(CNN) – Now is the summer of our dissatisfaction, Shakespeare did not write exactly in “Richard III”, but it is exactly what is taking shape this summer for airline travelers in the US and Europe.
At the airport, scenes of passengers standing in line outside the terminal gates or camping in the departure hall are increasingly familiar as security delays, check-in and immigration add to the chaos.
And then there’s the luggage problem. At London’s Heathrow Airport, photographs depicting huge piles of bags separated from their owners have become a symbol of the experiences of many flyers facing frustration waiting days to claim lost property or reunite with them.
No quick fixes
Airports and airlines are struggling to replace trained workers during the epidemic.
Chandan Khanna / AFP / Getty Images
Overall, air travel is a nightmare – even a gamble – right now. And the high season is just beginning.
There are obviously no quick fixes. This week, German airline Lufthansa warned passengers in an email that the situation was “unlikely to improve in the short term,” insisting that stability would be achieved only in winter.
“A lot of staff and resources are still unavailable, not only on our infrastructure partners but also in some areas of our own,” he said. “Almost every company in our industry is currently hiring new employees, with plans for thousands in Europe alone.”
So what’s going on? Most commercial aviation is almost real rocket science, but that’s not the problem airlines and airports are currently experiencing. Instead, it’s about a more common business problem: staffing.
And the aviation industry should see it coming.
Crowds and queues at the airport terminal are becoming a feature of air travel in the summer of 2022.
Stefan Mahe / Reuters
“Between their own research, the research that my company and others have undertaken, and their reservation systems, airline executives should see – and therefore know – that there will be a strong demand to travel again,” says Principal Henry Hartweld. At market research and advisory firm Atmosphere Research.
“Either they didn’t see their own data, or misread it or misinterpreted it, but none of this should come as a surprise to airlines.”
In almost every case, the problem is that many veterans were let go during the epidemic – either fired or voluntarily let out – and that airlines, airports and other major parts of the aviation system were hired and qualified No. Enough people to change them.
That qualification point is important. As airlines and airports know all too well, there is a whole process involved in getting someone the kind of security pass that allows them to work on a plane or at the airport gate.
In the UK, there is also the fact that they cannot draw on a pool of EU workers after Brexit.
There are often some fairly complex trainings involved to actually work, at least not because a lot of air travel computer systems were more visible at home in the 1980s than in the modern iPhone or Android world.
Addison Sconland, a partner at aviation analysis and reporting firm Airinsight, summed up the potential affected areas “any part of the air travel system that has employees.”
“Sorting is easy, it’s hard to bring people back with the right security clearances,” says Sconland. “At the same time, US airlines in particular have a reputation as unreliable employers – boom and bust cycles mean shaky careers – and they need skilled people to work and they are trying to work. These people now have more lucrative options.” . “
Some of the problems revolve around outsourcing too.
Recipe for Disruption
The mountains of bags separated from their owners at London Heathrow Airport have become a symbol of the difficulties of current air travel.
Takuya Matsumoto / The Yomiri Shimbun / Reuters Connect
At many airports, especially in Europe, major tasks such as check-in, security, luggage, gate and airport operations are performed by staff who work for third-party companies to which airlines and airports contract. You will often see them in polite uniforms. It’s not like your airline’s own employees.
These are people who work that are actually very difficult in some cases – such as picking up bags outside in the snow and sunlight, working before morning and late into the evening, and dealing with increasingly frustrated passengers.
There is also the real question of some of these labor relations.
During the epidemic, for example, British Airways asked some UK employees to cut their salaries by 10%. Some workers have since increased their wages, but there are no check-in staff at Heathrow who are now willing to strike to get it. British Airways says it is disappointed with the move and hopes to find a way to avoid it. Industrial action.
No matter which side of the Atlantic you are on, it’s a recipe for distraction.
In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration is facing problems due to a shortage of air traffic controllers, says Hartwelt of Atmosphere Research.
“Covid-related health restrictions have limited the FAA’s ability to hire and train new air traffic controllers in 2020 and 2021,” he says. “Also, air traffic controllers are required to retire at age 56, and the calendar has not been closed during those two years.
“The FAA is actively hiring people to become air traffic controllers, but the training process takes time. Meanwhile, airlines schedule more flights in some destinations, especially in Florida, than the FAA can handle.
“So even when the weather is good, the FAA has to give some flights longer, less direct routes to spread the burden on their air traffic control centers, which can lead to delays.”
So what should flyers do?
The best advice I can give you as an aviation journalist who has never seen such a distraction is to book defensively.
– Consider flight options, If your journey is possible within eight hours by train, boat, bus or car. If you are not traveling with people who have to return to school in the fall, consider traveling in September or October instead of July or August.
– If you want to fly, Choose nonstop flights On connecting flights if available and affordable. Connections add complexity and increase vulnerability to cancellations or delays, especially through locations that can experience severe weather problems in the summer.
– In Europe, Choose a smaller hub With a reputation for efficiency and no major disruptions reported recently: Munich, Zurich and Vienna are the safest bets.
– Select early day flights Instead of the latter – this would mean more options for traveling on the same day in the event that your flight is canceled or significantly delayed. Tight attachments – anything less than one or two – should be avoided if possible.
– Choose airlines that offer multiple flights per day on one route With only one or two instead.
– Explore what other options are on the way. If you arrive during the day and a hurricane hits Dallas or Houston, can you ask the airline agent to route you from Chicago, Philadelphia or Dulles instead?
– Some airlines offer fast-track check-in and security, lounge access and priority boarding as additional buy-ups and are a better deal than before. Or in the U.S., Consider the TSA precheck. Log in to your reservation every few weeks to see if there are discount upgrade options: this is the best time to get extra comfort and fast-track benefits.
– Join your airline’s frequency-flyer scheme. Not only do you have a few miles but most rebooking systems will in some way prioritize frequent flyers – even those with low mileage balances. Also use the airline’s app, which will make any rebooking easier.
– In the event that the rebooking options in the app do not work, Phone calls or social media can work. Airlines often respond directly to messages via Twitter. The platform is also good for airline, airport or even weather updates.
– Pack light and choose to carry-on only if you can. If you need to check the bag, keep a few days of clothing and any necessary items in your carry-on. Bring snacks, chargers and load your devices with TVs and movies. And bring the most important thing this summer – and whether you’re traveling at any time: patience.
Greetings, and feel free to ask questions on Twitter, where you can find me as @thatjohn.
Top image: Passengers stand in a TSA screening line at Orlando International Airport on May 3rd. Credit: Kirby Lee / AP
Aviation journalist John Walton specializes in passenger experience. With more than a decade of experience in aircraft, seats, cabins, connectivity, digital, design, marketing and branding, it has a unique perspective on what makes the world’s largest industry tick. It can be found on Twitter at thatjohn.