Air travel: A summer of chaos in Europe and America

Thousands of travelers saw their travel plans disrupted over the weekend in the United States as airlines canceled or delayed flights. More than 900 flights were canceled on Sunday alone. A total of 6,378 flights were delayed across the United States, according to tracking service FlightAware.

It was the second consecutive day of major air travel disruptions in North America. American Airlines has canceled 250 flights, or 7% of its schedule. Republic Airways, which operates smaller planes for American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express, canceled a similar number, about 25% of its flights.

With the acceleration of summer travel, travel delays have become widespread. After the restrictions imposed due to Covid-19, air travel was among the best sectors that should do well. In fact, aviation has rebounded in the United States faster than expected – to around 88% of pre-pandemic levels in July – but airlines have been slow to increase their workforce. Now faced with a peak, operators are reducing schedules to try to make the remaining flights more reliable.

More than 900 flights were canceled on Sunday alone

Overall, airlines serving the United States had a not so good month of June, canceling more than 21,000 flights or 2.7%, compared to 1.8% in June 2019 (when layoffs began during the pandemic). Operators did better in July, however, canceling around 14,000 flights, or 1.8%. Since then, delays have been more persistent – ​​over 23% in June and July.

Some airlines, meanwhile, attributed the chain of events to weather problems and short-staffed air traffic controllers, but the data suggests that several airlines (mainly in the US, Europe and Australia) are still struggling to manage travel demand.

Travel Rush

Passengers line up at check-in counters in the departures hall of Frankfurt Airport Terminal 1 in Frankfurt, Germany.
Image credit: Bloomberg

Airlines around the world have struggled to cope with pent-up travel demand that has rebounded from the pandemic. This has contributed to a number of flight cancellations. Additionally, the lack of planning on the part of operators and how to plan ahead of the summer travel peak has contributed to the current chaos. In recent months, major airports like Heathrow in London and Schiphol in Amsterdam have limited daily flights or the number of passengers.

Top Carriers Affected So Far

KLM

Dutch national carrier KLM canceled around 5.83% of its flights last month. Most of the disruptions were seen at Schiphol in Amsterdam, leading KLM to cancel a bunch of flights. The reasons ranged from airport labor shortages and passenger capacity regulations to the airline’s lack of manpower.

KLM owner Air France-KLM Group revealed in its second-quarter results that compensating customers for flight delays cost it 70 million euros ($71 million) during the second quarter of 2022. KLM is now canceling up to 20 flights per day (and this will last until the end of August). The airline has also limited the sale of its economy tickets to minimize disruption.

Virgin Australia

Despite airlines preparing for pre-pandemic demand levels, operators like Virgin Australia have faced major operational challenges. The airline, one of Australia’s largest, has canceled the most flights in the past three months. Virgin Australia cut almost 2,200 flights – representing almost 6% of its schedule – in the last quarter. The airline suffered the worst delays for the period as its 14 flights from Broome, Western Australia to Perth were unable to depart within 15 minutes of their scheduled departure time.

A total of 6,378 flights have been delayed across the US, according to tracking service FlightAware

Lufthansa

The German airline has canceled more than 4,000 flights so far, including almost 3,000 flights during the summer season in Frankfurt and Munich. According to a recent report by Reuters, Lufthansa faces uncertainty over possible walkouts by its employees. Management was in talks on Thursday with ground staff, whose one-day strike a few days ago forced the airline to cancel more than 1,000 flights.

On a positive note, Lufthansa said it expected demand for short-haul flights in Europe to drive growth for its passenger airlines this year, forecasting a return to group operating profit for the year. the whole year, driving up its shares. “The Lufthansa Group is back in the dark. This is a solid result after a semester that has been difficult for our customers but also for our employees… Worldwide, the airline industry has reached its operational limits,” said Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa Group.

Airlines in Asia and the Middle East continue on the road to recovery

The Asian aviation industry remained stable on the road to recovery. According to the International Air Travel Association (Iata), international traffic has more than tripled, with the lifting of restrictions in most parts of Asia-Pacific largely contributing to the growth.

June international air traffic in the Asia-Pacific region increased nearly sixfold compared to June 2021, with capacity up 139% according to the global aviation body. The region, which is now open to foreign visitors and tourism, is expected to boost the recovery of global aviation, Iata added.

The easing of strict travel protocols is also boosting the recovery of air traffic in Asia. In the last quarter, countries such as Cambodia, Singapore, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Australia lifted restrictions on international air travel, leading to a huge increase in passenger traffic between late February and early July 2022.

KLM is now canceling up to 20 flights a day until the end of August

While South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Afghanistan) and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Yemen, Qatar) recovered around 85% of Q2 2019 seat capacity, East Asia (China, Mongolia) is only 15% of Q2 2019 level as China adopted a “Zero-Covid” approach and renewed containment measures.

At the same time, airports in the Middle East and Asia have been much more effective in dealing with headwinds in the aviation sector. Compared to Europe and other parts of the world, airports in the Middle East and Asia have experienced fewer labor shortages – whether airlines, ground handling, security and check-in, etc.

Experts note that the long-term vision of several airports in the Middle East and Asia to retain staff despite financial constraints has given these hubs a head start.

At the Farnborough International Airshow last month, Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways and one of the directors of Heathrow Airport, told the media that airports such as Heathrow should have managed flight schedules better and calculate the suspension of flights this summer and provide airlines with notice. the need to shorten working hours.

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