Europe’s travel chaos: The latest strikes, flight cuts and why there’s no quick end in sight

Strikes and staff shortages are forcing airlines to cancel thousands of flights and causing hour-long queues at major airports, dashing hopes of a scorching first summer after the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Here is a summary of some of the developments:

Reduced summer hours

British Airways alone cut almost 20,000 flights from its summer schedules, while easyJet and Lufthansa cut thousands more flights last week in the latest examples of airline capacity cuts.

Airports, including Gatwick and Schiphol, are also limiting the volume of passengers they will handle over the summer.

The DAA says it is working hard to avoid cuts at Dublin Airport, and the Defense Force is about to start training so it can replace security staff in the event of a summer surge of Covid- 19 airport staff.

However, DAA chief executive Dalton Philips said there could be a risk of limiting flights entering the capital if it was unable to cope with an increase in the number of passengers.

Security wait times are now under 45 minutes for most passengers, he says, “but vulnerabilities remain”.

Strikes and social unrest

After job cuts and sweeping pay cuts when Covid-19 halted travel, industry personnel from pilots to baggage handlers are demanding big pay rises and better working conditions.

Ryanair

Strikes by Ryanair cabin crew unions in Belgium, Spain, Portugal, France and Italy affected less than 2% of the 9,000 flights scheduled between Friday and Sunday, the low-cost carrier said. Crews in Spain are expected to strike again on June 30 and July 1 and 2.

Heathrow

British Airways staff at London Heathrow Airport voted to strike after the airline failed to reverse a 10% pay cut imposed during the pandemic, with the strike due to take place during the period of peak of the summer holidays over the next two months.

Charles de Gaulle, Paris

Workers at France’s main airport went on strike on June 9 to demand a €300-a-month raise and better working conditions, leading to the cancellation of 25% of flights. Further actions are scheduled for July 2.

Easyjet

Spain-based easyJet cabin crew plan to go on strike for nine days in July, demanding a 40% increase in their base pay, which is far below that of countries like France and Germany , said the local union USO.

Lufthansa

A German union representing Lufthansa ground staff is demanding at least €350 more per month over 12 months to cushion the effects of soaring inflation, with the first round of negotiations due to take place on June 30.

Airline bosses this week apologized to employees and customers for the travel chaos, admitting the company had “made mistakes” cutting costs to deal with pandemic-related losses.

“The situation is unlikely to improve in the short term,” said a letter from the leaders, adding that the increase in staff “will not have the desired stabilizing effect until the arrival of winter”.

SAS and Norwegian have also entered into negotiations with employees, with Norwegian agreeing earlier in June to a 3.7% pay rise for pilots, among other benefits.

Recruitment and incentives

Airports and airlines are scrambling to hire more workers, from pilots to security and border control staff and baggage handlers, after many left during the Covid-19 crisis.

Industry executives say it’s difficult to recruit for often physically demanding and relatively low-paying jobs at airports that are often out of town. Training staff and getting them security cleared to work at airports also takes months.

Amsterdam Schiphol

One of Europe’s busiest airports, Schiphol has agreed to pay an extra €5.25 per hour to 15,000 cleaners, baggage handlers and security guards over the summer.

He must hire 500 security guards. Before the pandemic, there were 68,000 workers in and around the airport; there are now 58,000.

Germany

The country wants to bring in foreign workers as quickly as possible to make up for the lack of personnel in the airports.

According to airport association ADV, about one in five security, check-in and aircraft handling jobs go unfilled at airports nationwide.

The head of the ABL association of aircraft ground handling workers expects 1,000 to 2,000 workers to be allowed in for three months, most likely from August.

Spain & Portugal

The Portuguese government also plans to more than double border control staff at the country’s six airports by July 4.

In Spain, police will hire 500 more people, bringing the total to 1,700 deployed at the country’s busiest airports, including Madrid and Barcelona.

France

Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris need to fill 4,000 jobs, mainly in security, maintenance and travel retail, according to airport operator Groupe ADP and Alliance CDG.

More than 20,000 people were made redundant at Charles de Gaulle during the pandemic, according to the CGT union.

Airport security company ICTS, which operates at Charles de Gaulle, is offering a one-time bonus of €180 to those who postpone their holidays after September 15 and €150 for staff who take on new recruits, according to a CGT union representative.

– Additional reporting by Pól Ó Conghaile

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