It’s a question that Maria Bataller has been asking herself for weeks: will she and her family be able to board the flights she has booked this summer?
She is due to fly Ryanair with her husband and young children to Spain on July 27, but the airline’s cabin crew in Spain are going on strike this month.
“The worst thing would be to show up at the airport at 4 a.m. with two young children and find that the flight is cancelled,” said Bataller, whose company, Capikooa, makes children’s toys. “I’m really anxious because my parents are in Spain and they are getting old. I want my kids to make memories – I don’t want to miss another summer.
Like many people hoping to get away this summer, Bataller is haunted by the flight cancellations that caused so much disruption to travelers during the recent midterm break.
The uncertainty surrounding the summer getaway will be unlike any other year. The pandemic has created huge pent-up demand for vacations abroad, but a host of hurdles mean travelers are facing an anxious time.
Strikes, a new wave of Covid and the war in Ukraine are taking their toll. Meanwhile, staff shortages and security checks mean airlines, airports and the myriad of businesses involved in every passenger’s journey are already strained.
So despite the government taking the drastic step of ordering airlines to be ‘realistic’ about the number of flights they could operate, which has resulted in more than 41,000 planned cancellations so far this summer , no one in the airline industry can guarantee that passengers won’t face more disruption when the big summer getaway begins in earnest later this month.
Anna Bowles, head of consumer policy and enforcement at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said: ‘We have asked airlines to review their schedules and ensure they are deliverable. . Airlines reacted to this by making large-scale cancellations of flights for the summer period that they did not reasonably expect to deliver.
“Cancellations made well in advance are much better for the consumer than cancellations made at short notice.”
The first signs that the return to normality planned for this year would not be smooth came with long queues in the departure lounges over Easter, then chaotic scenes last month when at least 600 flights were were canceled at the last minute.
When governments began dropping travel restrictions earlier this year, airlines and tour operators saw huge demand and adopted schedules above 2019 travel levels. More than 30,000 staff had been laid off by the British airlines when government support for the pandemic ended, and they – along with airport security, baggage handlers and refuellers – launched an urgent recruitment drive.
But the wider shortage of workers has left huge gaps, leading Jet2 executive chairman Philip Meeson to attack airports last week, accusing them of being ‘woefully unprepared’ and describing companies ground handling as having “atrocious customer service, long lines for security screening, understaffing and congestion in baggage handling”.
Others in the industry have pointed out that airlines have outsourced airside services like ground handling and refueling and then squeezed their suppliers, leaving companies with low profit margins and little room to grow. wages. New airport staff need security clearance, which used to take months. And a new ground handler may need 45 minutes to remove a misplaced bag from an aircraft – a significant security threat – compared to 15 minutes for an experienced worker.
After the travel chaos subsided, the CAA and government wrote to airlines urging them to be more realistic in their plans, but carriers were reluctant because it would mean losing airport landing slots – a good precious. Thus, on June 21, the government announced a slot “amnesty”, allowing airlines to keep their landing slots for next year. EasyJet has since scrapped around 11,000 flights, while BA has cut its summer schedule by around 13% – some 30,000 flights before October.
The slots amnesty ended on Friday, so if other airlines have to make any planned cancellations, they should announce them in the coming days.
That should make the remaining flights safer, but there are other issues that can mean more last-minute cancellations than usual.
Heathrow is still facing disruption as refuellers plan a 72-hour strike, but other labor disputes appear to have been resolved after BA check-in staff received an improved pay offer.
The war in Ukraine means the skies are congested and planes have to fly longer, less direct routes. And the Covid has not disappeared. The latest wave of infections could hit flight crews and ground staff in ways that are hard to predict. The consolation is that any disruption should be localized and short-lived.
Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee urged people not to arrive at airports too early as some traffic jams have been caused by passengers arriving well before departure. “Airports have been preparing for the summer peak since late last year, with ongoing recruitment drives for security personnel going well,” she said. “More personnel have been and are being deployed as they complete their training and security screening.”
Ground services company Swissport said issues such as security queues and last-minute schedule changes were having knock-on effects that were causing delays elsewhere. “We are truly sorry for our role in the disruption people are experiencing,” a spokesperson said. “In the UK, we have recruited over 3,500 people so far this year and will continue to work with our partners to find industry-wide solutions to this problem.”