Experts are predicting a summer of travel chaos. Here's why

Date Added: April 16, 2022 10:24:53 AM
Author: Sutra Web Directory
Category: Travel & Services

 It's time! Travel restrictions are easing, infection rates are settling, you're fully vaccinated, and you're finally thinking about going on vacation. This is the year to make up for the holidays you didn't enjoy over the past two years. You've likely saved for two years to make it a good one. This -- finally -- is it.

Or is it? While you may have got all your ducks in a row, the same can't be said for all of the travel industry. Not only are there ever-changing rules on testing, vaccines and quarantines to abide by when traveling; but once you've sorted your side out, getting to your destination looks set to be fraught with difficulty.

Top of the chaos board? Aviation. The industry was, of course, decimated by the pandemic -- but many airlines and airports currently seem unable to cope with travel's resurgence.

Countries on both sides of the Atlantic are seeing a slew of canceled flights due to lack of crew, long lines at airports thanks to understaffing, and the kind of rates for rental cars that make buying a vehicle look cheap. That's, in part, because everyone has the same idea as you -- only this week, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian announced that March 2022 had been the carrier's best month for sales in its history.

Facing unprecedented demand, the much-reduced industry is struggling to cope.

In the US, things have been brewing for the past year, as domestic travel has taken off again. Meanwhile in UK, the chaos at major airports has made the news every day for the past couple of weeks, and seen the national carrier, British Airways, reported to the industry regulator for potential law-breaking.

The flying experience may be smoother elsewhere in Europe, but car rentals are not. A bubble car can set you back more than your hotel -- and that's before you factor in rocketing gas prices. Traveling within the US? That "carmageddon" is hitting just as hard.

Welcome to a summer of chaos? Let's hope not -- but industry figures rather fear it will be.

A hot mess summer

"I think it's a preview of things to come -- and I do think things are going to get worse," says consumer advocate Christopher Elliott, who's been monitoring the situation in the US and Europe.

"The summer will be chaos," he believes -- so much so that he's advising his followers to avoid Europe in August, the peak of the peak season.

That airline chaos? He lays it squarely at the door of the airlines.

"I think we've been seeing some delays related to the pandemic, but I think they're baked into the equation at this point -- I don't think that's really a legitimate excuse," he says.

"It's everyone's fault except their own. If they took a good look in the mirror they'd realize that during the pandemic they downsized and laid staff off, and now demand has come surging back and they're caught off guard. They haven't been able to staff up fast enough to meet demand."

Elliott -- the founder of non-profit Elliott Advocacy -- has little time for the oft-quoted "technical issues," either.

"Airlines in the US use antiquated legacy systems in desperate need of update. They haven't upgraded as they should have. When they crash they lead to massive cancellations," he says.

On the opposite side of the pond, technical issues -- which have been blamed for mass cancellations in the US since last year -- have also plagued by British Airways, the UK flag carrier.

On February 26, a "systems disruption" saw the airline ground all shorthaul flights. It was the second IT failure in 10 days, and followed similar issues in 2017 and 2018.

But that was the least of the UK's problems. Since then, hundreds of thousands of travelers have seen their flights delayed or canceled, or have simply missed them thanks to the chaos engulfing some major UK airports.

Heathrow and Manchester airports have rarely been out of the news since the end of March, with severe staff shortages creating hours-long lines at check-in, security and passport control.

And the lack of staff also means that people are waiting hours for their baggage to arrive.

(Aviation) anarchy in the UK

Photos of snaking lines and piles of baggage -- often abandoned, after customers get tired of waiting for hours -- have dominated the UK press.

And the chaos is only getting worse. Stansted airport, budget carrier Ryanair's hub outside London, on Thursday advised passengers traveling for the Easter break to drop their luggage off a full 24 hours before their flight.

Ryanair at least isn't canceling flights. The two airlines doing that in the UK currently are easyJet and British Airways. Both have been suffering unprecedented staff shortages since the end of the month, leading to dozens of flight cancellations every day. It may or may not be a coincidence that both also ditched their onboard mask requirements in mid-March.

Enrico Ferro, from Padua, Italy, flew to London with British Airways for a four-day vacation with his wife and child on March 30. On arrival, they spent three hours waiting for their luggage to arrive at Heathrow.

"We spent the first day of our holiday in the airport," he tells CNN.

Things got worse on the way back. Their return flight to Venice was canceled when they were already at the gate. They ended up on a flight to Bologna, arriving at midnight. Ferro's father had to go collect their car from Venice airport, and drive two hours to pick them up and get them home in the early hours of the morning.

Ferro says BA staff never informed him that he was due compensation. He says he will "never" fly the airline again.

"I chose BA instead of low-cost companies because I was sure that services for travelers was better," he says. "I found out that this is no longer the case."

On April 14, UK consumer organisation Which? wrote to the Civil Aviation Authority, saying they had evidence from customers that BA was not informing them of their rights regarding cancellations and delayed flights. Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said in a statement: "Our investigation found British Airways neglected to tell passengers about their right to compensation and left families significantly out of pocket by failing to reroute them."

British Airways did not respond to a request for comment from CNN, but told Which? Travel in a statement: "We always meet our legal obligations."

Boland told CNN that the current chaos in the UK is, he thinks, "worse than in many other countries."

"There's a longer term problem around staff employment, and that's difficult to overcome -- especially for travel businesses who pay low wages.

"I've been in touch with some [aviation workers] who were fired during the pandemic. They've been offered to come back under worse pay and worse conditions, and they're saying, 'I don't really want to -- I've got a better job.' Unless airports and airlines increase their offer, they'll take a long time to increase staff."

Brexit is, of course, a famously divisive topic in the UK, with many who opposed it ascribing the country's current problems to the UK's exit from the EU.

But when it comes to the current airport chaos, there's a tangible link, says Kully Sandhu, managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network, which finds staff for the industry in the UK.

"We used to receive 50% to 60% of our applications from EU nationals for our London airport roles," he says.

"Not having this European workforce has not only has caused problems with recruitment, but it also means that airports have fewer employees who are able to speak a European language. This was a major benefit and not having that facility can impact the time it takes passengers to get through an airport."

Sandhu also blames yo-yoing travel restrictions which led to employers using staff on an "as and when needed" basis rather than giving them regular work -- leading to more and more leaving the industry.

In a nutshell? "Airport staff found more stable and financially lucrative opportunities and have decided not to return to work in such a volatile market," he says.

Sandhu predicts that it will take "up to 12 months" for airport staffing levels to return to pre-pandemic levels in the UK.

Meanwhile, Lucy Moreton, general secretary of Immigration Services Union (ISU), told the BBC that Border Force -- which checks people coming into the UK -- is "catastrophically understaffed." The government has blamed problems on the surge in travelers over Easter.

With reports of physical fights breaking out, passengers passing out in queues and thousands of travelers having their flights canceled every day, many will decide to put that post-pandemic trip to London on ice.

Meanwhile, in America

Not everyone is so downbeat. We need to keep perspective, says Courtney Miller, managing director of analysis at The Air Current.

For starters, he says, after two months of restrictions "We can get out and fly."

But he admits that, particularly in the US, the experience "sucks -- it's more expensive, and more wrought with the chance of being delayed or canceled."

The problem is? "Things are great -- too great -- and we're struggling to catch up."

Miller says that the sudden rebound of the domestic US market last summer saw demand as high as 70% of pre-pandemic levels -- and airlines simply didn't have the infrastructure to respond. "We had various airlines go through meltdown," he says, adding that over 5,000 pilots left (or were asked to leave) the industry in 2020, and new ones aren't coming through fast enough.

~ Via CNN