July 18 (Reuters) – Strikes and staff shortages are forcing airlines to cancel thousands of flights and causing hours-long queues at major airports, dashing hopes of a sizzling first summer after COVID lockdowns.
Here is a summary of some of the key developments:
After sweeping job cuts and pay cuts when COVID-19 brought travel to a grinding halt, staff across the industry from pilots to baggage handlers are asking for big pay increases and better working conditions.
Norwegian Air in June agreed a 3.7% pay rise for pilots among other benefits, in a sign of what other airlines may have to offer to avoid labor strife.
** SAS AB
SAS warned on Monday that time was running out as talks resumed with pilot unions to end a two-week strike that the Scandinavian airline says threatens its existence.
On Monday, 200 SAS flights, or 62% of those scheduled, were canceled, according to flight-tracking platform FlightAware.
The airline filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States on July 5, a day after the walkout started.
KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France KLM, and unions said on Thursday they had come to a collective labor agreement after weeks of unrest. The agreement includes a two step pay increase totalling 4% for ground crew with a minimum monthly increase of 80 euros ($80.5) before tax in each phase.
Meanwhile, the Franco-Dutch airline’s low-cost arm Transavia, hit by cabin crew strike action since Wednesday, canceled 30% of its French flights on Friday and Saturday and 25% on Sunday.
A German union representing Lufthansa ground staff is demanding at least 350 euros per month more over 12 months to cushion the effects of soaring inflation.
The staff called on the German flag carrier to end its “cost-cutting craziness” in a letter to the supervisory board seen by Reuters on July 6, saying it has contributed to the recent chaos by laying off too many workers.
Lufthansa declined to comment on the letter, though its chief executive apologized to employees and customers in late June, saying the airline “did go too far in cutting costs here and there.”
Spain-based cabin crew at Ryanair plan to strike for 12 more days in July. The Irish low-cost carrier said it expected “minimal” disruption to its flight schedules.
CNE union confirmed on July 11 that Belgian Ryanair pilots would join the strike planned by their French counterparts on July 23-24.
Spain-based cabin crew at easyJet plan to go on strike for nine days in July, demanding a 40% increase in their basic salary which is much lower than in countries, such as France and Germany, local union USO said.
REDUCED SUMMER SCHEDULES:
Airlines have cut thousands of flights from their summer schedules to cope with the disruptions, including British Airways, easyJet, KLM and Wizz Air, while major airports have also taken steps to limit traffic.
On July 13, Lufthansa said it would cancel 2,000 more flights from Frankfurt and Munich this summer, citing staffing shortages at airports.
London’s Heathrow on July 12 asked airlines to stop selling tickets for summer departures, after it capped the number of passengers flying from the hub at 100,000 a day to limit queues, baggage delays and cancellations. Emirates airline rejected these demands two days later despite being threatened with legal action, and said it would continue to operate to schedule.
The British government launched an “Aviation Passenger Charter” on July 17 to help passengers know their rights if they are faced with problems at airports. The new charter will help passengers know what to do if they are confronted by cancellations, delays or missing baggage with guidance on how to complain if they feel they have been treated unfairly.
HIRING SPREE AND INCENTIVES:
Airports and airlines are scrambling to hire more workers from pilots to security and border control staff and baggage handlers after many left during the COVID-19 crisis.
Industry executives say it is hard to recruit for often physically demanding, relatively low paid work at airports often located out of town. Training new hires and getting them security clearance to work at airports also takes months.
** Schiphol agreed to pay 15,000 cleaners, baggage handlers and security staff 5.25 euros ($5.50) extra per hour during the summer.
One of Europe’s busiest airports needs to hire 500 security staff. Now, there are 58,000 workers at and around the airport, 10,000 less than before the pandemic.
** Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris need to fill 4,000 jobs mainly in security, maintenance and travel retail, according to airport operator Groupe ADP and the CDG Alliance.
More than 20,000 people were laid off at Charles de Gaulle during the pandemic, according to the CGT union.
Airport security company ICTS, which operates at Charles de Gaulle, is offering a one-off 180 euro bonus to those delaying their vacation until after Sept. 15 and 150 euros for staff who sign up new recruits, according to a CGT union representative.
** Frankfurt Airport, Germany’s busiest hub, has rehired nearly 1,000 ground services employees after cutting about 4,000 during the pandemic, but will continue to see disruptions due to lack of workers in the next two or three months, its operator Fraport has said.
Germany plans to fast-track work permits and visas for several thousand foreign airport workers, mainly from Turkey, to help to ease the travel chaos.
According to the ADV airport association, about one in five jobs in security, check-in and aircraft handling is unfilled at German airports.
** The Portuguese government plans to more than double border control staff at the country’s six airports by July 4.
** In Spain, the police will hire 500 more staff taking the total to 1,700 deployed at the country’s busiest airports, including Madrid and Barcelona. ($1 = 0.9933 euros)
(Reporting by Klaus Lauer in Berlin, Juliette Portala and Caroline Paillez in Paris, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, Paul Sandle in London and Reuters bureaus; Compiled by Boleslaw Lasocki, Antonis Triantafyllou, Tiago Brandao and Marie Mannes in Gdansk; Editing by Milla Nissi, Josephine Mason, Elaine Hardcastle and Tomasz Janowski)