British holidaymakers are facing a summer of travel chaos in Europe as countries across the Continent grapple with a perfect storm of airport mayhem, mass strikes over wage-busting inflation, and crippling post-Covid staffing shortages.
Flyers grappling with cancellations and lost luggage at Britain’s biggest airports are bracing themselves for strikes among British Airways staff at London Heathrow in the next two months.
But disruption across mainland Europe – from France, Spain and Italy to Germany, Romania and Ireland – now threatens to upend school holiday getaways as workers prepare to unleash mass industrial action in protest over rampant global inflation caused by Putin‘s brutal war in Ukraine and major staffing shortages caused by pandemic-era mass layoffs.
Europe’s summer of discontent: How strikes and staff shortages are threatening flight cancellations and massive delays
Here is a summary of some of the developments:
British Airways staff at London’s Heathrow airport have voted to strike after the airline failed to roll back a 10% pay cut imposed during the pandemic, with the strike likely to take place during the peak summer holiday period over the next two months.
CHARLES DE GAULLE, PARIS
Workers at France’s main airport went on strike on June 9 to demand a 300 euro ($313) per month increase and better working conditions, leading to the cancellation of 25% of flights. Further action is planned for July 2.
Strikes by Ryanair cabin crew unions in Belgium, Spain, Portugal, France and Italy affected less than 2% of the 9,000 flights scheduled between Friday and Sunday, the Irish low-cost carrier said. Crews in Spain are set to strike again on June 30 and July 1-2.
Spain-based cabin crew at easyJet plan to go on strike for nine days in July, demanding a 40% increase in their basic salary which is much lower than in countries such as France and Germany, local union USO said.
A German union representing Lufthansa ground staff is demanding at least 350 euros per month more over 12 months to cushion the effects of soaring inflation, with first round of negotiations set to take place June 30.
Scandinavian airline SAS AB and its pilots agreed to extend by three days a deadline for wage talks, postponing the risk of a strike. Flights continued as normal on Wednesday, but up to 1,000 pilots in Denmark, Sweden and Norway – around 80% of those flying for SAS – plan to go on strike unless a deal is found before July 2.
Staff at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) in Paris, France’s biggest airport, and Orly are plotting strike action this weekend in a dispute over pay and working conditions. France’s civil aviation authority said 17% of scheduled flights out of CDG and Orly are cancelled between 7am and 2pm today, with more expected tomorrow. When CGD staff walked out on June 9, a staggering 25% of flights were scrapped.
And this week, a staff walkout at the French Air Traffic Control centre in Marseille this week brought mass flight disruption for UK holidaymakers travelling to popular summer destinations including Italy and Spain.
In Spain, Ryanair staff are going on strike this week at the airline’s bases, including Madrid, Malaga, Barcelona, Alicante, Sevilla, Palma, Valencia, Girona, Santiago de Compostela and Ibiza.
Meanwhile, hundreds of EasyJet workers will conduct mass walkouts in Barcelona, Malaga and Palma as they demand a 40% increase in their basic salary. They have also pencilled in July 15-17 and July 29-31 as dates for further strikes if talks collapse. The Spanish government is planning to boost staffing numbers by bringing in police.
Italian trade unions have been murmuring about further strikes this summer as they demand higher pay and ‘better’ working conditions. Speaking after more than 4,000 flights were cancelled during strikes earlier this month, the UIL Trasporti warned: ‘This will be only the first of a series of protest actions that will make the summer hot’.
Portugal has fared little better, with passengers experiencing massive queues at Lisbon and Faro in the country’s southern Algarve region that have stretched as long as three hours. A furious blame game has broken out between Portuguese border chiefs, who have warned that the queues are unlikely to ease this summer despite plans to double the number of staff checking passports, and airport management company ANA over depleted staffing numbers.
Similarly in Romania, travellers at Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport have complained of four-hour flight delays and lost baggage due to depleted staff numbers. Industry boss George Dorobantu told local media: ‘Recruitment does not go so fast, because there are some standard processes that any new employee has to go through, to go through some security processes, which can take from 30 to 60 days, depending on the chosen position.’
In Germany, trade union Verdi called on technical staff at Hamburg airport to go on strike today, just as school holidays in the region kick off. The airport’s chief executive said he expected little negative impact from the action.
And popular German airliner Lufthansa has already been forced to slash 3,000 flights this summer due to staffing shortages caused by that country’s draconian shutdown measures, amid fears that even more could be cancelled. Officials in Berlin are planning to hire thousands of foreign workers, including around 2,000 from Turkey, in a bid to ease the crisis, according to reports.
Closer to home, disruption at Dublin Airport has seen travellers miss their flights and lose their luggage. The Irish government is set to decide on Tuesday whether to put the Army on standby for six weeks, from next week until mid-August.
Polish authorities managed to avert mass strikes by reaching an agreement with air traffic controllers. Anita Oleksiak, the head of the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (PANSA) said, confirmed the news in a press conference this week, but did not give details of the agreement.
And the chaos could soon spread to Norway, Denmark and Sweden as staff at Scandinavian airline SAS vote this week on whether to go on strike – a move threatening to unleash mayhem on Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm international airports.
