Warning to South African travellers amid travel chaos

While the travel industry has almost made a full recovery – with travel numbers nearing pre-pandemic figures – staff shortages are severely impacting service delivery across the industry in Europe and the United States. And South Africa is not immune to the disruptions.

You’ve heard the horror stories, and probably even seen video footage to support them: Flying in Europe is a total nightmare this summer, with a record-high number of flight delays and cancellations, understaffed airports with hours-long security waits, and literal mountains of lost luggage, Bloomberg reports.

The chaos has become so intense at London Heathrow, that the airport has taken the drastic move of limiting airline ticket sales until it can get its act together.

Schiphol in the Netherlands is also reporting disruptions. Meanwhile, in the US, American Airlines and United Airlines have announced a reduction of domestic services as the airlines are struggling with a lack of pilots.

“Just as we thought the travel industry could finally turn the corner as Covid restrictions are being lifted, we’re seeing a new round of disruptions,” said Oz Desai, GM Corporate Traveller.

“All across Europe, airports are cutting back on the number of flights they can handle for the months ahead, which is heavily impacting flight availability. The number of flights cancelled in Europe every week is currently estimated at several thousand.”

The main reason for the disruptions is a lack of experienced and knowledgeable staff. The pandemic forced many in the travel industry to make drastic staff cuts to survive. Hundreds of thousands of aviation, hospitality and tourism workers were laid off, with years of experience and technical expertise removed from the industry.

For example, US airlines shed more than 84,000 employees from February to October 2020, according to Bureau of Transportation Statistics data. When travel demand returned this year, a hiring frenzy began. However, talented individuals laid off in 2020 found employment elsewhere and are not in a hurry to return to the travel industry.

The lack of knowledge and expertise is most acutely felt in the aviation industry but has also trickled down to the hospitality and car rental sectors. In addition, the ongoing war in Ukraine continues to severely restrict available airspace in Europe. This is leading to massive bottlenecks in the skies and thus, unfortunately, to further flight delays.

For business travellers, working with a reliable travel management company (TMC) has become more important than ever, said Desai.

“Travel has become more complicated, fares have skyrocketed, visa delays are frequent and travellers want the reassurance of a professional at their side when they are faced with airline delays and cancellations or luggage mishaps. They’re looking to their TMC to make sure the suppliers they select will deliver on their promises.”

It will take some time for things in the travel industry to normalise. Disruptions at airports in Europe and the US are likely to continue while the South African aviation space will take some time to adjust to the loss of Kulula and Comair.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. “Almost every company in the travel and tourism industry has indicated they are in the process of recruiting new staff. Although this increase in capacity will only have its desired stabilising effect in a few months’ time, the industry is working towards a solution,” said Desai.

Lufthansa has indicated that by mid-2023, we can expect a more reliable air transport system worldwide with more air capacity and modernised fleets. The airline is putting the A380 back to service from 2023 and has strengthened its fleet with 50 new long-haul aircraft and 60 new Airbus A320/321s in the next three years.

“The pandemic has taught us how to navigate uncertainties and deal with disruption. As long as we work together in an open and transparent way, we can minimise any travel friction and build a rewarding, profitable and enjoyable business travel experience,” Desai said.

Not all bad

New data from Hopper Inc, the Goldman-backed online travel agency, shows that some airports are preserving the Dolce Vita fantasy of summer travel in Europe—including Bergamo, in Italy, where only three percent of flights have been delayed so far this month and one percent have been cancelled, Bloomberg reports.

Compare that to Brussels, the European airport with the worst on-time performance so far this month; there, 72% of flights have been delayed and 2.5% have been cancelled.

The data suggests that regional airports are better equipped to absorb the shocks of this summer’s disruptions, thanks to both their lower passenger and flight volumes. Among the better performers are small hubs like Gran Canaria Airport in Spain and Fontanarossa Airport in Catania, Italy.

The latter, in Sicily, only sees around 300 flights on any given day; Heathrow, by comparison, sees 1,300.

Here are the best 10 airports in Europe for on-time departures (July 2022):

  • Bergamo/Orio al Serio Airport (BGY)
    • Bergamo, Italy
    • 3% delayed, 1.0% canceled

  • Gran Canaria Airport (LPA)
    • Gran Canaria, Spain
    • 8% delayed, 0.3% canceled

  • Otopeni International Airport (OTP)
    • Bucharest, Romania
    • 10% delayed, 1.7% canceled

  • Dublin International Airport (DUB)
    • Dublin, Ireland
    • 15% delayed, 1.6% canceled

  • Fontanarossa Airport (CTA)
    • Catania, Italy
    • 16% delayed, 1.1% canceled

  • Adolfo Suarez-Barajas Airport (MAD)
    • Madrid, Spain
    • 19% delayed, 0.4% canceled

  • Alicante Airport (ALC)
    • Province of Alicante, Spain
    • 20% delayed, 3.4% canceled

  • Marseille Airport (MRS)
    • Marseille, France
    • 20% delayed, 2.0% canceled

  • Orly Field (ORY)
    • Paris, France
    • 21% delayed, 1.2% canceled

  • Malaga Airport (AGP)
    • Malaga, Spain
    • 24% delayed, 3.3% canceled

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