More air travel chaos is coming!

This summer is the summer for discontent.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
01 July 2022 Friday 17:15
7 Reads
More air travel chaos is coming!

This summer is the summer for discontent. Shakespeare didn't actually write "Richard III," but it's what airline passengers in Europe and the US are seeing.

The schedules of flights are disappearing -- some at the very last minute, as airlines fail offer services that travelers have paid a lot of money for. This weekend, more than 1,500 flights were cancelled in the US. The US is also heading into the busy July 4 holiday weekend.

Delta Air Lines has cut about 100 flights per day from its July schedule to "minimize disruptions" in order to prepare for "unprecedented passenger volumes" since the pandemic. Air Canada said it would cancel approximately 150 flights per day in July and August.

As delays in security, check-ins, and immigration increase, airports see more passengers queuing up at the doors of their terminals or camped out in departure halls.

Passengers were asked to arrive earlier in order to board their flight. To add confusion, they were asked to return to their seats as soon as possible. Amsterdam's Schipol Airport reminded passengers this week that they are only allowed to arrive at the departure area four hours prior to their flight.

The luggage problem is another issue. Photographs taken at London's Heathrow airport show huge bags that have been separated from their owners. This is a typical example of the frustration faced by many passengers who are trying to find lost items or waiting days to be reunited.

No quick fixes

Air travel is, in general, a nightmare and even a risk. High season is just beginning.

There is no quick fix. Lufthansa, a German airline, sent out an email to passengers this week warning them that things are unlikely to improve in the near future. It also stated that stability will only be achieved in winter.

It stated that "too many employees are not available, both at our infrastructure partners and in some of our own areas." "Almost all companies in our industry are currently recruiting new staff, with many thousand in Europe alone."

Even if the problem is primarily airport-related, it can still lead to flights being delayed or canceled. KLM, a Dutch airline, was forced to cancel all inbound European flights from Amsterdam due to airport crowding.

What's the problem? Although commercial aviation may seem like rocket science, the current problems facing airports and airlines are not. It's a more common business problem: staffing.

The aviation industry should have seen it coming.

'No surprise"

Henry Harteveldt (principal at Atmosphere Research), says that airline executives ought to have realized -- and should have known -- that there would still be strong demand for travel.

"Either they didn’t look at their data or misread it or misinterpreted it, but none should have come as a surprise to airlines."

The problem in almost all cases is that too many people with experience were laid off during the pandemic.

This qualification point is crucial. It is not easy to obtain a security pass to allow you to fly on an aircraft or to enter an airport gate.

The UK is also restricted from drawing on the European Union workforce after Brexit.

It is also common to have some very complicated training in order to actually do the work. This is not surprising considering that many air travel computer systems look more like they were made in the 1980s, rather than the modern iPhone and Android.

Addison Schonland is a partner at AirInsight. He defines the most likely affected sectors as any part of the aviation analysis and reporting company AirInsight.

Schonland states that while layoffs can be easy, it is difficult to bring people back with the appropriate security clearance. "The US airlines have a reputation as unreliable employers. The boom and bust cycles of the US airline industry mean that they are not reliable. Additionally, the work is difficult and requires skilled workers. These people are likely to have more appealing options.

Too much outsourcing is one of the main causes of problems.

Recipe for disruption

Many airports in Europe have staff that work for third-party businesses. These tasks include check in, security, and gate operations. They will often be dressed in uniforms that aren't as distinctive as the employees of your airline.

They do a lot of hard work, such as lifting heavy bags in the snow or sunshine outside, dealing with frustrated passengers, and working before dawn and after dark.

Some of this is also a question of labor relations.

British Airways, for example, asked UK employees to accept a 10% pay cut during the pandemic. Some workers have had their wages increased, but not the Heathrow check-in staff, who are willing to strike for it. British Airways said that it was disappointed by the move and hopes to find a solution.

It doesn't matter where you are on the Atlantic, disruption is guaranteed.

According to Atmosphere Research's Harteveldt, the Federal Aviation Administration in the USA is experiencing problems because of a shortage air traffic controllers.

He says that "Covid-related medical restrictions limited the FAA’s ability to hire new air traffic controllers for 2020 and 2021." "Plus, all air traffic controllers must retire at 56 and the calendar didn’t stop during those two year.

The FAA is currently hiring people to be air traffic controllers. However, the training process can take time. Currently, airlines are scheduling more flights to certain destinations than the FAA can handle, particularly Florida.

"So, even in good weather, the FAA sometimes has to give flights longer, more direct routes that could lead to delays to spread the load across their air traffic control centers."

What should fliers do then?

As an aviation journalist, the best advice I can offer you is to book defensively.

If your journey takes less than eight hours, consider alternatives to flying. Consider a September or October trip if you are not travelling with others who need to return to school in the fall.

When possible, fly nonstop if you can. Connecting flights add complexity and make it more difficult to cancel or delay. This is especially true if you are flying through areas that could be affected by severe weather in the summer.

Choose the safer hubs in Europe: Munich, Zurich, and Vienna are safest.

Consider flying earlier than usual. This will give you more travel options in the event your flight is cancelled or delayed. Avoid tight connections, preferably less than two.

Choose airlines that offer many flights per day for a route, rather than just one or two.

Consider other routes. You can ask an airline agent to direct you through Chicago, Philadelphia, or Dulles if you show up in the morning and there are storms in Dallas or Houston.

Many airlines offer priority boarding, fast-track check-in and security, lounge access, and lounge access as an additional buy-up. TSA PreCheck is also available in the USA. Check your reservation every week to find out if there are any discounted upgrades. This is a great opportunity to spend more for added comfort and faster-track benefits.

You can join your airline's frequent flyer program. You will not only get miles, but many rebooking systems will prioritize frequent flyers in some way. This is true even for those with low mileage. You can also use the app of the airline to make rebooking much easier.

If the app's rebooking options don't work, you can call or use social media. Direct messages to airlines via Twitter are often answered. Twitter is great for weather updates, airline and airport news, and even aviation announcements.

If possible, pack light and only bring a carry-on. Keep a few days worth of clothes and other essentials with you if you have to carry your bags. You should bring snacks, chargers, and a load of movies and TV to your device. Don't forget to bring patience!

Good luck and don't hesitate to reach out on Twitter at @thatjohn with any questions.

Top image: Passengers line up in a TSA screening area at Orlando International Airport on May 3. Credit to Kirby Lee/AP