Europe and USA most badly hit

This summer if you have plans lined up for a leisure trip this summer it could be anything but leisurely, especially if your plan includes visiting Europe or the United States. The usual travel woes associated with summer travel, including long queues at airport check-ins, immigration and security counters, have been compounded by extreme shortage of staff in many airports, rampant flight delays and cancellations.

Last week, London’s Heathrow airport threw an additional spanner in the holiday plans of travelers by announcing that it would limit the number of passengers going out until mid-September. The decision by the Heathrow authorities to cap the passenger numbers to 100,000 per day over the summer, and its call to airlines operating to and from the airport to stop accepting new bookings, are likely to make the woes of passengers and airlines even more taxing.

Airlines, recovering from the travel slump during the pandemic, have expressed their objection to the new cap on passengers. Some, like Gulf Air and Emirates, have refused to comply with Heathrow’s demand to cut flights, citing summer as their peak season to earn, and pointing out that cancellation or just stopping to book the flights will impact revenues negatively.

Being one of the biggest and busiest airports in London, Heathrow serves about 203 destinations in 84 countries, with over 200,000 passengers transiting the airport each day. The new directive to cap passengers at 100,000 means only half the daily volume will be able to transit the airport now. Shortage of staff at Heathrow has also meant lengthy queues at baggage retrieval points, complaints of lost luggage, and long flight delays and in some cases abrupt flight cancellations.

Travel agencies have also joined in the litany of complaints at the passenger cap, while passengers have voiced their frustration with the airport delays and flight cancellations. Travel agencies say that passengers who booked travel tickets six or eight months ago on being informed about their flight cancellation are venting their fury and frustration on the agencies.

The most recent data provided by Cirium, a leading provider of aviation data to businesses and industries, airlines all over the world have canceled more than 25,000 flights from their flight schedules for August, with around 60 percent of such cancellations being in Europe. The data shows that a total of 15,788 flights scheduled to fly in August have been canceled in Europe.

According to Cirium, the largest number of canceled flights for August have been by Turkish Airlines, with 4,408 take-offs canceled just last week. This is followed by British Airways with 3,600 canceled flights, easyJet with 2,045 canceled flights, Lufthansa with 1,888 canceled flights, and Wizz Air with 1,256 canceled flights.

The record number of cancellations stem from the dire staff shortage and other issues that airports in Europe and around the world have been dealing with since travel resumed with the ebb of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Extended airport closures and travel bans by countries during the pandemic led ground handling agencies that provide services at many airports to cut down on staff.

While cutting staff was easy, hiring them back is proving to be far more onerous, and under-staffed airports in many countries are unable to cope with the pent-up travel demand. In terms of flight cancellations by countries, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Austria, Portugal, and Denmark, have canceled the highest number of flights scheduled to fly between 1 and 15 July. The projections are that these numbers will be surpassed in August.

Taking into account the current air travel fiasco, the Commission of the European Union (EU) has reminded all passengers of their rights. According to Your Europe, an official website of the EU, all passengers have the right to choose between re-routing, reimbursement, or return if their flight is canceled.

Moreover, passengers whose flights get canceled are also entitled to assistance at the airport. And, passengers informed of the cancellation less than two weeks before the scheduled departure have the right to compensation. Travel agents are also advising their clients to ensure they do online check-in before leaving for the airport, and that they should arrive at least four hours before their flight departure time.

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