Wednesday, June 7

Strikes and chaos are bringing Europe’s airports to a standstill at the worst possible time: summer

It doesn’t matter where you go on vacation. Whether you opt for the center of Europe, a safari in South Africa, the coast of Southeast Asia or touring Route 66 at the controls of a Harley-Davidson, it is most likely that the moments of greatest tension, those that unnerve your neck and back muscles, whatever you pass through at the airport. Not for fear of flying or being late at the gate. No way. The danger is that a strike ends up complicating your plans.

After two years of the pandemic, airlines, hotels and travelers are confident that the summer of 2022 will mark the return to blessed normality and, with luck, demand and supply will approach the pre-crisis levels of 2019. And in a way it will be like that . That of 2022 is a campaign of reconnection with normality. Only that a normality that shows its worst face and with a hangover from COVID.

A summer like before. There was a desire to travel and that has been evident for a long time in the expectations that the sector manages. To anticipate demand, the airlines scheduled more than 32.4 million seats to fly to Spain between June and August, which is equivalent to recovering 94% of the volume that was handled in 2019. In the case of Aena, the forecasts were even more promising in March and pointed to a rise of 1.6% in the programming from April to October.

Data from the National Outbound Tourism Observatory outlined an equally positive scenario: according to their calculations, approximately 89% of Spanish tourists plan to travel this summer, 21 points above last year. What’s more, 37% had already booked a month ago.

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The point is that not only tourists return. No. So do the less friendly pictures of airports: queues for miles, idle hours and cancellations. In Amsterdam, Mallorca, Bristol, Brussels or Dublin, long waits were registered weeks ago in the purest pre-pandemic style and some airlines, such as Easy Jet, British Airways or Air France-KLM were even forced to cancel operations, with the consequent anger of travelers .

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And to complicate it: the calendar of strikes. The scenario for the coming days and weeks is also complex and is marked by a calendar of strikes that has already been activated. The Ryanair crew unions in Spain have called demonstrations for June 24, 25, 26 and 30 and July 1 and 2. In the case of EasyJet, stoppages affecting staff at El Prat, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca have been scheduled for July 1, 2, 3, 15, 16, 17, 29, 30 and 31.

The list is completed by British Airways, whose ground workers at Heathrow (United Kingdom) have already voted in favor of a strike that has yet to be finalized but will probably be organized between the end of July and August; and Brussels Airlines, which has also seen how its cabin crew and pilots called for a mobilization for this week, between Thursday and Saturday.

They are a good handful of airlines. And they might not be the only ones. The Air France pilots’ union and its low-cost subsidiary Transavia have already pointed to a similar pressure measure. Here, in Spain, the main group of air traffic controllers, USCA, recognized a few days ago the newspaper The reason that the possibility of moving during the summer is “a real option”.

What are the workers demanding? Basically, an improvement of their conditions. The Ryanair union has lamented that the low cost treats employees as “third-party workers” and the EasyJet union intends to unblock the negotiation of the Collective Agreement for crew members and equate with the situation of employees in other European bases.

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A similar claim is pursued by the workers of British Airways or Air France and Transavia, who denounce the lack of personnel. The French union censures the “systematic use of subcontractors” and demands reinforcements that allow employees to offer passengers “decent flights”.

The air traffic controllers in Spain do not see the template as well dimensioned either. Despite the fact that the public manager, Enaire, assures that there are now more personnel than before the pandemic, the USCA union regrets that not all the reinforcements offered by the airport manager will arrive in time to face the increase in demand that is expected for the coming months. Of summer.

The perfect storm in the sector. The scenario is certainly not simple. Added to the good prospects in terms of traffic volume are some handicaps that may condition flights. One of the main ones, curiously, is inherited from the health crisis: during the worst moment of the pandemic, when mobility bans were applied and travel collapsed, the sector saw thousands of jobs destroyed in airlines and airports .

More than two years have passed since then and the group has still not recovered the lost muscle. It is estimated that at least 191,000 workers in Europe took to the streets at the peak of the pandemic. Airlines UK itself estimates that British carriers shed some 30,000 employees, much less in any case than what was lost in maintenance and services.

Not everything is a legacy of COVID, of course. The bureaucracy and the political scene also contribute their grain of sand. The consummation of Brexit means that the British have to face stricter controls to access the EU, which translates into a greater workload at aerodromes.

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The challenge is serious due to the significant flow of English that moves between the United Kingdom and Spain every summer: 18 million were counted in 2019 alone. More or less they represent 20% of the entire flow of foreign travelers that Spain receives. To complete this picture, JUPOL recently warned that there are not enough police officers to deal with this avalanche of work. For now, the Government has already announced that the service will be reinforced with new police positions.

“The British tourist, who represents a very large volume, now has to go through a much longer process by having to stamp the passport. All this lengthens the procedures. We have to do double and even triple the work. The police are what it is, the media are what they are and we cannot duplicate ourselves, explains Pablo Pérez, JUPOL representative, to EuroNews.

A sky full of planes, again: business flights return to their pre-pandemic levels

What is the consequence? Probably images similar to those we have already seen in airports in the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands or the south of Spain in recent weeks. At the Amsterdam-Schiphol terminal, for example, one of the largest in Europe, travelers have been warned that they are likely to encounter delays throughout the summer.

Ryanair has also reported possible delays in its operations in Spain this weekend due to the strike of its cabin crew and the mobilization of French controllers.

Cover Image | Mark Hodson Photos (Flickr) and Magharebia (Flickr)

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