“There’s elderly people in the queues, there’s kids, babies. No water, no nothing. No signage, no one helping, no toilets,” said Morgan, who is from Australia and had tried to save time Monday by checking in online and taking only a carry-on bag.
People “couldn’t get to the toilet because if you go out of the queue, you lost your spot,” she said.
After two years of pandemic restrictions, travel demand has roared back, but airlines and airports that slashed jobs during the depths of the COVID-19 crisis are struggling to keep up. With the busy summer tourism season underway in Europe, passengers are encountering chaotic scenes at airports, including lengthy delays, canceled flights and headaches over lost luggage.
Schiphol, the Netherlands’ busiest airport, is trimming flights, saying there are thousands of airline seats per day above the capacity that security staff can handle. Dutch carrier KLM apologized for stranding passengers there this month.
London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports are asking airlines to cap their flight numbers. Discount carrier easyJet is scrapping thousands of summer flights to avoid last-minute cancellations and in response to caps at Gatwick and Schiphol. North American airlines wrote to Ireland’s transport chief demanding urgent action to tackle “significant delays” at Dublin’s airport.
Nearly 2,000 flights from major continental European airports were canceled one week this month, with Schiphol accounting for nearly 9%, according to data from aviation consultancy Cirium. A further 376 flights were canceled from U.K. airports, with Heathrow accounting for 28%, Cirium said.
“In the vast majority of cases, people are traveling,” said Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of the Advantage Travel Group, which represents about 350 U.K. travel agents. But airports are suffering from staff shortages, and it’s taking a lot longer to process security clearances for newly hired workers, she said.
“They’re all creating bottlenecks in the system,” and it also means “when things go wrong, that they’re going drastically wrong,” she said.
The Biden administration scrapping COVID-19 tests for people entering the U.S. is giving an extra boost to pent-up demand for transatlantic travel. Bue-Said said travel agents her group represents reported a jump in U.S. bookings after the requirement was dropped this month.
For American travelers to Europe, the dollar strengthening against the euro and the pound is also a factor, because it makes paying for hotels and restaurants more affordable.
At Heathrow, a sea of unclaimed luggage blanketed the floor of a terminal last week. The airport blamed technical glitches with the baggage system and asked airlines to cut 10% of flights at two terminals Monday, affecting about 5,000 passengers.
“A number of passengers” may have traveled without their luggage, the airport said.
When cookbook writer Marlena Spieler flew back to London from Stockholm this month, it took her three hours to get through passport control.
Spieler, 73, spent at least another hour and a half trying to find her luggage in the baggage area, which “was a madhouse, with piles of suitcases everywhere.”
She almost gave up, before spotting her bag on a carousel. She’s got another trip planned to Greece in a few weeks but is apprehensive about going to the airport again.
“Frankly, I am frightened for my well being. Am I strong enough to withstand this?” Spieler said by email.
In Sweden, lines for security at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport have been so long this summer that many passengers have been arriving more than five hours before boarding time. So many are showing up early that officials are turning away travelers arriving more than three hours before their flight to ease congestion.
Despite some improvements, the line to one of the checkpoints stretched more than 100 meters (328 feet) Monday.
Four young German women, nervous about missing their flight to Hamburg while waiting to check their bags, asked other passengers if they could skip to the front of the line. Once there, they bought fast-track passes to avoid the long security queue.
Lina Wiele, 19, said she hadn’t seen quite the same level of chaos at other airports, “not like that, I guess,” before rushing to the fast-track lane.
Thousands of pilots, cabin crew, baggage handlers and other aviation industry workers were laid off during the…