Luggage piled up, canceled flights and long waits

With the return to normality after the lifting of restrictions related to the pandemic, many are those who want to travel. But flying this summer can be a real exercise in patience. Similar to what has been happening at Lisbon airport, chaos is installed at several European airports and also in the United States, which are struggling with a rapid recovery in demand, while they are unable to rehire the employees laid off at the height of the health crisis.

In Lisbon, waiting times in the airport arrivals area exceeded three hours, due to the lack of resources and border checkpoints in operation by the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF). A peak in affluence will have motivated the constraints at Humberto Delgado Airport, after the Ministry of Internal Administration presented a plan at the end of May to try to respond to the increase in passenger inflow expected with the arrival of summer.

Passengers without a European Union passport have been the most affected, among them many Brazilian citizens who still complain about lost bags. This is the case of Claudia Bellizzi, who traveled from London to Lisbon on a TAP flight on June 17 and boarded the next day on a plane of the same airline bound for Recife, Brazil.

“My luggage of three suitcases to date still hasn’t arrived. I made a complaint at Recife airport, when I landed and they told me that the luggage would arrive the next morning”, says the Brazilian, adding that when contacting TAP, an employee of the Portuguese airline advised her to look for the company responsible for handling the luggage to try to locate the bags.

At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, thousands of passengers also have to face long waits to board and disembark. At the security checkpoint, the queues are interminable, causing some passengers to end up missing their flights. On Twitter, an internet user writes that on Tuesday at 18:00 local time (17:00 in Lisbon), passengers had to walk “three kilometers in line to get to the security control”.

At the root of the problem is the lack of security and baggage handling staff, which pile up in the aisles. The situation worsened on Monday, during the strike by airport cleaning workers.

Faced with the inability to respond, due to the shortage of staff, the airport in recent days was forced to take measures, suppressing flights and forwarding up to 13 thousand passengers daily to the airports of Rotterdam and The Hague. In addition, it will limit the number of daily passengers to 70,000 in what is the busiest period of travel in Europe. This limit is equivalent to a 16% reduction.

The decision will directly affect the Dutch airline KLM, which has its main operations center in that air terminal. In the coming days, the company will have to cancel hundreds of flights.

“There will be passengers who this summer will not be able to fly from Schiphol,” announced Schiphol Airport Director Dick Benschop, assuring that “setting a limit now means the vast majority of travelers will be able to travel safely and responsibly.”

Last Sunday, at Heathrow Airport in London, United Kingdom, thousands of bags were left behind. A malfunction in the airport’s baggage distribution system, without anyone handing them out manually, led to luggage piled up on a huge carpet that clogged the terminal’s corridors.

To alleviate the confusion, airlines were asked to cancel 10% of flights to and from Heathrow. About 90 planes were grounded and 15,000 passengers were affected.

The lack of human resources and sectoral strikes in preparation for the rapid recovery are causing the scenario to be repeated at other European airports such as Stockholm, Brussels, Paris, Dublin, Madrid and Barcelona.

“Many qualified professionals have been lost and now the industry has to re-hire people and retrain them in order to serve passengers,” said Heathrow Airport Executive Director John Holland Kaye, admitting that this takes some time. time. “I think it will take 12 to 18 months for the industry to regain pre-pandemic capacity.”

In Gatwick, London, the capacity to accommodate travel over the next three months was also limited after dozens of flights were canceled at the last minute due to a lack of staff to ensure response to increased demand.

The British EasyJet has already announced that it will cancel thousands of flights scheduled for the summer months. Most travel will be eliminated at London Gatwick and Amsterdam airports, two of EasyJet’s biggest bases in Europe, but according to Johan Lundgren, the airline’s chief executive, other airports could be affected.

According to The Telegraph, around 4,000 flights have been and will still be canceled from April to the end of this quarter. Between July and September, 8,000 EasyJet trips should be cancelled.

The decision follows the UK Department of Transport and Civil Aviation Authority asking airlines to adapt their schedules and travel plans to the lack of human resources at airports and the increased demand for travel.

The British airline will fly at just 87% of its pre-pandemic flight capacity for the remainder of June and at 90% of that capacity between July and September. In May, the outlook was for the airline to be able to fly at 90% of its pre-pandemic flight capacity by June 30 and at 97% between July and September.

The call for strikes in the airline industry has also stirred the skies of Europe. Employees of several companies demand better working conditions in the face of the accelerated resumption of air traffic.