In Britain, Boris Johnson’s Government was accused of acting too late after it set out a 22-point plan to tackle summer flight disruption as Heathrow Airport descended into ‘total chaos’.
British holidaymakers are facing a summer of travel chaos across Europe, as airport staff go on strike in protest over rampant global inflation caused by Putin’s war in Ukraine and staffing shortages caused by pandemic-era mass layoffs
ROISSY AIRPORT: Unionists strikers demonstrate outside a terminal Friday today at Roissy airport, north of Paris
CHARLES DE GAULLE: Passengers wait to check in in a terminal of Charles de Gaulle airport today
PALMA AIRPORT: EasyJet staff holding banners as they stage a strike at Palma Airport today
BARCELONA: Travellers wait near Ryanair’s check-in desks at Barcelona Airport today
French airport workers strike for higher pay as inflation surges
Flights from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and other French airports faced disruption on Friday as airport workers went on strike to demand salary rises to keep up with inflation and a recruitment drive to deal with resurgent travel demand.
The action is the latest trouble to hit global airports this summer, as travel surges after two years of coronavirus restrictions.
French airports have been largely spared the chaos seen recently in London, Amsterdam and some other European and US cities.
But on Friday, striking workers sought to call attention to the pain of inflation with a walkout on the first big day of France’s domestic summer travel season.
France’s civil aviation authority said 17% of scheduled flights out of Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris were cancelled between 7am and 2pm Friday, primarily short-haul routes.
A few hundred workers wearing union vests blocked a key road approaching Charles de Gaulle, forcing passengers to drag their suitcases by foot along a bypass to reach their terminals. A protest was also held at Orly.
Once inside, passengers faced crowds and delays at check-in, passport control and security stations.
In addition to salary rises, union activists called for an emergency recruitment plan to get airport staffing back up to pre-pandemic levels.
Airlines and airports that slashed jobs during the depths of the Covid-19 crisis are struggling to keep up as travel demand returns after two years of virus restrictions.
‘Airport activity has reached 95% of its pre-Covid level, except that now we have 20,000 employees less at the Roissy (Charles de Gaulle) airport, so working conditions deteriorated dramatically,’ said Nicolas Pereira, a striking airport worker with the CGT union.
‘Those responsible are the various bosses who hurried to lay off workers during the Covid period to reduce the cost of labour.’
Paris airport workers are seeking a raise of 6% raise backdated to January 1, while management is proposing 3%, according to French media reports.
Airport firefighters at Charles de Gaulle are also on strike with specific salary demands, forcing the airport to close some runways.
Unions said the strike could last until Sunday.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps unveiled the blueprint to see passenger disruption ‘minimised’ and travellers ‘properly compensated’ for delays.
But as he revealed the plan, Britain’s biggest airport scrapped 30 flights at the last-minute. Critics pointed out that the 22-point plan had few measures that could help in time for this summer.
In addition to pay, the dispute had centred on questions such as whether air traffic controllers could work alone and how long shifts should last.
Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘It’s a detailed outline of actions to help but it should have been in place in March to help airlines plan.
‘The Government knew that borders would be reopening and should have worked with the industry to ensure a smooth path out of the Covid lockdowns. This would have avoided much of the recent troubles at airports and reduced much consumer stress.’
Among the measures was a call for summer schedules to ‘be reviewed to make sure they are deliverable’ – a policy first announced two weeks ago.
Despite this, a rare ‘schedule intervention’ announced by Heathrow on Wednesday evening saw airport bosses tell its 20 biggest carriers to remove 30 flights from the morning peak yesterday. Many of the 5,000 travellers affected did not find out about their delayed or cancelled trip until they arrived at the airport.
Meanwhile, passengers at Gatwick were left frustrated by an ‘out of control’ queue for security, and some arrivals were left waiting ‘nearly two hours’ for baggage.
And Aer Lingus passengers have been left stranded all this week as flights to and from Dublin were cancelled due to Covid staff absences.
Holiday plans and family events were thrown into disarray due to the latest in a series of cancellations that have affected the airline this week. The airline also conceded that, should Covid absences continue, more flights could be pulled.
Although Aer Lingus informed customers of the cancellations via email, numerous passengers did not find out they had been affected until they arrived at Dublin Airport yesterday morning.
Others said they spent up to two hours trying to get through to Aer Lingus’s customer service line.
The airline sent an email to passengers, informing them of the news with ‘regret’. However, they could not guarantee that they would be able to rebook their flight. ‘We are currently making every effort to find an alternative flight for you, which may include a connecting airport or surface transport,’ the email, seen by the Irish Daily Mail, stated.
‘In some cases rebooking may not be possible due to a lack of seat availability. In this case please contact our customer care team. We are aware of long call-centre wait times, and we have brought in additional staff, and thank you for your patience. You can also request a refund or a voucher for future travel. Aer Lingus sincerely apologies for this inconvenience.’
