As air travelers endure long lines only to encounter flight delays — or worse, cancellations — some European airports have begun to restrict the number of flights that can arrive or depart each day this summer.
Last week, Frankfurt Airport operator Fraport announced it will apply to the German transport ministry for approval to reduce the number of flights per hour from 96 to 88, Barron’s reports. The move comes as the airport continues to struggle with the staffing shortage causing widespread disruptions across the air travel industry.
Jens Ritter, CEO of Lufthansa Airline, welcomed the news, noting that “Since the already increased capacities of the ground handling services in Frankfurt are still not sufficient due to a high sickness absence rate, even for the flight schedule that has already been reduced several times, the decision taken by Fraport today is right,” he said in a statement.
“In recent weeks, Lufthansa has already canceled flights in several waves to relieve the overall system. This has disappointed many thousands of customers, caused enormous additional work for our employees, and additional costs in the millions,” Ritter said. “Other airlines flying to and from Frankfurt will now also contribute to an even reduction and stabilization with flight cancellations.”
The Situation At European Airports
When travel stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines and airports laid off thousands of employees, and thousands of pilots also accepted early retirement packages. Now that travel restrictions have been lifted, travel demand has surged, and airlines and airports find themselves short-staffed — particularly when it comes to pilots. Making matters worse, a large number of commercial airline pilots continue to retire.
In the meantime, airlines continue to book flights, only to cancel some later due to staffing shortages.
As the situation worsens, European airports have begun placing a cap on the number of daily flights they offer.
For example, John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow Airport in London, recently announced “we have started to see periods when service drops to a level that is not acceptable: Long queue times, delays for passengers requiring assistance, bags not traveling with passengers or arriving late, low punctuality, and last-minute cancellations.”
As a result, the airport announced it will cap the number of daily departures at 100,000 from July 12 to September 11. The move is intended “to do all we can to protect passenger’s holidays and our interventions are part of a suite of industry measures that will help consumers this summer.”
However, Heathrow now announced the cap on flights will continue until October 29, according to The Times.
Other European airports have announced similar plans. For instance, London’s Gatwick Airport announced last month it would institute a capacity cap of 825 flights per day for July and up to 850 per day in August so passengers will “experience a more reliable and better standard of service.” Those numbers are down from the approximately 950 daily flights offered before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has already announced that it is limiting the number of departing passengers for July and August to minimize congestion and long lines of air travelers. That limit will vary from day to day and will increase to 67,500 in July and to 72,500 in August.
Finally, the announcement that Frankfurt Airport will cap the number of flights it serves each day isn’t entirely surprising. After all, the airport has also cautioned travelers to expect longer wait times due to the high number of passengers.
“If you are traveling via Frankfurt Airport, please use online check-in services or check in the night before your flight and allow extra time for your journey,” the airport urges. “We recommend arriving at the check-in desk two and a half hours before departure and checking the status of your flight on your airline’s website in advance.”
Lufthansa’s executives recognize the seriousness of the situation. Indeed, Carsten Spohr, chief executive at Lufthansa, apologized to employees and customers last month for travel chaos caused by labor shortages.
“We certainly made mistakes while saving our company and more than 100,000 jobs over the past two years,” Spohr wrote in a letter to employees, according to Reuters.
As Ritter explained, Lufthansa previously announced it will cancel more than 2,000 additional flights this summer at its Frankfurt and Munich hubs due to staff shortages, according to DW, the German international broadcaster. That news came less than 2 weeks after Lufthansa said it would cancel 900 flights this month.
Interestingly, while Lufthansa’s actions may provide some short-term relief, company officials do not expect Lufthansa’s flight operations to return to normal anytime soon.
“Unfortunately, we will hardly be able to realistically achieve a short-term improvement in the summer,” Lufthansa board member Detlef Kayser told Die Welt (DW) newspaper. “We expect the situation to return to normal by 2023.”
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