How airports across Europe have been hit by travel chaos
Long queues, delays, and even cancellations: European airports have been chaotic ahead of the summer holidays. Here is what you need to know.
It has been the perfect storm: an increase in passenger flow as holidays arrive and Covid restrictions end and a shortage of workers in the tourism and travel sector after the coronavirus pandemic.
While each country also has its own problems on the ground, including IT issues and even an influx of UK tourists adding to long queues for passport control, the main problems are still pandemic-related and affect nearly every European country.
First, people have resumed travelling. After two years of corona-related restrictions that made travelling more complex with the fear of lockdowns and the virus itself driving tourism down, most EU countries now have none or almost no pandemic restrictions.
In most places there is no longer any need for green passes, health passes, Covid-apps, vaccination certificates or proof of negative test results. The combination of easing restrictions and lower Covid numbers in most of the world, especially in Europe, has made passenger numbers surge.
But at the same time, there are severe staff shortages in the continent. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that "thousands of ground handling staff left the aviation industry during the pandemic".
The most pressing issue is the bottleneck for security and baggage checks as the airline industry prepares for the peak season, the association says.
"The peak northern summer travel season is fast-approaching, and passengers are already experiencing the effects of bottlenecks in getting security clearances for staff at the airport", said Nick Careen, IATA's Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety and Security.
In some European airports, the combination has led to chaos. Here's a run through of where is most affected.
In the Paris region, travellers at Charles de Gaulle airport were already reporting long queues at the beginning of May.
"We should not be under any illusions; we will be understaffed to get through the summer. Clearly, there will be additional expectations at the controls and elsewhere," Thomas Juin, the president of the Union of French airports told Le Figaro.
In recent weeks, there have been chaotic scenes at airports around Europe, and unions warn that France is likely to face similar problems this summer.
So far, Orly airport has not seen its capacities "overflowing", but it is already "under tension." Nevertheless, the airport's director, Sandra Lignais, told Le Figaro that she is attempting to stay "vigilant" about the situation.
France's Charles de Gaulle airport still advises passengers to "be at the airport 2 hours before the departure of your flight to drop off your luggage and complete all police and security formalities."
However, the airport's website warns passengers to check their boarding passes because they will indicate more specific boarding time instructions "according to the busy periods at the airport."
Recently, French airports also saw several flights cancelled after "IT problems", as The Local reported. The issues were with the British budget airline EasyJet and 200 flights across Europe were affected.
Swedish airports have also seen queues lasting more than one hour at security controls. Arlanda's airport operator said the lines resulted from a resurgence in travel combined with staffing shortages at Avarn, the contractor responsible for managing the security checks.
"The wait times are due to a staff shortage with our security services contractor – which is caused by ongoing recruitment and absences due to illness," the airport said on its website.
Travellers took to social media to report on the status of the chaos.
Staff shortages at security checks, caused by a lengthy rehiring process following the Covid-19 crisis, have been blamed for crowds and long queues at Copenhagen Airport during peak times over the spring.
And the situation is not expected to get better anytime soon.
The airport's commercial director Peter Krogsgaard told DR that Copenhagen is not alone in experiencing problems with queues. "We are therefore seeing that now passengers are coming back and fortunately want to travel again. We are under a bit of pressure, to begin with," he said.
"We expect to be very busy and are therefore advising all passengers travelling within Europe to arrive two hours before their flight. If you are going outside of Europe, to the United States or Asia, you should come three hours before," Krogsgaard told DR.
Spain has seen a surge in air travel, according to the country's state-run airport manager Aena. There were more than 20.4 million passengers in April, just 12 percentage points from pre-pandemic levels.
The accumulated figures up to April 2022 reflect a recovery of 76.8 per cent of passenger traffic compared with the same period in 2019 and an increase of 389.7 per cent compared with 2021, the organisation said.
Meanwhile, issues with passport control due to staff shortages and the post-Brexit British on non-EU passport lines could cause trouble in the future.
Spain's Airlines Association (ALA) has called for more police officers to be deployed before the summer to prevent some of the travel chaos seen at airports' passports and security controls over the Easter holidays.
More than 3,000 passengers are believed to have missed their flights at Madrid's Barajas airport over Holy Week due to the holdups at third-country nationals' passport queues.
Italy is also expecting summer tourism to boom, especially as it dropped all Covid rules for travellers.
The number of domestic and international tourists in the country is set to rise by 43 per cent compared to 2021, according to a survey from the market research institute Demoskopika.
That means 92 million people – both Italians and foreigners – are expected to take trips throughout 2022. Since staff shortages hurt the sector, though, the combination of problems is set.
Long queues as staff cannot handle demand have also been a problem in German airports. The Autobahn country, though, might face further issues this summer, as a cheap public transport ticket, which allows for unlimited travel in regional transport for € 9 a month, increases demand for train travel.
Still, with the country removing most of its Covid restrictions for travellers (at least those coming from the European Union) and Germans heading to their paradise destinations of choice over the summer, airports are set to have high traffic in the coming months.
Since the corona pandemic, Austria has been facing broad issues with staff shortages. Currently, the country has thousands of open positions, especially in tourism and aviation. So the ingredients for long queues and headaches at airports are there.
Staff at airports, including Vienna International Airport, have warned that "the situation is drastic", and current employees both on the ground and in the air alert that the summer months could bring problems as demand is set to surge.
An anonymous employee told Austrian media that delays are already happening.
"The passengers already have to wait an hour at check-in, then another hour at the security. I have already been insulted by aggressive passengers", the person said.
Switzerland has started preparing for summer by hiring new staff in February, as The Local reported.
The increase in the number of staff providing passenger services such as check-in and gate assistance and baggage-handling and aircraft services will help airport servicer Swissport's 850 client airlines scale up their operations and bring it back to essentially its pre-pandemic number of employees.
Travellers were complaining of two-hour queues at the border control at Heathrow Airport in the UK. At the UK's Manchester Airport, passengers were reporting queues for the security of up to two hours on Thursday.
Dublin Airport is also facing regular two-hour queues at security. Amsterdam's Schipol Airport recently had a 1km security queue, pushing the Dutch airline KLM to cancel flights.
Know your rights
If you have issues with delays, cancellations or other problems with the airline, you might be covered by the EU legislation on passenger rights. Depending on the case, you have a right to refunds, transfers, food vouchers and even cash payments.
Here is what you need to know about your rights as a traveller in the European Union.