Europe airports cut flights amid holiday rush, staff shortage

File image of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport (Image Source: WIkimedia Commons)

File image of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (Image Source: WIkimedia Commons)

London’s Gatwick Airport has said it reviewed operations and is “temporarily moderating its rate of growth for July and August” by “gradually increasing the capacity level at the airport to align with its growth trajectory and ground handler’s resource capability”.

“This action will then allow airlines to fly and manage more predictable and reliable flight programmes for the rest of the peak school summer holiday period,” the airport authorities said in a statement on June 17.

Long story short, Gatwick is facing a labour shortage and is taking steps to align capacity growth with personnel strength during the peak holiday period.

Gatwick is the UK’s second largest airport and flies a range of both short and long-haul point-to-point services. In 2019, a new long-term partnership was formed with VINCI Airports which purchased a 50.01 percent stake in the airport.

The airport will gradually increase its declared capacity from 825 flights a day in July to 850 flights in August to standardise service.

Gatwick Airport CEO Stewart Wingate said they recruited 400 new staff to help process passengers quickly through security and more new recruits were expected in the coming weeks.

Gatwick saw significant upturn in air traffic levels during the Jubilee holiday week with an average of around 800 daily flights each day. It has also served more than 10 million passengers between January-June.

“It is clear that during the Jubilee week a number of companies operating at the airport struggled in particular, because of staff shortages. By taking decisive action now, we aim to help the ground handlers–and also our airlines–to better match their flying programmes with their available resources,” Wingate said.

An airport review found that a number of companies based in Gatwick were and would continue to operate with a severe lack of staff over the summer holiday period, the statement said.

“If not addressed, this issue would see airport passengers continuing to experience an unreliable and potentially poor standard of service, including more queues, delays and last-minute cancellations.

“By carefully controlling and gradually increasing the maximum number of flights over time – until the end of August – the airport aims to help both its airlines and their ground handling companies improve the service they provide by reducing the number of flights they need to manage,” the statement said.

This will benefit ground handling companies, who are employed by the airlines and are responsible for managing check-in areas, turning aircraft round on the airfield ready for departure, and loading and delivering baggage back to passengers.

Each airline will also have to review its operational capabilities to chalk out realistic flight schedules that align with crew availability and ground handling resources. Flights will continue to operate as normal.

Shortages across Europe

On June 16, the Netherlands’ busiest airport Schiphol said it was reigning in flight departures over the busy summer period due to security staff shortage, AP reported. One of Europe’s busiest, the Dutch airport said it cannot cope with high demand.

In a statement, Schiphol said that from July 7 until the end of the month, there would be about 13,500 seats a day above the capacity that the airport’s security staff can handle. A decision on August flights would be taken later.

The airport did not specify how many flights it would cancel but CEO Dick Benschop told reporters that passengers may be affected and may have to depart from different airports.

“It is, of course, frustrating. Frustrating for the people concerned, families who have looked forward (to traveling); frustrating for airlines, the first real summer after COVID-19; frustrating for travel organizations and frustrating for us,” Benschop said.

Prior to this, during the Easter school holidays, British Airways and EasyJet cancelled hundreds of flights due to Covid-related staff absences.

“Schiphol had no choice but to act now. It is not responsible to go into the summer hoping for the best. We are responsible for our passengers and staff and for their security and health,” he added.

(With inputs from AP)