Why Air Travel Woes Will Likely Worsen This Summer

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Travelers who intend on taking big post-pandemic trips this summer need to be prepared.

Industry forecasters are saying that the excessive airport wait time, flight cancellations and delays the world has seen in recent weeks will likely only get worse in the months ahead.

Experts are warning that the airline industry cannot possibly support the upsurge in travel demand this summer. Some have called it a “perfect storm” of events that have come together to create global air travel slowdowns that won’t be resolved any time soon.

The first signs appeared as travelers returned to the skies in earnest this spring, with a series of multi-day mass flight disruptions that affected all major U.S. carriers.

Those problems, which impacted thousands of flights, were attributed either to inclement weather conditions, technological issues or ongoing staffing challenges—with airlines and airport operators short on personnel from air traffic controllers and ground crews to pilots, flight attendants and gate agents.

And, with travelers now starting to set off on their first restriction-free summer vacations in two years, we’re seeing more air travel mayhem.

Security and passport control at airport. (Photo via MariusLtu / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus)

Latest Debacles in the U.S.

This past Memorial Day holiday period’s passenger numbers proved that travel demand is again meeting, if not exceeding, pre-pandemic levels, both at home and abroad. It also demonstrated that the global aviation industry remains ill-prepared to handle the throngs of travelers who are planning on taking trips over the coming warm-weather months.

More than 5,000 flights within, into or out of the United States were cancelled over Memorial Day weekend, the Daily Mail reported. And, it’s clear that airlines are anticipating similar trends will continue throughout the summer, as several major U.S. carriers have announced cuts to their summer schedules in an attempt to “minimize disruptions”.

PHOTO: Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. (Photo via VanderWolf-Images / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus)

Latest Disruptions in Europe

Meanwhile, Europe’s summer travel season has arguably gotten off to an even worse start. For weeks now, long wait times and snaking queues at airports across the Continent have prompted a flood of customer complaints, prompting operators to issue advisories for passengers to arrive at the airport earlier than usual.

This past week, Dublin International Airport was the latest to be affected by serious slowdowns, resulting in passengers missing their flights who’d arrived within recommended timeframes. Over the weekend, customers’ social media posts included photos and videos of queues spilling out of the airport, ludicrously long lines zig-zagging at terminals and utter chaos in baggage claim areas, The Points Guy reported.

Similarly, excessive wait times and flight cancellations at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport last week caused hundreds more to miss their flights. It’s the Europe Union’s (E.U.) second-largest airport and has suffered severe delays and flight disruptions over the past month. As a result, Dutch flagship carrier KLM temporarily stopped selling tickets from Amsterdam in order to accommodate the flood of passengers who had missed their planes due to long security screening lines.

In the United Kingdom (U.K.), aviation sector issues have escalated to the point that government officials are stepping in to address the “exceptional disruption” at airports. Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps has said he suspects part of the problem is that airlines are overselling seats, and “airline passengers are being unfairly sold tickets for (trips) they cannot go on.”

London Heahtrow Airport Terminal 5
London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. (Photo via GordonBellPhotography / iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus)

Outlook for Summer Travel

Industry expert Christopher Elliott told CNN on Saturday he predicts that these latest disruptions are only the beginning of a trend. “I think this is just the opening act for what will be a crazy summer,” he said. “We still have high gas prices, we have record demand straining the entire system, we still have pilot shortages. Airlines haven’t fully staffed up yet the way they needed to.”

According to euronews.travel, Europe’s aviation leaders also warned last week that the Continent’s airports are facing a ‘big challenge’ this summer. In a joint statement, Olivier Jankovec, director general of Airports Council International Europe (ACI Europe), and Fabio Gamba, director general of the Airport Services Association (ASA), admitted that, “short-term, there is no quick and easy fix.”

European Flight Delays
Flight delays over Europe. (Photo via Getty Images / bunhill)

The Perfect Storm

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that have led to this sorry state of affairs:

— In relatively quick succession, many countries have dropped their COVID-era entry restrictions, leading to a rapid rebound in travel planning by a world population whose desire to go globetrotting has been pent up for the past two years.

— Evidently caught off-guard by 2022’s surge in demand, the aviation industry remains short-staffed across the board; a problem the origins of which can be traced back to the drastic downsizing of airlines’ workforces when air travel slowed to a trickle with the pandemic’s onset in 2020.

— Airlines allege they weren’t given sufficient warning to ramp up staffing and operations enough to deal with the increased demand, though industry experts aren’t quite convinced by that defense. Rory Boland, editor of consumer magazine Which? Travel, told CNN he attributes much of the present problem to the “relentless cost-cutting behavior” of airlines and airports during the pandemic.

Passengers in Line at the Airport.
Passengers waiting in line at the airport. (Photo via Getty Images / vm)

— Now, airlines and airport operators are reportedly having difficulty attracting applicants for their vacant positions, due to the low pay rates being offered for jobs requiring odd hours and challenging working conditions, according to a statement from ACI Europe. Boland compared wages being offered at various worldwide airports and contested that, in some places, check-in staff were being paid less than supermarket workers.

— In attempts to speed up recruitment, and hasten the lengthy process of vetting new personnel, the U.K.’s government announced plans to start new employees’ training before their security checks are complete. At the same time, U.S. airlines are reportedly cutting back on training requirements for pilots to get more of them flying as fast as possible, which is far from reassuring.

— The shortage of trained staff and the impossibility of bringing new recruits up to speed quickly enough to have any immediate impact on the situation probably means that summer travelers are fated to endure ongoing issues with air travel, and worse than what we’re seeing right now.

— The aforementioned challenges are prompting carriers to cut summer capacity by trimming their flight schedules; which, in turn, will drive up fare prices for consumers as demand outpaces supply.

Source: TravelPulse

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