Although Europe’s international travel scene initially appeared to be rebounding well at the start of 2022, the current state of air travel chaos seen at many European airports is likely to impede the sector’s recovery, according to leading data and analytics company GlobalData.
An (apparently) unexpected tidal wave of consumer demand has continued to swell in 2022, overwhelmed unprepared airports and airlines around the globe.
Understaffing and other logistical challenges have led to a near-constant succession of flight disruptions, such as mass delays and cancellations, and ludicrously long lines and wait times at airports worldwide.
But, Europe seems to have it particularly bad. A few days ago, the Washington Post reported that the number of delays and cancellations in Europe is more than three times what it is in the U.S., some days being as high as five times the amount.
“International departures from European countries are expected to reach 69% of 2019 figures in 2022, according to GlobalData forecasts,” said Hannah Free, Travel and Tourism Analyst at GlobalData. “While destinations are eager to welcome visitors, supply simply cannot meet demand following extreme staffing deficits and industrial disputes, which has coincided with a rebound in international travel.”
In attempts to keep the problems from compounding during the busy summer travel season, many airlines strategically pared down their planned flight schedules to make the most of their limited workforces.
“Airports like London Heathrow and Amsterdam’s Schiphol have been forced to ask airlines to cut flights, while many carriers have had to pre-emptively cull their schedules by the thousands, affecting millions of holidaymakers,” said Free. “easyJet has reportedly cut more than 11,000 flights from its summer schedule. Meanwhile, British Airways has now canceled 13% of its summer schedule, following a statement on July 6, 2022, that the company is to axe another 10,300 short-haul flights up to the end of October 2022.”
Both of the airlines she mentioned have pointed to their ongoing staffing shortages as the reason for slashing their schedules. But, in looking at British Airways’ hiring trends, GlobalData noted that the carrier failed to recruit an adequate number of employees to handle the summer’s resurgence in travel demand. In November 2021, British Airways announced its intention to increase its workforce by 15 percent, equating to around 4,000 new additions, including pilots, cabin crew, ground staff and back-office workers.
Given, however, that the airline reportedly cut around 10,000 jobs due to COVID-19, those efforts fell far short. And, according to hiring trends data drawn from GlobalData’s Job Analytics Database, British Airways didn’t increase the number of active job postings on its career pages until at least March 2022. Too little, too late.
Free added, “While this example looks specifically at British Airways, it should be emphasized that this is an industry-wide issue with massive staff shortages, following cuts during the pandemic, causing major issues for several airlines. The interconnected nature of the tourism ecosystem—which sees hotels, airlines, car rental firms, tour operators, cruise lines and others dependent on each other along the traveler journey—means that disruption issues at any point along this chain has the potential to negatively affect the others. Unfortunately, prolonged financial hardship for a number of industry players is the corollary of canceled flights.”
Besides lack of staffing, several other factors have played a part in creating the current insanity at Europe’s airports, including the Russia-Ukraine conflict and resulting sanctions imposed against Russia, which led almost immediately to global supply chain issues. This, in turn, contributed to record economic inflation levels, which has caused the cost of living to increase dramatically—all of which, taken together, is bound to impede international travel’s recovery.
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