At Pearson International Airport in Toronto, lack of security, customs and immigration personnel is causing delays and long lines. (Photo: Reuters)
Delays, cancellations, long lines and lost baggage plague air travel around the world as airlines and airports suffer from surges in summer demand and staff shortages.
London’s Gatwick Airport has instructed airlines to reduce inbound flights due to staff shortages and cancellations.
Earlier this month, on a four-day weekend celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, a line of passengers waiting for check-in stretched out of the terminal.
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol limits the number of passengers allowed inside and requires travelers not to appear more than four hours before their flight. It also warns you to wear comfortable shoes that will wait hours when you get inside.
The two airports, the gateway to Europe’s vacation this summer, are struggling with chronic staff shortages, as in other industries.
They and others tried to hire staff after letting them go during a two-year travel bust, thanks to Covid-19’s restrictions.
Last week, Sydney Airport held a job fair looking for 5,000 new employees to work for various airport employers such as Qantas and McDonald’s.
At Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada’s busiest, security, customs and immigration staff shortages are causing delays and long lines.
Airport officials support the turmoil going on until the fall and predict that the stagnation in demand for travel will not give up.
“This fall may be unusual,” said Deborah Flint, CEO of the Greater Toronto Area. “Because the market is open, we may not see the usual drop in traffic that normally occurs after the summer.”
The beginning of summer can be a difficult time to travel in the best years. But especially in Europe, the delay in this summer season is especially big.
So far this month, 25% of scheduled flights on the continent, excluding Russia, took off late, with an average delay of 34 minutes, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking platform.
This is compared to a delay of 21% in June 2019, an average of 28 minutes. In Amsterdam’s Skipole, 36% of this month’s flights were delayed, up from 28% in 2019.
According to data compiled by aviation data consultancy Cirium, flight cancellations in June are on the rise.
In the United States, about 3% of flights scheduled by this month have been scrapped, compared to the 2% rate in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic. The total number of cancellations increased 16% year-on-year to 13,581.
In Europe, excluding Russia, about 2% of all flights have been canceled so far in June, compared to 1% in the same period in 2019. The number of canceled flights in June increased by 162% to 8,228. At the same time in 2019.
The data reflect cancellations within 72 hours of the scheduled takeoff time and do not take into account the pre-arranged capacity reductions announced across the airline, Cirium said.
A series of unrelated technical issues are adding to the turmoil across Europe.
Switzerland temporarily closed its airspace after a slump in information technology last week. Due to a power outage earlier this month, flights to London’s Luton Airport, the gateway to the European continent, have been abolished. Prague Airport has lost capacity last week after a failure in its air traffic control system.
Demand for domestic travel in the United States has skyrocketed for several months. It has overwhelming capacity during busy times, such as the Memorial Day weekend earlier this year and the recent three-day weekend in June.
Over 5,000 flights have recently been canceled by US airlines due to staff shortages and bad weather.
The Federal Aviation Administration said earlier Monday that the problem was alleviated as the weather improved and traffic subsided.
Americans are now expanding overseas.
The United States recently lifted one of the last pandemic era restrictions on global travel and withdrew the requirement that people be negative against Covid-19 before boarding a flight to the United States. Bookings for European destinations from the United States are almost back to 2019 levels.
United Airlines said that three days after the end of the test requirements, the number of searches for travel from the United States to overseas destinations increased by 7.6% compared to the previous week.
Meanwhile, the global industry has fought to catch up as other governments have removed or minimized travel restrictions during the Covid era. Subsequent flight demand has surprised airlines and airports, especially during the summer, according to executives.
Jozsef Varadi, CEO of Wizz Air, one of Europe’s largest discount carriers, said:
Globally, the industry is also fighting to play a role in air traffic control, airport security, baggage handling and catering, and check-in.
The government has attempted to help or subsidize airlines over the recession using bailout or government-sponsored Farraf programs. However, this measure is patchwork and has not helped some airlines and airports maintain sufficient staff to respond quickly to meet demand.
Airports need to work on employment-related security measures. The hiring process can take approximately 16 weeks, including the associated security background checks that allow workers to enter certain locations at the airport.
“Returning staff to the airport is not like hiring a restaurant or supermarket,” said Olivier Jankovec, director general of the airport group ACI Europe.
He said it would have been reckless to start hiring early when the waves of Omicron variants led to the resurgence of restrictions in many places.
Still, Jankoveck said, “Today, we had to start hiring about six months ago to get enough money.”
Airlines are taking extraordinary steps to mitigate the impact. European discount easyJet has removed the seat row from 58 of the smallest Airbus A319 aircraft. This allows you to fly a jet with fewer crew members without exceeding the crew-to-seat ratio.
Qantas Australia has asked its headquarters office staff for ground assistance at airports in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. They perform tasks such as watering customers and ferrying late arrivals over security.
“There are blocks in the industry-wide chain,” said Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO.
He now states that commercial aviation is “a rusty industry and is about to flow again.”
Over the weekend, at Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 in London, a barricade was built outside the front door of the airport in anticipation of a long line later in the day.
On Saturday, passengers stopped to take pictures of hundreds of suitcases hidden in a concourse on the ground floor outside the terminal. They were left there overnight after a flaw in baggage handling stuck them.
“This is the first time I’ve seen anything like that,” said Charlie Michel, who runs a small telecommunications company based in Houston and was on vacation in the UK.
A Heathrow spokesman said the baggage problem that began on Friday had been resolved by the next day.
“We are working closely with the airline to reunite passengers and luggage as soon as possible,” she said.
According to Austin Carroll, United sent an email advising them to arrive at the airport at least four hours early.
He is a US student in London for an internship at a family-owned financial institution. He decided to arrive five hours early: “I didn’t want to take the risk.”