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Airport chaos around the world

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From Channel News Asia

SINGAPORE: From Melbourne to Manchester, and from Toronto to Turin, many airports around the world are struggling to cope with the explosion in demand for air travel as COVID-19 restrictions ease.

But passengers at several major airports have complained about snaking queues at check-in counters and immigration.

With the summer season holiday crowd descending on countries in the northern hemisphere, aviation experts have warned that there may be more chaos at some airports. 

Here is where the crowds are building and how you can best cope with the inconveniences as you gear up to fly again.

WHERE IS THIS HAPPENING?

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has been grappling with overcrowding for weeks due to a shortage of security staff, according to Reuters reports.

Last week, Dutch carrier KLM was forced to cancel dozens of flights into its hub, which is Europe’s third-busiest airport, in order to alleviate congestion there.

With the summer season holiday crowd descending on countries in the northern hemisphere, aviation experts have warned that there may be more chaos at some airports.

Last week, Dutch carrier KLM was forced to cancel dozens of flights into its hub, which is Europe’s third-busiest airport, in order to alleviate congestion there.

On Tuesday (Jun 7), Spain announced the hiring of 500 additional police to staff passport control at busy airports and tourist destinations around the country including in Madrid.

Spain's interior minister attributed reports of congestion at airports to multiple flights arriving at the same time.

On Wednesday, British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair cancelled flights between Italy and the United Kingdom as a result of air traffic controller strikes at a number of Italian airports, the Liverpool Echo reported.

On Wednesday evening, German flag carrier Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings said they were cancelling more than 1,000 flights in July, or 5 per cent of their planned weekend capacity, due to staff shortages.

The company said in a statement that it had seen a jump in demand as the pandemic has eased, which "after the most severe crisis in aviation is good news".

However, it added that the infrastructure has not fully recovered, leading to "bottlenecks and staff shortages" in Europe, hitting airports, ground services, air traffic control and airlines.

On Thursday, strikes at Paris' main Charles de Gaulle Airport led to a quarter of flights being grounded, with runways closed and passengers delayed.

Around 100 flights were scrapped in total after workers went on strike to demand higher wages.

At Dublin Airport, there were massive queues and a suspension of new bookings for a VIP service, reported news website Independent.ie this week.

Similar scenes of snaking queues at bag drops and at airside security were also seen last week at London's Heathrow Airport, reported ITV News.

Although airports in the United States have largely avoided the heavy congestion seen in Europe, a staffing crunch has forced airlines to cancel flights and cut down their summer schedules.

Alaska Air Group had to cancel 4 per cent of its flights last month because of staffing issues, while Delta Air Lines, which cancelled about 700 flights over the four-day Memorial Day holiday at the end of May, plans to cut flights through August, Reuters reported.

Canada's busiest airport, the Toronto Pearson International Airport, is allowing some of its staff who have yet to obtain their badges to work temporarily under supervision by vetted employees, said Tori Gass, a spokeswoman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.

The temporary pass is in response to the large volume of appointments for restricted area identity cards, Gass said. It takes roughly 45 days to get the cards.

Pearson is struggling to cope with planes stuck at gates and hours-long security lines due to staffing shortages.

 

 


 

 

 

 

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I'm not too sure about the situation at my local airport in Perth but in the eastern states they are really under the pump with long queues. Also in Australia so many people let their passports expire over the last 2 years (about two million passports expired) and have now all rushed in to get new passports, so many that there is a lengthy delay in issuing passports, not very bright of them for letting their passports expire as some have already booked trips and are needing passports in a hurry🙃

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Every company, especially those in the travel industry, has to have planning in place for disaster scenarios and individuals virtually on stand-by to head up a disaster team at a moment's notice. If ever the need for that was illustrated, the arrival of covid was it. Equally, though, over the last two years every company should have had a team working on various recovery scenarios. This would have been far from easy given the need for co-ordination with many divisions within a company as well as government liaison, but far from impossible. Had that been the case, I am pretty sure the new set of disasters presently experienced in the travel industry could have been in large part all but avoided.

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To be fair, Covid presented the industry with the perfect storm: pilots who had no planes and attendants who had no passengers to attend. After keeping them on payroll for months they offered early retirement to most senior people and laid off a ton of others.then they had to mothball aircraft they wouldn’t be using.

