Frankfurt Airport ahead of the toughest weekend of the year

Will the flight chaos continue unchanged? Germany’s largest airport in Frankfurt still has its real test ahead of it. Already on the last day of school before the summer holidays in three federal states there will be more activity on Friday than at any time since the outbreak of the corona pandemic in March 2020. The airport and airlines have already cut the program.

How many passengers are expected?

With the start of the holidays in Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, the annual records for passenger numbers will almost certainly fall. Fraport expects around 200,000 passengers per day on the weekend of July 22nd to 24th. There were not that many this year with a previous high of a good 180,000.

However, this is still a long way from the all-time high of 241,228 passengers in June 2019. Up to 1,200 planes with 285 destinations take off and land in Frankfurt every day.

What are the biggest problems?

At the hub, there is a lack of people in the ground handling services. This has more far-reaching consequences than the staff shortages that also exist in the canteen kitchens, because aircraft have to be refueled, cleaned, and loaded and unloaded. Staff is also scarce at check-in and on the planes themselves. There are also disruptions to the process from aircraft that have been delayed elsewhere.

As a result, suitcases are often left lying around in Frankfurt while their owners have still caught the connecting flight. A few days ago, there were already 5,000 suitcases in the halls that had to be forwarded. Arriving passengers often have to wait hours for their luggage, as outgoing luggage is given priority loading.

What are the causes?

Basically, the airlines and airports have completely underestimated how many people want to travel again after the Corona lull. The airport association ADV says that around 20 percent of the staff is missing. “Every forecast has been significantly overtaken and many more people are flying than expected. The airports and airlines don’t have enough staff at all levels for that,” said Fraport boss Stefan Schulte to the “Mannheimer Morgen”.

Ultimately, the handling problems at the various airports in Europe and the USA reinforce each other because the flight schedules get mixed up and luggage gets stuck. Airspace closures due to the Ukraine war and technical changes in French air traffic control have also massively weakened Europe’s airspace, so that fewer aircraft can be piloted.

What are the airport and airlines doing?

In Frankfurt, the flight plan was thinned out in advance. Fraport wants to cap the peak loads and therefore only handle a maximum of 88 take-offs and landings per hour. A few weeks ago, 106 flight movements per hour were still possible. According to Fraport spokesman Jürgen Harrer, operations have already stabilized and the mountain of suitcases has been reduced to around 2,000 pieces of luggage.

So far, Lufthansa alone has canceled almost 6,000 flights in Frankfurt and Munich, but Fraport wants to oblige other companies to cancel individual flights or at least postpone them to weaker times. However, this quickly reaches its limits, because the Lufthansa Group is responsible for around 80 percent of all flights in Frankfurt. The next largest customers are then Condor and Star Alliance partners such as United and Air Canada.

Where are the announced temporary workers from Turkey?

Fraport still needs several hundred additional workers “on the concrete”. However, the company has recently dampened expectations of being able to close this gap with workers who have been offered through a Turkish personnel service provider. You have to look closely at the qualifications and also look for suitable people in the workforce at your own foreign airports, a spokesman said. Fraport operates airports in Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, among others. The federal government had supported the recruitment of Turkish temporary workers. According to a survey by “Welt”, the responsible authorities have not yet received any applications for security checks for this group.

What is the security check like?

There should be no queues of people over several hundred meters in Frankfurt, as is currently the case at Cologne/Bonn Airport. According to the federal police, the service providers responsible for this have almost as many staff on board as before the Corona crisis. Despite increased sick leave, incentives and the use of additional staff from the administration will cope with the rush, says federal police spokesman Reza Ahmari.

Technically, however, Germany’s largest airport is not up to date. Only two of the 160 security lanes have baggage scanners of the latest CT design, which allow liquids and electronic items to remain in hand luggage. In this way, a significantly higher number of checks per hour is achieved. Fraport intends to make massive investments in this area from next year when the airport operator manages the operational use of the controls. There are also faster processes at the 30 control lanes, where several passengers can place their hand luggage at the same time.

Can it get any worse?

Definitely yes. Even if the travel summer has long since entered the second half, the risks are growing. Airlines and airports only expect normalization in the coming year. In any case, September is traditionally the month with the most travel at Frankfurt Airport, so that renewed peaks in passenger numbers cannot be ruled out. The corona pandemic will continue to cause high levels of sick leave, as well as overloading the remaining forces. The current heat does the rest, because there is no shade on the concrete apron.

In addition, things are fermenting in the Lufthansa workforce. Two rounds of collective bargaining talks with Verdi have already yielded no results for ground staff. Pilots and cabin crew groan under the short-term planning of their missions and the even tighter staffing levels with Corona. The planners acted under the maxim “we have to get the planes out of the yard somehow,” complains the cabin union Ufo. Like the Cockpit Union, it negotiates open collective agreements. In principle, all three unions in the company are able to go on strike.

What can passengers do themselves?

Fraport asks guests to be at check-in at least two and a half hours before departure. Ideally, you have already done this electronically and only have to hand in your suitcase, for which machines are increasingly available. This can often be done the night before. The federal police then recommends going quickly to the passenger checkpoint, for which you should allow up to an hour’s waiting time instead of the usual 20 minutes. There are also waiting zones and expensive snacks and drinks in the security area.

Hand luggage is a tricky subject. In view of the uncertainties with checked suitcases, passengers currently tend to take as many things as possible into the cabin. Less would be more for a quick process at the controls, but liquids and electronic devices should at least be pre-sorted, advises the federal police.

© dpa-infocom, dpa:220720-99-85208/3