EU airlines are facing strikes and are struggling to find workers after covid summer travel

Some airlines and airports are struggling with the demand for covid for travel.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty pictures

LONDON – Delays, cancellations and strikes. It has been a messy time for many European tourist destinations as airlines and airports are struggling to cope with pent-up travel demand following Covid-19 shutdowns.

Thousands of flights have been canceled and recent travelers have been queuing for hours at passport control and baggage collection at airports across Europe – and the problems are expected to drag on.

“Flights this summer are full of uncertainty, both for passengers and airlines,” Laura Hoy, an equities analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, told CNBC via email.

“Long delays and cancellations are likely to affect consumers’ desire to travel while airlines have a fine line between trying to tackle the post-pandemic travel boom and preparing for the likely downturn going forward as economic conditions worsen.”

According to the aviation data company Cirium, 400 flights were canceled at all UK airports between 24 June and 30 June, representing an increase of 158% from the same seven days in 2019.

And it’s outside the high summer season – usually between July and early September in Europe.

London’s busiest airport, Heathrow, asked airlines last week to cut flights, as the number of passengers was above what it could handle. Some passengers were unaware that their flight had been canceled, while others complained about the long queues.

There will be interruptions that continue throughout the summer.

Stephen Furlong

Stephen Furlong, senior industrial analyst at Davy

Meanwhile, low-cost airline easyJet has cut thousands of flights over the summer in an effort to minimize the risk of clutter.

Travelers have also encountered similar problems in the United States as they appeared to be traveling away by the weekend of July 4, with more than 12,000 flights delayed and hundreds canceled.

And travel chaos is unlikely to relax in the coming months, according to Stephen Furlong, senior industry analyst at asset manager Davy.

“There will be interruptions that continue into the summer at ATC [cargo] driven or ground handling or safety personnel or actually self-inflicted work problems from the airlines, “he added.

In France in June, a quarter of flights were canceled at the main airport in Paris due to a workers’ strike.

And more strike-triggered disruptions may be on the way. British Airways is preparing for a staff strike in the coming weeks as workers demand a 10% pay cut that was installed during the pandemic. And Ryanair workers in Spain said over the weekend that they would strike for 12 days in July, pushing for better working conditions.

What is the cause of the disorder?

There are several reasons for the travel chaos, and they are mostly industry-wide problems, rather than a country- or airline-specific problem.

“The pace at which passengers have returned to the sky since the spring has surprised airlines a bit, and airports as well. They simply do not have the staff right now that we need for a full scheduled summer,” Alexander Irving, European transport analyst at AB Bernstein, told CNBCs ” Squawk Box Europe »last week.

Many airlines, airport operators and other companies in the travel sector laid off workers during the pandemic when their businesses stopped. Many of these workers looked for opportunities elsewhere and have not returned to the sector, while others were forced into early retirement.

“Ultimately, we need more employees,” Irving said.

In addition, it is difficult to attract new talent right now given changes in the labor market, such as the so-called large layoffs – when workers chose to quit their jobs, often without someone else showing up, in search of a better working life balance.

Hiring new people is also a medium to long-term solution, since in many travel-related jobs, training is mandatory before employees can start working.

At the same time, many of those who stayed in the sector do not feel sufficiently compensated and have complained about working conditions.

That means “probably ultimately paying people more and treating them a little better,” Irving said of labor issues and strikes.

At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, a group of cleaners, baggage handlers and security personnel will be paid an additional 5.25 euros ($ 5.55) per hour this summer, according to Reuters. However, the same airport announced that it will limit passenger volume this summer, especially to reduce disruption.

Other countries are also trying to improve the situation are their airports. In Spain, the police are hiring more staff at some of the country’s busiest airports, and Portugal is also increasing its border control staff.

“The reaction of most companies when the pandemic hit was to reduce capacity in line with expectations of a sustained period of lower growth. However, the pandemic yielded a different result: a result in which the global economy was virtually shut down and then turned on again shortly. time period, “Roger Jones, chief executive of London & Capital, told CNBC.

He said that on top of the labor market shortage, inflation is also a problem.

“Cost inflation, especially fuel and wages, exacerbates the situation and makes it a really difficult operating environment, which weighs on profitability,” he said via email.

Many airlines, including British Airways and Air France-KLM, received financial support from governments during the pandemic to avoid collapse. However, a number of unions and airlines are now demanding more help from governments to support the revival of the sector.

Despite the strikes, cancellations and other disruptions, some analysts remain positive about the sector, claiming that the recent situation has been “overplayed”.

“I feel it has been overplayed by the media and the vast majority of flights are in operation and on time. Ryanair, for example, while operating 115% of pre-Covid capacity has planned this and has largely avoided disruption so far, Davy’s Furlong said via email.