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Europe air travel problems to continue: these are the destinations facing major disruptions this fall

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Summer may be drawing to a close, but it looks like the season of air travel chaos will continue well into the fall, particularly in Europe, where staffing issues and strike action continue to impact operations at major airlines and airports.

One of the most significant disruptions looks set to happen in Spain, where Ryanair staff have planned weekly strikes for the rest of the year, from August 15 (next Monday) until January 7, 2023, while in Portugal, baggage handling workers are taking several days of industrial action in August. 

Airport chaos in Europe: how to manage delays, cancellations and strikes

Cancelations are also a recurring problem. Of the total number of flights canceled worldwide this month, 60% of them are in Europe. Aviation analytics group Cirium shows that over 15,700 flights scheduled in August have been canceled there. Suffice to say; the chaos isn’t ending soon as British Airways announced it had canceled 10,000 flights until the end of October to cope with the pressure due to staff shortages.

If you’re flying to or within Europe in the coming months, these are the disruptions you need to be aware of in some of the most popular destinations.

A flamenco show at Plaza de España, Seville
It’s not going to be easy to get in and out of Spain this fall; a flamenco show at Plaza de España, Seville © Alex Tihonovs / Shutterstock

Upcoming flight distruptions in Spain include many Ryanair and easyJet routes

In Spain, Ryanair cabin crew will stage another round of industrial strike action on Monday, August 15. It will see up to 1700 workers walk out every Monday to Thursday from next week until at least January 2023 as negotiations for improved pay and working conditions fail to reach a satisfying conclusion between the unions USO and SITCPLA and airline bosses.

The airports where staff will stage a walkout include Alicante, Barcelona, Girona, Ibiza, Madrid, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, Santiago de Compostela, Seville and Valencia.

During the first two weeks of industrial action, it is anticipated that 1.4 million passengers will be affected. But if you’re flying to or from Spain soon, Ryanair said it expects to incur no disruptions to its daily flight schedule in August or September. Most of its staff are represented by a different agency, CCOO, and bosses have already reached a pay agreement with them.

“Ryanair expects that these latest threatened strikes, which involve only a handful of our Spanish cabin crew, will have zero impact on our Spanish flights or schedules in August or September,” a spokesperson for the low-cost carrier said in a statement. Nothing has been said yet about what will happen later in the year. 

Similarly, Spanish aviation faces further disruptions later this month, with pilots from easyJet staging three 72-hour strikes between August 12 and 14, 19 and 21, and 27 and 29.

Ryanair airplane lands in Barcelona
Barcelona is one of the airports set to be impacted by Ryanair industrial action this year © Getty Images

Portugal faces potential strike action at the end of August

Industrial action planned for August 19, 20, and 21 was called off. The strike would have impacted major airports the ANA airport authority runs, including Lisbon and Faro, the gateway to the Algarve as aviation staff represented by the Civil Aviation Workers’ Union (SINTAC) and the Commercial Aviation Staff Union (SQAC) continue to fight for improved pay and working conditions. A truce was reached earlier this week between bosses and unions but baggage handling staff are planning to strike at the end of the month in Portugal.

The action will impact Lisbon airport, Faro, Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport, Flores, Horta, Ponta Delgada, Porto, and Santa Maria. It will coincide with the UK Bank Holiday weekend, a busy time for travel to Portugal, taking place on August 26, 27, and 28.

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France’s staff shortages are still an issue

Air travel in France was hampered by aviation strikes this summer, particularly in Paris, but none are scheduled for fall. According to Reuters, France’s primary carrier, Air France, is ramping up capacity quicker than other European airlines. Staff shortages are still an issue, but some popular transatlantic routes are returning this winter to meet demand, including the Newark to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport route starting December 12 and the new shuttle service of six daily flights between Paris and New York-John F. Kennedy.

Paris in summer: 6 questions to ask yourself before visiting this year

Introducing Germany

Germany’s Lufthansa is still cancelling flights 

A spokesperson for Lufthansa said the worst of the flight chaos is over for Germany’s national carrier. Board member Christina Foerster told German media that “flight operations are largely stabilized” but stressed the situation remains challenging as they deal with the fallout of peak season staff shortages, adding, “nevertheless, this summer we are dealing with a level of sick leave that is not easy to offset.”

