frankfurt, London and Paris also threaten to shine a light on the aviation industry’s recovery from its pandemic lows in 2020, when it lost more than $230 billion (219 billion euros) – affected by lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Labor shortages plague airports

The rapid rebound has taken the industry by surprise as it scrambles to muster enough staff to cope with the influx of travelers at airports.

Airlines, airports and other industry players have been forced to downsize during the pandemic. But with demand coming back as quickly as it did, they’re struggling to hire staff fast enough.

Their situation is made worse by the post-pandemic trend of people becoming more picky about employment, avoiding roles with poor working conditions and low pay.

“The German labor market remains very tight. Job seekers can choose from a large number of vacancies, while employers struggle to fill vacancies,” a spokesperson for Frankfurt airport operator Fraport told DW. “In addition, the recruitment process at airports is particularly complex and time-consuming. This is because many operational activities in aviation take place in safety-important and restricted-access areas.

Given the disruptions at airports, travelers are recommended to arrive at the airport up to 2.5 hours before domestic flights, preferably check in online and ensure that their carry-on baggage are properly packaged to avoid delays at security checkpoints.

A wave of flight cancellations

Airlines have canceled thousands of flights in recent weeks due to bottlenecks. Lufthansa alone has canceled nearly 3,000 flights.

On Tuesday, the German airline’s chief executive, Carsten Spohr, apologized to its employees and customers for the travel chaos, Reuters reported.

“We certainly made mistakes saving our business and over 100,000 jobs over the past two years,” Spohr wrote in a letter to staff seen by the news agency.

“Have we gone too far in cutting costs here and there, under the pressure of more than 10 billion euros ($10.5 billion) in pandemic-related losses? Certainly that too,” he added.

The company is recruiting new employees, including thousands of employees in Europe, but the efforts won’t bear fruit until winter, Spohr said.

Governments to the rescue

Germany said it would bring in more temporary workers at airports from abroad, mainly from Turkey, to ease the situation during the peak summer holiday season. The German government will speed up work permits and visas for several thousand foreign workers, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser told reporters on Wednesday.

Foreign workers will be subject to the same security checks as national airport workers before being allowed to work at
airports, Faeser said.

According to the German airport association ADV, around 20% of jobs in security, check-in and aircraft handling remain vacant.

The Portuguese government plans to almost double border control staff at the country’s six airports by July 4 to cope with a massive increase in travellers. The country, one of the sunniest in Europe, has seen the number of passengers passing through its airports soar this year.

Long queues at airports have also prompted Spanish police to hire 500 more people to deploy to the busiest airports, including Madrid and Barcelona. Spanish airline Iberia said earlier this month that delays at passport control at Madrid’s Barajas airport had caused around 15,000 of its passengers to miss their flights since March 1.

Ireland has put the military on standby to help with security at Dublin Airport in the event of further disruption during the summer travel period. More than 1,000 people missed their flights in a single day last month at the country’s main airport due to long queues. Passenger numbers at Dublin Airport are close to pre-pandemic levels.

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