When the urge to travel returned they were unable to build back staff in sufficient numbers. You can recall furloughed pilots but you have to put them through simulator training to get their skills back.other categories of employees took jobs elsewhere (as Vinapu recently noted).

You can’t train new pilots in a few weeks or few months. It’s a time consuming and expensive endeavor. Flight attendants need at least two months of training and ground somewhat less.

And the most overlooked workers were those who literally make the planes run on time: gate agents, baggage handlers, refuelers, tarmac traffic directors, mechanics, ticket agents.

IMO, the carriers have done their best to recover. It’s the airports that also laid off tons of lower paid workers, many of whom found employment elsewhere. 

Travel demand may be returning to pre-Covid levels but the travel infrastructure will take considerably longer to catch up. 

 

 

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Yes, i agree my earlier comments are perhaps overly critical. I realise, too, that both airlines and airports depend on quite a variety of independent contractors over which they have little direct control. But I still feel that the industry as a whole, while very quick to downsize as the pandemic started to hit, did not do nearly enough to form a task force to work out a whole series of scenarios dealing with how it would get back on its feet depending on how covid progressed and was eventually going to come to an end. 

There is an article in today's Observer newspaper in London about the chaos in London's airports and many in Europe. It points out that British Airways was quick to cancel about 10% of its schedule back in April to last until October so that it would avoid the worst of the chaos for its customers who made it to airports. Easy Jet, the continent's largest low cost carrier cut very few and is now left with a huge backlog and a vast number of angry passengers. Under UK and European regulations, many of these passengers are entitled to payments for delays and cancellations, leading to Easy Jet in particular trying to get out of such payments. On the other hand, the second very large UK-operated low cost carrier Ryanair has had to cancel no flights over this last month. Ryanair obviously had its crisis management team much more up to speed than other carriers.

As worrying for the industry is the possibility of a major downturn in the autumn, partly as a result of general cost increases to make up for the losses of the last two years and especially oil price increases.

The boss of Heathrow, one of the world's largest international airports, is quoted in the article as stating it could take 18 months to be fully staffed once again. 18 months? In my book, this man should be fired. 

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/jun/11/with-six-weeks-to-save-summer-can-easyjet-climb-out-of-the-chaos

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9 hours ago, PeterRS said:

The boss of Heathrow, one of the world's largest international airports, is quoted in the article as stating it could take 18 months to be fully staffed once again. 18 months? In my book, this man should be fired. 

 

You are being far too critical @PeterRS  There are 3 major reasons why it will take some considerable time.

  • The UK now has more job vacancies than unemployed people seeking work.
  • Staffing at airports (with many functions being sub-contracted) is even more complicated than it is for airlines.
  • In the UK, any new employee with access to the airport has to get a security clearance. This requires a check of the last 5 years employment history, with confirmation from each employer. As you may imagine, in the pandemic many employees left unpaid jobs and took alternative (and/or short-term) employment. Any failure to confirm a period of employment prevents security clearance being given. (Airlines did recently ask the UK Govt to relax this rule, but it refused.)
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13 hours ago, msclelovr said:

You are being far too critical @PeterRS  There are 3 major reasons why it will take some considerable time.

  • The UK now has more job vacancies than unemployed people seeking work.
  • Staffing at airports (with many functions being sub-contracted) is even more complicated than it is for airlines.
  • In the UK, any new employee with access to the airport has to get a security clearance. This requires a check of the last 5 years employment history, with confirmation from each employer. As you may imagine, in the pandemic many employees left unpaid jobs and took alternative (and/or short-term) employment. Any failure to confirm a period of employment prevents security clearance being given. (Airlines did recently ask the UK Govt to relax this rule, but it refused.)

I fully understand the reason for your comment and the facts behind it. But respectfully I am not sure you fully took on board my earlier comments. The reason for the present mess is basically down to one reason - the lack of effective crisis management and future planning. What you write is totally correct. But there were signs many months before airline traffic began to pick up that covid was being controlled through vaccinations. With intense pressure primarily (I expect) from the business community, it should have been as clear as day that curbs on travel would eventually be lifted in certain parts the world. Of course, no one had a crystal ball and the timing of that pick up was uncertain.