Cancelations still hamper some domestic routes, but Foerster said the situation would improve significantly at the end of October.

Meanwhile, Frankfurt airport, Germany’s busiest airport and the central hub for transatlantic connections, is still feeling the pressure and has reduced its hourly flights from 96 to 88 until further notice. The move comes as the airport continues to struggle with labor shortages. By placing caps on daily operations, the airport hopes it will lead to a reduction in canceled or delayed flights for passengers.

Traveling to Germany? 6 questions you need to ask before you go

Italy’s flight staffing shortages lead to guidance to ‘travel light’

No further strike action is scheduled in Italy after July saw several walkouts among aviation staff. However, the Italian government has warned passengers to ‘travel light’ as staff shortages continue to cause problems in Italian airport terminals, particularly in baggage handling.

“Travelers are advised to only carry hand luggage […] to avoid long waiting times for the recovery of their belongings,” a press release from the Italian Ministry of Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility (MIMS) reads.

Passengers wait for their luggage at the arrivals baggage belt area of Eindhoven airport
Long delays, lines, crowds and queues are common features of air travel this year © NurPhoto / Getty Images

Ireland’s continued flight delays and lost baggage

Dublin Airport was plagued with delays at security and check-in lanes this summer, but the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) said those wait times had been significantly reduced as the airport continues to hire more staff to bring levels to “in and around” what they were before the pandemic hit. 

“We are happy with the progress that we are making, and we are confident that that is going to continue on into August,” the DAA’s Graeme McQueen said in a statement, adding that the ongoing hiring process will reduce delays even further in the coming weeks.

However, flight delays are continuing. Recently, the airport has experienced between 50 and 100 flight delays daily. Additionally, lost baggage is another issue at the airport, with over 4000 bags reported misplaced or missing this summer. In response to the issue, the DAA is working closely with baggage handling companies to ensure luggage is reunited with passengers.

Traveling to Dublin this summer? 8 questions to ask yourself before you go

UK airports are starting to limit capacity

Facing severe staff shortages, officials at London Heathrow are capping the number of passengers departing the airport daily to 100,000 until September 11. Despite the caps, Heathrow’s CEO John Holland-Kaye said in a statement that airlines have already sold an excess of seats for the summer “and so we are asking our airline partners to stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers.”

In response to the caps at Heathrow, British Airways has limited new bookings and is canceling 10,000 flights until the end of October. The airline says it will make it easier to rebook passengers onto new flights if they face any cancellations.

The airline said the decision was part of “pre-emptive action to reduce our schedule this summer to give customers certainty about their travel plans and to build more resilience into our operation given the ongoing challenges facing the entire aviation industry.”

The cancelations mainly impact short-haul routes less than three hours from London. But the problems aren’t confined to Heathrow. London’s other main airport Gatwick is also capping daily flights until the end of October.

Traveling to London this summer? 8 questions to ask yourself before you go

The Netherlands is reimbursing passengers

Following chaotic scenes at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport this summer with hours-long queues and last-minute cancelations, the airport has limited flights until the end of October to about 72,500 daily passengers. It is also compensating passengers who incurred extra charges during the period of widespread disruption between April 23 and August 11. Passengers who had to rebook a flight or change a ticket during this timeframe are covered in the reimbursement plan, as well as passengers who had to spend extra time in Amsterdam due to excessively long lines at the airport. Passengers can request reimbursement here.

Passengers stranded in Palma de Mallorca airport
Passengers stranded in Palma de Mallorca airport © zixia / Shutterstock

The bottom line for European flight travel in fall 2022: Buckle up for ongoing air travel chaos

Airports were unprepared to deal with the pent-up demand for travel when coronavirus restrictions were significantly lifted this summer. An estimated 400,000 aviation staff were fired, furloughed, or threatened with redundancy in the spring and summer of 2020,  and bosses were slow to hire and train new starters. In some cases, recruits were offered below-par contracts, making a return to the industry less appealing than before the pandemic. Inflation and stagnated wages within the travel sector have triggered strikes across the board. These problems are unlikely to be resolved before the end of the year, so disruptions will be a feature of autumn and even winter travel no matter where you’re flying from. Speaking to The Points Guy, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said air travel would not return to normal operations until the summer of 2023.