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Explained: Europe’s summer travel chaos

Airlines have cancelled thousands of flights, causing hours-long queues at major airports, dashing hopes for a sizzling first summer following widespread COVID-linked lockdowns.

Express Explained, Explained Global, Europe, strikes, staff shortage, flights cancelled, Covid, lockdown, Scandinavia, SAS carrier, Ireland, Ryanair, airlines, aviationPassengers wait at Munich Airport during a warning strike staged by Lufthansa ground staff over 9.5 % pay claim by Germany's public sector workers union Verdi in Germany, July 27, 2022. (REUTERS)

Strikes and staff shortages are forcing airlines to cancel thousands of flights and causing hours-long queues at major airports, dashing hopes for a sizzling first summer following widespread COVID-linked lockdowns.

Here is a summary of some of the key developments:

Labour unrest

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

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Norwegian Air in June agreed a 3.7% pay rise for pilots among other benefits, in a sign of what other airlines may have to offer to avoid labour strife.

Scandinavian carrier SAS and Ireland’s Ryanair in July agreed terms with some unions representing their pilots, while British Airways and KLM signed wage deals with ground staffers, as strikes affected hundreds of thousands of travellers in the key holiday period.

➡️ Lufthansa

Pilots at the German flagship carrier voted on July 31 in favour of industrial action. Pilot’s union Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) board member Marcel Groels said the vote did not necessarily mean a strike would happen and that they were ready to negotiate. VC is demanding a 5.5% pay rise this year for its pilots and automatic inflation compensation thereafter.

Lufthansa was already rocked by strike action by its ground staff on July 27, which forced it to cancel more than 1,000 flights. Labour union Verdi is demanding a 9.5% pay hike for around 20,000 workers and warned more industrial action could be on the cards.

➡️ Ryanair

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Ryanair’s Spanish cabin crew union members plan to strike four days a week until January to press demands for higher pay and better working conditions, the USO union said on July 27. The strike action, also backed by Sitclpa, will take place from Monday to Thursday every week from Aug. 8 to Jan. 7.

Ryanair workers also caused disruption at many Spanish airports during July, when they walked out for several days, mainly on weekends.

➡️ Easyjet

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Spain-based pilots at Easyjet said on July 29 that they will strike for nine days in August. The pilots will strike from the bases in Barcelona, Malaga and Palma in Mallorca. Meanwhile the Spain-based cabin crew at Easyjet have suspended their strike planned for July 29-31 after it reached a deal with the company. The workers went into strike previously in July, first on July 1 to 3 and again from July 15 to 17, which caused some flight cancellations and delays for the budget airline

➡️ SAS pilots on July 19 ended their 15-day strike, which had grounded 3,700 flights, affected 380,000 passengers, and put the carrier’s future in doubt.

Reduced summer schedules

Airlines, including Lufthansa, British Airways, easyJet, KLM and Wizz Air, have cut thousands of flights from their summer schedules to cope with the disruptions, while major airports have also taken steps to limit traffic.

London’s Heathrow on July 12 asked airlines to stop selling tickets for summer departures, after it capped the number of passengers travelling through it at 100,000 a day to limit queues, baggage delays and cancellations.

Hiring spree and incentives

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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 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 to work at airports also takes months.

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➡️ Schiphol agreed to pay 15,000 cleaners, baggage handlers and security staff 5.25 euros ($5.50) extra per hour during the summer.

One of Europe’s busiest airports needs to hire 500 security staff. It currently has 58,000 workers at and around the airport, 10,000 fewer than before the pandemic.

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➡️ 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 the CDG Alliance.

More than 20,000 people were laid off 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-off 180-euro bonus to those delaying their vacation until after Sept. 15 and 150 euros for staff who sign up new recruits, according to a CGT union representative.

➡️ Frankfurt Airport, Germany’s busiest hub, has rehired nearly 1,000 ground services employees after cutting about 4,000 during the pandemic, but will continue to see disruptions due to lack of workers in the next two or three months, its operator Fraport has said.

Germany plans to fast-track work permits and visas for several thousand foreign airport workers, mainly from Turkey, to help to ease the travel chaos.

According to the ADV airport association, about one in five jobs in security, check-in and aircraft handling is unfilled at German airports. ($1 = 0.9933 euros)

First published on: 01-08-2022 at 10:48:23 pm
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