General Industry

Europe's Travel Disruption Stretches Into Autumn

By Dave Simpson
Europe's Travel Disruption Stretches Into Autumn

Strikes and staff shortages forced airlines to cancel thousands of flights to avoid hours-long queues at major airports in the first summer following widespread COVID lockdowns, with disruptions set to continue deep into the autumn.

Here is a summary of some of the developments:

Labour Unrest

After job and pay cuts when COVID-19 halted travel, staff across the industry from pilots to baggage handlers are asking for big pay increases and better working conditions.

** Labour union FNV said on Oct. 6 that Amsterdam Schiphol airport offered security workers a pay rise of 20% on average to try to solve ongoing staff shortages. Schiphol, one of Europe's busiest airports, has grappled with long passenger queues for months and has cut capacity by almost a fifth until at least March 2023 due to the lack of security staff.

** European flights faced widespread disruption on Sept. 16 as a French air traffic controllers' strike forced airlines to cancel half of those scheduled to arrive or depart Paris airports and others due to have flown over France.


** Ryanair said the travel plans of 80,000 passengers had been affected as it cancelled 420 flights, mainly intended to fly over France.

** Ryanair's Spanish cabin crew union members plan to strike from Monday to Thursday every week until Jan. 7 to press demands for higher pay and better working conditions.

** Lufthansa and pilots' union VC reached a deal in a wage dispute on Sept. 6, averting a second strike after the first one forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

** EasyJet's Spain-based pilots walked out for nine days in August from bases in Barcelona, Malaga and Palma in Mallorca.

** SAS and Ryanair in July agreed terms with pilot unions, while British Airways and KLM signed deals with ground staffers.


** Norwegian Air in June agreed a 3.7% pay rise for pilots among other benefits.

Schedule Cuts, Caps On Passengers

Airlines, including Lufthansa, British Airways, easyJet, KLM and Wizz Air, cut thousands of flights from their summer schedules to ease disruption, while major airports including London's Heathrow and Amsterdam's Schiphol extended caps on passenger numbers into autumn.

** Lufthansa's budget airline Eurowings operated only half its flights planned for Oct.6 as pilots held a one-day strike for improved working conditions after failed talks. About 30,000 passengers were affected, Eurowings said.

** Norwegian airline Flyr said on Oct. 4 that it will cut spending, with plans for furloughs and potentially moves to raise cash. The budget carrier and main rival of Norwegian Air and SAS added it will adjust flight schedules during the winter season by putting non-profitable routes on hold and will maintain sufficient personnel to operate five or six of its 12 aircraft during the winter.

** Schiphol said on Sept. 29 it would reduce daily passenger numbers by around a fifth until at least March 2023. The airport is struggling to solve a shortage of security staff. Earlier in the month, Schiphol said it would reduce daily passenger numbers by 18% until at least Oct 31.


** Having previously cut its summer schedule and halted ticket sales for short-haul flights departing from Heathrow until mid-August, British Airways said on Aug. 22 it would make further cancellations up to the end of October, after the airport extended its cap on passenger departures. It will also reduce its winter schedule by 8%, impacting around 10,000 flights.

** Meanwhile, London's Gatwick airport said it would not extend limits on passenger numbers beyond August after it ramped up security staffing, while a Lufthansa board member has said the worst of the flight chaos was over for the airline.

Hiring And Incentives

Industry executives say it is hard to recruit for often physically demanding, relatively low paid work at airports often located out of town. Training new hires and getting them security clearance also takes months.

** Schiphol agreed to pay 15,000 cleaners, baggage handlers and security staff €5.25 extra per hour during the summer. It needed to hire 500 security staff after beginning the season with around 10,000 fewer workers than before the pandemic.

** Airport security company ICTS, which operates at Paris' Charles de Gaulle, offered a one-off 180 euro bonus to those delaying their vacation until after Sept. 15 and 150 euros for staff who sign up new recruits, a CGT union representative said.


** Only around 150 airport workers from Turkey were hired by German airports, far fewer than initially expected. They will help with baggage handling under temporary contracts that will run through early November.

News by Reuters, edited by Hospitality Ireland. Click subscribe to sign up for the Hospitality Ireland print edition.