Travel Woes


(Getty Images)

By Vicki Belovski

Huge lines, lost luggage, delayed or canceled flights. Everyone who has traveled recently has their own disaster story. As international travel becomes possible again, is the chaos set to continue? Will it ever be simple and reliable again?

Three friends set off to return to England from Eretz Yisrael, following a year in seminary. One was flying to Manchester — after several hours delay, she was told her flight was canceled and she would have to stay overnight and take a flight the following day.  As yet, she has not been recompensed for the cost of the hotel. The second was delayed by several hours, but after a tense 15 minutes when it looked like this flight might also be canceled, it did actually make it back to London in the early hours of the following day, together with her luggage. The third had a stopover, and while she arrived safely in London at the correct time, unfortunately her luggage remained in the stopover airport, and was only delivered 36 hours later.

Why is the service so bad? And why do some countries seem to be affected worse than others?

The starting point is, of course, the pandemic. When international travel closed down in the spring of 2020, many airlines and airports laid off large numbers of staff, ranging from pilots and aircrew, right through to security and baggage handlers. Even those companies which were able to furlough their staff, rather than firing them, lost many people, as they decided to move into jobs which were less precarious and better paid. The consequence has been that now that the world is free to travel again, and many people are taking advantage of this and making up for lost time, airlines and airports simply do not have the capacity to process them. An extra complication to hiring new staff is the time required for training and security clearance — often several months and for some specialized positions, such as the Border Force (which is a government rather than airport hire), as long as a year.

In addition, those staff who have remained are now demanding pay raises and improved working conditions, with strikes taking place, or threatened, if they do not receive what they want. For example, earlier this month, staff at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport went on strike, demanding a €300-per-month increase in pay and better working conditions. This led to around a quarter of flights in and out being canceled. Other airports and airlines face similar issues. In order to prevent this, they are taking generous measures. Norwegian Air have agreed to a 3.7% pay rise for pilots together with other benefits, to fend off industrial action. Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, one of the world’s busiest airports, is 10,000 workers down from pre-pandemic numbers. They need to hire 500 security staff alone, and have recently agreed to pay 15,000 cleaners, baggage handlers and security staff an extra €5.25 per hour across the summer, in order to keep them on. Airport security company ICTS, which operates at Charles de Gaulle, is paying a one-off €180 bonus to staff for delaying their vacation until after September 15 and €150 to staff who sign up new recruits, according to union representative Marie Marivel. Sydney airport was even more generous, offering security staff 1,000 Australian dollars (over £560) to work every shift they were allocated in the school holiday period.

Official Acknowledgement

Last month, the heads of two leading airport organizations issued a joint statement on the difficulties they face. Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe (Airports Council International), and Fabio Gamba, Managing Director of ASA (Airport Services Association), welcomed the return of air travel and said that although figures have not yet reached the pre-pandemic peak, the patterns have changed with passenger traffic becoming more concentrated over peak periods. This means that although the overall passenger numbers might be lower, at many airports, particularly large “hub” airports, from which many airlines fly, the peak numbers are at least as high, if not higher, than before the pandemic.

It has been extremely challenging, they say, for airports and their operational partners (particularly ground handlers) to deal with the sudden increase and concentration of air traffic. This has resulted in the ongoing delays, cancelations, queues and issues with luggage. The ACI conducted a survey among European airports to see how they felt they would cope during the summer. Two thirds expected flight delays to increase; 16% expect flight cancellations to increase; 15% expect flight schedules to be adapted and, worst of all, 35% expect that the airport and ground-handling staff issues will affect their operations beyond the busy summer season.

Most people only see the chaos from the passengers’ perspective. But the aviation industry unions see it somewhat differently. Unite’s national officer Oliver Richardson told EuroNews, “The industry is very much reaping what it has sown.

“Not only has the existing economic model been incapable of delivering decent and sustainable jobs, but this has been compounded by the behavior of some employers who during the pandemic opportunistically slashed jobs and cut pay and conditions.”

The airports, while acknowledging the issues, have also pushed back against the criticism. John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, said, “We should not be surprised at the challenge faced by the aviation industry.

“For two years most politicians and the public were calling for borders to be closed and that has had a devastating effect.

“Across the sector, very skilled jobs have been lost and it does mean that as an industry we are having to recruit people back, train them up again to be able to serve passengers, and that just takes time.

“It’s very easy to slam the brakes on the industry, lead to enormous job losses, but much harder to scale it up again.”

The last few weeks have also seen the sort of technical malfunctions and computer crashes which occur during most regular years and create problems for a day or so, but which, when combined with a backlog of flights and shortage of staff, snowball into hours or days of misery and disruption for thousands of people.

What can be done?

There is no immediate solution to this problem. It seems likely that disruption will continue across the busy summer holiday period, into the autumn. But airlines and airports are trying to get their act together. One recent suggestion from a spokesman from the Israel Airports Authority, was that people should not travel with checked luggage but only with hand luggage. He also called on people to take jobs at Ben Gurion, saying it’s “a great place to work.”

