There is a blame game going on in Europe, with politicians, airports and airlines accusing each other of responsibility for weeks of travel chaos that is likely to get worse as schools break and families head for the beach. Passengers have faced flights delayed or cancelled at short notice, intolerable queues for security, and missing luggage. The bottom line is that the industry was unprepared for the speed at which demand has come back, but few can agree how best to solve the crisis.
This week, Heathrow airport followed its London neighbour Gatwick in imposing limits on passenger numbers this summer, and instructing airlines to halt new ticket sales. It will not permit more than 100,000 departures a day until 11 September. Carriers have reacted with fury, including Emirates. The Dubai-based operator says the scheme is unfair and unworkable, and has refused to comply, accusing Heathrow of having a “blatant disregard” for passengers.
Emirates – which flies six Airbus A380s to Heathrow daily – has a case. It says it has spent months investing and preparing its operations for the ramp-up and says the airport should have been doing the same. It says it cannot ask its customers, many of whom have had to postpone holidays or visits to families over the pandemic period, to change or cancel their plans. Heathrow, by contrast, argues that staff shortages among ground handlers and other providers are largely behind its decision.
Some airlines have been taking matters into their own hands and cutting back on numbers of flights. Wizz Air, which a year ago was talking up its strong recovery and expansion plans, is reducing its intended summer capacity increase by 5%. Among European carriers, British Airways and easyJet have made similar moves. The idea is that by cancelling flights weeks in advance, rather than risk last-minute disruption, passengers have a chance to rebook or make new travel plans.
Others have come up with novel ideas. Delta Air Lines says it sent an aircraft empty to Europe to repatriate luggage that had gone missing. Icelandair has been flying two baggage handlers on its flights to Amsterdam Schiphol – another airport suffering chronic staff shortages – and is considering doing the same on other routes. Innovative though the measures are, they are hardly lasting solutions to a problem few foresaw during the depths of the downturn 18 months ago.
Another issue for the aviation industry that was getting a lot of coverage before the pandemic was screening baggage for lithium batteries that can potentially cause on-board fires. European regulators have launched a study into whether these batteries – used in an ever-wider selection of electronic products – can be detected using airport security screening equipment. Most authorities currently ban items such as power banks, spare batteries and electronic cigarettes in hold baggage.
Until 2020, most of its Middle East neighbours barred Israel’s airlines overflying their territory. It meant El-Al and others had to make long detours when flying east. The Abraham Accords that year made possible services between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for the first time. Now Saudi Arabia – which has no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state – has opened its extensive airspace to Israeli carriers. It is a small but positive step in the geo-politics of aviation.
welcome aboard the new airside
We took our community to the next level with an elevated look, innovative features, and new tools.