Discontent at Ryanair has prompted unions of flight attendants in several countries to urge employees of the Irish airline to join the strike next weekend.

In Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium and Italy, flight attendants demand respect for labor law and a salary increase. Here, Ryanair employees are called to mobilize from June 24th to 26th to protest against the degradation of working conditions.

On 12 and 13 June, a strike caused the cancellation of a quarter of Ryanair’s flights in France, the equivalent of around forty flights. At the time, the representative of the French National Union of Commercial Navigation Personnel (SNPNC), Damien Mourgues, accused the Irish company of not respecting rest times, as provided for in the civil aviation code.

In Spain, the unions call on low-cost flight attendants to strike on the 24th, 25th, 26th and 30th of June, as well as on the 1st and 2nd of July. And also in Belgium there will be demonstrations.

Last week, Michael O’Leary, the company’s CEO, played down the impact of these strikes. “We guarantee 2,500 flights a day. Most of these flights will remain guaranteed,” he assured, at a press conference in Brussels.

Last Sunday, it was the turn of Ryanair pilots to join the flight attendants and ask for a stoppage starting this Friday.

The wave of protest is also affecting British low-cost airline EasyJet in Spain, as the Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) is planning a nine-day strike in July at the airports of Barcelona, ​​Malaga and Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands. Employees of Brussels Airlines, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, will also be on strike from today for three days.

Problems are not only felt on this side of the Atlantic. On Sunday alone in the United States about a thousand flights were cancelled. From Friday to Sunday, the accounting amounted to about 14,000 flights canceled or delayed.

Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta was one of the hardest hit airports, leaving several passengers stranded last weekend when one of the local airlines, Delta, canceled and altered dozens of scheduled flights.

Delta attributed the delays and cancellations to increased sick leave due to Covid-19, but also to bad weather. Last week, the company said it planned to cancel 100 flights a day in July and August to avoid further travel constraints this summer.

Among the airports with the highest number of cancellations are American Airlines’ main base at Charlotte Douglas, North Carolina; LaGuardia and Newark Liberty in the New York area; and the Reagan Washington National in Washington DC. On the US west coast, LAX in Los Angeles, California canceled a total of 40 flights on Sunday and saw another 181 flights delayed.

The chief executive of US low-cost airline JetBlue, Robin Hayes, claimed that airlines are being unduly blamed for the constraints and that operational limits have derailed the industry’s recovery plans.

“In the US, it was only a few weeks ago that the mandatory Covid-19 testing requirement for travel was removed. So this will be a slow recovery and there is still a lot of uncertainty,” she explained.

According to the person in charge, the recovery may take the rest of the year and will not be done immediately. “JetBlue can add another 10% to 15% of capacity and we have the planes to do that. But the situation is still very fragile so at the moment we have to plan more conservatively.”

In the same vein, Emirates chairman Tim Clark argued that labor shortages are an inevitable consequence of Covid-19.

“The question we all ask is: Where did all the workers go?” he described, adding that persuasion is the most appropriate way to lure workers back into the sector as opposed to wage increases.

“We can give them incentives to go back to work, but that’s a very inexperienced way of doing things. No one has done it on this scale before,” she considered.

According to the latest data revealed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), in 2019, the global aviation sector employed 90 million people. Three years later, that number has been reduced to less than half: 44 million.

In the midst of the confusion felt at European and North American airports, there are regions that resist and others that managed to deal with the labor issue in time. Dubai and Doha airports are back operating at normal rates, having opened much earlier at a time when the volume of flights was much lower when other regions of the world were still closed to tourism.

This gave Middle Eastern airlines and airports time to ensure that the increase in flights kept pace with the rehiring of employees. Second, the CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, in the last recruitment campaign that the company launched there were more than 20 thousand applications for just 900 positions.

Despite still escaping the chaos, Asian airports may well be the next to face difficulties similar to those in Europe and the United States.

IATA’s regional vice president for Asia-Pacific Philip Goh said on Monday that “Asia is not yet seeing much congestion at airports” but that there are already alarming signs in Australia.

The official also highlighted Japan as a possible focus of problems when that tourist destination opens its doors after the blockade that has been prolonged in time.

“If airports and airlines are smart enough to analyze the problems Europe faces, they should be able to plan before demand increases. Otherwise, we learn nothing from this situation,” she warned.

In Asia, passenger traffic is now at 22% from pre-covid-19 levels, much lower than in other regions, but is expected to rapidly increase to over 70% by the end of the year. In Europe, passenger traffic already hovers around 75% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

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