This did not tally with the recent experience of one family traveling back to the U.K. from Ben Gurion, who said that their time in the airport was so bad that it cast a shadow over their entire vacation. Despite having arrived at the airport nearly four hours before their flight was due, they only arrived at the gate as their flight was boarding, while people who arrived even a few minutes after them barely scraped onto the plane.

One of the main complaints from passengers is lack of communication from airlines. While it’s very frustrating to have to wait in a line at every stage of the process, it’s even more frustrating if you don’t know what is happening, whether your plane will be delayed and by how long, or if it has been canceled, and you are queueing for no reason.

Airlines have now committed to trying to cancel flights with several days’ notice, enabling passengers to rebook on different flights. For example, easyJet’s chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said, “We are taking pre-emptive actions to increase resilience over the balance of summer, including a range of further flight consolidations in the affected airports, giving advance notice to customers and we expect the vast majority to be rebooked on alternative flights within 24 hours.” The low budget airline has been one of the worst affected, accounting for nearly 50% of canceled flights from the U.K. in May and June. In a statement issued on Monday, they blamed the pandemic, saying, “The aviation industry across Europe is experiencing operational issues with root causes similar to the post-COVID supply chain issues being seen in many other parts of the economy.”

Specific issues mentioned included air traffic control delays and ground- handling staff shortages. These shortages, as well as causing delays for passengers, also cause delays in turning aircraft round between flights, which leads to flights taking off late and a knock on effect on the overall schedule. It can also lead to pilots and other staff “timing out” in the number of hours they are able to work, meaning that it is necessary to find substitute staff at short notice.

Some airports, including Gatwick, Heathrow and Schiphol, have asked airlines to cut back on flights either on specific days, or generally over the summer, in order to try to keep passenger flow and baggage handling on a manageable scale. Gatwick announced last week that it is limiting the number of daily flights to 825 in July and 850 in August, so that passengers can “experience a more reliable and better standard of service.”

John Holland-Kaye was confident that while it might take as long as 18 months to get back to pre-pandemic capacity, eventually the situation will be resolved. He said, “if you’re booked at Heathrow we will get you on your way.

“Don’t turn up too early, make sure you get your laptops and liquids out of your bag in good time, and if you do that everything will be okay.”

Very early or not too early?

Despite Mr. Holland-Kaye’s advice not to arrive too early, most airlines are saying the exact opposite! The standard advice is to arrive two hours before a flight, or for flights to Israel, three hours. Currently some airlines are telling passengers to arrive four or even five hours before a flight. While this minimizes the chance of missing the flight or having to be rushed to the front of the queue, it also means that if everything goes smoothly, and in many cases it does, the airport departure lounges are extremely over-crowded. One traveler reported from Stansted recently, “The whole of England is in the security queue!” while another said that the number of people who were sleeping on the floor made it resemble a mass casualty scene, chas v’shalom.

There does not seem to be an easy solution to the timing dilemma — either option carries risks and there are no running updates on the length of time to check one’s luggage or pass through security, until one is actually at the airport. The only suggestions are to make sure you travel with plenty of food, nappies (diapers) and other supplies as necessary, and keep hydrated, whether from a reusable water bottle which can be refilled at the airport, or purchased drinks. And, of course, bring plenty of patience, and daven for siyatta diShmaya.

Travel Tips

Book wisely: Some countries are worse affected than others — if possible, try to avoid those where long delays have been reported. If your airline has multiple flights to the same destination, you will find it easier to continue your journey if your own flight is delayed or cancelled.

Arrive early: While it’s frustrating to hang around in a crowded departure lounge, it’s worse to be fretting in a queue to check in your luggage or go through security.

Put essentials in your hand luggage: make sure you have the basics with you, in case your luggage does not arrive with you.

Consider Priority Boarding And Early Baggage Check-in

Paperwork: Make sure you have all the necessary paperwork on hand, whether hard copy or in a digital format. Do not rely on apps working at the crucial moment — take screenshots of everything.

Purchase good travel insurance that covers delays, cancellations and loss of luggage.


What happens if my flight is canceled?

For airlines based in the U.K. or EU, or flights out of a U.K. or EU airport, and your flight is canceled, the airline must either find you a new flight (whether their own or a different airline) or provide you with a full refund, within seven days.

If you choose a new flight, you can ask for the next available flight, or reschedule to a convenient date.

If you are already at the airport when your flight is canceled, you might be able to speak to someone there; if not, you should contact the airline as soon as possible.

What about delays? Am I entitled to compensation?

The amount of compensation depends on the delay, and the length of the flight.

For example, if you are delayed for more than two hours on a short haul flight, the airline should give you vouchers to use at the airport.

If you are delayed overnight, they should provide accommodation, or at the least, pay for accommodation if you have to organize it yourself.

If you arrive at your destination more than three hours late, you are entitled to compensation, unless it was due to extraordinary circumstances such as bad weather or a security emergency.

For short-haul flights (less than 1,500 km) a three-hour delay entitles each passenger to £220. For medium-length flights (between 1,500 and 3,500 km) each passenger is entitled to £350, and for long-haul flights (over 3,500 km), it’s £520. Passengers can claim for up to six years after the flight.

Please note, Hamodia accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information. Please continue to follow the advice of airports and airlines and seek legal advice if necessary in the case of delays or cancellations.

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