But an essential part of crisis management is preparing a raft of scenarios for recovery from the crisis. I don't for a moment believe there was a crisis management committee made up of representatives from all involved in the airline industry, the international air controllers and governments working on a series of opening up plans and what would be required in each case to ensure it was all done in as  orderly a fashion as possible. The ad hoc way it has all happened is illustrative of that. Airlines were desperate to get planes flying nd people moving. Who told Easy Jet that attempting to operate the schedule it advertised was madness and could not be done, given the problems facing airports, security and immigration? How is it that Ryanair has not faced similar problems on anything like that scale? What did Heathrow management do re contacting laid off workers at least to inform them that it might be rehiring relatively quickly? Of course, many laid off workers will have taken other jobs as they'd had families to support. But one issue the crisis management committee might have considered was re-signing bonuses. These would have had to be paid for. But what is better for the airport? More planes and more passengers resulting in much more revenue. Or the present mess with a lot less revenue?

Simplistic? It will seem so to some. But having spoken to a friend I have known for 40 years and who worked his way up in the Cathay Pacific hierarchy to become a Board member for 6 years, he is scathing about how the industry recovery at least in Europe has been handled.

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What you can’t prepare for is strikes by employees. You simply can’t hire people off the street to replace air traffic controllers or flight crews. You have no choice but to negotiate or endure.

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My most recent holiday was to the EU, in May departing on Sunday around lunchtime.   I arrived early, with no check in bags & paid the £5 for express security checks.  However, the security check area was nearly empty and I was through very quickly.

I suspect Sunday morning might be a good time to travel, as it's too early for business travel and it's wasting a day of holiday for those still confined to jobs.

 

Upon returning, immigration actually had all the electronic passport gates working, so I was through in about a minute with no queue.     I wish it were always like that.   

Due to the benefit of private sector management and competition, factories have their electronic inspection equipment working reliably, in some cases 24-7.   Meanwhile, the public sector is accountable to feckless politicians, with no competition, so their electronic inspection equipment might be switched off, leading to very poor service.     At the very least, they should step up to the plate and make sure electronic passport gates operate continuously and reliably.

After doing the easy part, then tackle the more challenging security checks that still need people.

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3 hours ago, reader said:

What you can’t prepare for is strikes by employees. You simply can’t hire people off the street to replace air traffic controllers or flight crews. You have no choice but to negotiate or endure.

Agree re strikes. But have there been any strikes in the UK which is the area I have mostly concentrated my replies? And I agree you cannot take people off the streets for what is skilled work. But you are assuming that due to a sudden surge, people with those skills have to be hired at virtually a moment's notice. And that is the entire point of crisis management. You don't do things at a moment's notice. You work to a plan which is prepared long beforehand and is adaptable according to circumstances. Looking at the low cost carriers, how is it that in May Ryanair was able to fly more flights than during the same period pre-covid, whereas during that same time period Easy Jet cancelled hundreds of flights, many just prior to scheduled departure times? Easy Jet was clearly totally unprepared.

As an article in The Guardian points out, the French pilot's union sent a "withering letter" accusing airport managers at Luton where Easy Jet is headquartered of presiding over "unprecedented chaos - cancelling viable flights and waiting too long to scrap others." But Easy Jet maintains that it has no direct recruitment problems and it retains a similar level of standby crews as pre-covid! Eurocontrol, the main air traffic control centre, warned airlines a week ago that it did not have the capacity to handle the number of flights that are planning to operate over European airspace over the next six weeks. Why was this not a matter for discussions by a controlling crisis management committee several weeks ago? Clearly airlines are adding too many flights without a guarantee that they can operate. An industry where each separate company does its own thing in a time of extreme difficulty for a variety of reasons is bound to end up in chaos.

Crisis management teams will still be vital as the year progresses, for there are some in the industry predicting yet another contraction as the year progresses. Earlier in the year Unite, the Union responsible for Easy Jet's ground handling, negotiated a 10% pay rise. With inflation hovering near 10% and household incomes suffering as a result, all allied to huge increases in the price of fuel, ticket prices will certainly rise with the result that passenger demand may drop off once again after the summer holiday period. Will a Christmas rush follow? Who knows? But an industry which is not prepared is bound to suffer.

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