Will airport chaos continue this summer? Top tips from industry insiders

We are all hungry for a vacation. With entry rules ending in many countries and travel concerns easing, many people are hoping to get away from it all this summer.

But the excitement of going abroad has been marred by airport chaos, canceled flights and long queues. Although travel restrictions may be easing, recent problems at airports are leaving many people unsure if they should book at all.

So, with airlines saying it’s very difficult to predict what will happen over the next 12 months, we went to the Routes Aviation conference to hear their thoughts on next year’s travel.

Will the airport chaos continue this summer?

The bad news is that the chaos seen at European airports in recent months looks set to continue.

Airlines are working hard to reshuffle their teams to have enough staff available, but as the number of passengers increase during the summer, the problem may get worse. And they say it’s mainly because of the lack of staff at the airports where they operate.

Airlines For Europe managing director Thomas Raynaert says there is no short-term solution. People left the industry during the pandemic for other sectors with better wages, more satisfying work and better conditions. They are unlikely to return.

Because it takes time to train staff for roles such as security and baggage handling which are currently understaffed, the problem will not be resolved quickly.

Rafael Schvartzman, the International Air Transport Association’s regional vice president for Europe, said the situation needed to be addressed urgently “to avoid frustrating customers”.

He added that it was “unprecedented” to see an airport asking airlines to cancel bookings and reservations in the future – as happened at some airports during the chaos earlier this year.

Why so many disruptions at European airports?

Passenger numbers in March were up to 75% of pre-pandemic levels, IATA said, showing the aviation industry is recovering. Schvartzman explained that this could mean a return to 2019 numbers as early as 2023.

“It’s a sign of what’s to come this summer,” he said, with projections for a very good season. But it doesn’t look like some airports are ready for this increase in traffic.

Many industry experts have pointed out Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam as an example of this under-preparation. The airport authority here has warned that it will be very busy every day until and including the summer due to lack of staff.

Staff are threatening to strike over working conditions, queues have sparked outbreaks of violence and Dutch airline KLM has had to temporarily suspend ticket sales due to the chaos.

“People have waited two, sometimes three years for a vacation and that shouldn’t be marred by a lack of preparation,” Schvartzman added.

Why is airport chaos a big deal for tour operators?

For those who have booked their flights directly with the airlines, delays and cancellations are often resolved by taking another flight. But for people booking packages through tour operators, the situation can be a bit trickier.

Rex Nikkels, airport supply specialist for TUI, says that because hotels, transfers and other parts of the trip are booked together, rescheduling is difficult. It means tour operators like them – and the people who book through them – have been among the hardest hit by the chaos at airports.

“We also had to get rid of people,” he says, explaining that they lost workers during the pandemic just like airports. “We are also short-staffed at the moment, but we can manage.”

Nikkels says this means tour operators have taken a reputational blow because people are quick to blame them when all the moving parts of a package holiday cannot be changed.

“This summer we will face the same problems,” he adds.

Should you plan to arrive early when flying?

It’s easy to think that arriving super early for your flight is the solution when the queues are ridiculously long.

But according to Nikkels, arriving too early can cause just as many problems as arriving too late. People should not show up more than three hours before their flight, as those who show up five or more hours before departure only add to queues, he says.

Most airlines advise passengers not to arrive before their scheduled check-in time. It’s also worth making sure your passports are still valid, especially if you’re traveling from the UK where Post-Brexit rules add to the confusion and there have been delays in renewals.

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