Mon, 04 Jul 2022

After two years of Covid restrictions travellers are coming back to Europe, but airlines and airports that cut jobs during the pandemic are struggling to keep up. Passengers are seeing long lines at check-in counters and security checks, as well as delayed or cancelled flights and lost luggage.

Tens of thousands of pilots, cabin crew, baggage handlers and other airport staff were laid off during the pandemic, and they have not returned ahead of what is turning into a busy summer tourism season underway in Europe.

Nearly 2,000 flights from major continental European airports were cancelled during one week in June, nearly nine percent of them from Schiphol, the Netherlands' busiest airport, according to data from aviation consultancy Cirium.

The airport is limiting flights because there is insufficient security staff to handle the number of travellers.

Ben Smith, CEO of the Air France-KLM airline alliance, said Thursday it could be months before Schiphol has enough staff to ease the pressure.

London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports are asking airlines to cap their flight numbers.

Paris' airport shielded, for now

Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport has not seen the same disruption, partly because of Air France's decision last year to hire hundreds of pilots, mechanics and cabin staff in anticipation of a surge in demand in this summer, according to Smith.

And yet, the company is still facing a staffing deficit: 7,500 people were laid off or left Air France because of the pandemic travel crash. KLM lost 3,000 people.

It is hard to lure them back. Laid-off workers have found new jobs with higher wages and more stable contracts - a situation not unique to the airline industry.

Strike action

Strikes are also contributing to the chaos. Security staff and airport personnel at Charles de Gaulle airport went on strike for two days this month to demand salary increases in line with inflation.

A quarter of flights were cancelled the second day.

Some Air France pilots are threatening a strike Saturday, warning that crew fatigue is threatening flight security, and airport personnel are planning another salary-related strike on 1 July.

Low-cost airline staff have also announced strikes over labour conditions.

Tourism in Paris blossoms despite pandemic, Ukraine conflict

Trade unions representing Ryanair cabin crew in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have called for strikes this coming weekend, while easyJet's operations in Spain face a nine-day strike next month.

A strike on the weekend of June 12-13 already prompted the cancellation of about 40 Ryanair flights in France, or about a quarter of the total.

On Monday, the European Transport Workers' Federation called on passengers "not to blame the workers for the disasters in the airports", which it said are "caused by decades of corporate greed and a removal of decent jobs in the sector".

The federation said it expected "the chaos the aviation sector is currently facing will only grow over the summer as workers are pushed to the brink".

Surge in demand

Despite all the delays and problems, and soaring fuel prices pushing up the cost of plane tickets, demand is at a peak, as people take advantage of a drop in Covid restrictions.

Smith said Air France-KLM predicts it will see 85-90 percent of its worldwide pre-pandemic flight activity this summer, and that it will continue into the autumn.

The company has raised ticket prices, and Smith said "the ability to recoup and pass on higher costs to customers is unbelievable".

(with wires)

Originally published on RFI

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