The affected flights departing from Dublin Airport yesterday were to Edinburgh at 6.40am, to Frankfurt at 7am and to Lyon at 11.40am. In addition, cancellations were confirmed for Geneva at 1.15pm, for Munich at 4.25pm, and for Amsterdam at 6.15pm.
As a result, the corresponding return flights from these destinations had also been cancelled.
One young woman explained that she was ‘absolutely gutted’ that her brother missed his flight yesterday. She said: ‘He got an email yesterday evening [Tuesday] at 8pm saying that his flight was cancelled due to crew illness.
‘We have tried to contact customer service over the phone. Nobody picked up after waiting for one hour and 30 minutes. I also tried via Facebook messenger, but received no reply either.’
Thankfully, the woman found an alternative flight for her brother.
‘I have no words at the moment to express how mad and frustrated I am,’ she added.
Dublin student Liam O’Driscoll also spoke of his frustration getting through to the airline’s customer service team. ‘My flight to Amsterdam was cancelled this evening,’ he told the Irish Daily Mail. ‘I tried calling the [customer service] number. It took two hours to speak to someone, but they hung up on me after they put me on hold. No luck with the Facebook messenger chats either. Seems to be a total disaster.
BARCELONA: Ryanair staff go on strike at Barcelona Airport in Spain today as they demand pay increases
PALMA AIRPORT: EasyJet staff holding banners as they stage a strike at Palma airport today
BARCELONA: Passengers queueing at the Ryanair check-in counters at Barcelona airport today
Passengers line up to check in with British Airways at Gatwick Airport this morning. The airport saw long queues for check in and security today
Passengers at Heathrow have arrived at the airport today to find travel misery as flights were cancelled overnight. Pictured are two passengers waiting with their luggage at Terminal 5 this morning
The Government’s 22-point plan to avoid airport chaos
The Government ha unveiled a 22-point plan to tackle flight disruption this summer.
The strategy is aimed at avoiding a repeat of the chaos seen at UK airports during the Easter and Jubilee holidays.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there is ‘no excuse for widespread disruption’ and holidaymakers ‘deserve certainty’.
Tens of thousands of passengers have suffered flight cancellations and huge queues at airports in recent months.
Demand for travel will surge again as schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland break up for summer this week, while the academic year for those in England and Wales ends in around three weeks.
The Government’s action plan includes a number of measures previously announced, such as encouraging airlines to make sure their schedule are ‘deliverable’, an amnesty on slot rules and permitting new aviation workers to begin training before passing security checks.
A new passenger charter will be published in the coming weeks, providing passengers with a ‘one-stop guide’ informing them of their rights and what they can expect from airports and airlines when flying.
‘I decided to head to the airport anyway just to speak to someone. The line here is moving and the staff are doing their best.
‘To be fair, Aer Lingus did gave me loads of notice.
‘The issue is more the customer service and it is very difficult to figure out my options now.’ One woman took to social media to inform Aer Lingus that she may miss her sister’s wedding as a result of the cancellations.
‘So, Aer Lingus just cancelled my flight home today,’ she wrote.
‘My sister’s getting married on Saturday. They offered a flight for Friday, but I have zero faith that it will happen given their current problems and the amount of flights they’re cancelling.’
In a statement, the airline said its teams are working to secure alternative travel options for customers – but conceded that the issue could arise again.
A spokeswoman for the airline said: ‘Should crew illness require the cancellation of additional flights in the coming days, we will seek to re-accommodate passengers on the next available services as efficiently as possible.’
Another measure in the plan says that ‘passengers must be promptly informed of their consumer rights when things go wrong’ – something also set out two weeks ago.
But customers claimed they saw no evidence of this in action yesterday.
Travel writer and broadcaster Andy Mossack was one of those caught up in the ‘total chaos’ at Heathrow. He said: ‘British Airways flights cancelled and zero customer service!’
Another affected passenger, Andrew Douglas, described how he was due to be on a flight to go on holiday but had ‘spent the last four hours in multiple queues at Heathrow Airport because it’s been cancelled’.
Furious groom Farhad Ehtesham, 32, also hit out after his suitcase containing his wedding outfit was not loaded on his BA Heathrow flight to Italy.
Mr Ehtesham from Guildford, Surrey, said: ‘The moment we landed, we got an email saying ‘Your luggage is not there, please contact us’.’
He fumed: ‘I can’t replace a wedding outfit that was planned nine months ahead. It’s just unbelievable.’
Mr Shapps unveiled his 22-point plan saying it would help to avoid a repeat of the chaos seen at UK airports during the Easter and Jubilee holidays.
He said there is ‘no excuse for widespread disruption’ and holidaymakers ‘deserve certainty’.
But aviation industry sources said many of the measures were not new and only two would have an immediate impact – allowing airlines to hand back slots without any loss, which had already been announced a week ago, and speeding up recruitment.
Others simply reiterated policies that are already in place but are not being implemented, such as ensuring schedules are reviewed so they are deliverable.
Rory Boland, editor of Which magazine, said: ‘We would welcome many of the things the government is saying in here. We would like to see them being done, but they are not.
‘Airports really shouldn’t be cancelling flights last minute anymore. If they are, the role of the government is to punish them.’