During the pandemic, savings were made in airlines but also in airport staff, and about a fifth of the jobs were cut. Airlines as well as airport operators are now desperately looking for replacements for the thousands of people whose jobs were cut not so long ago. Although insiders had announced the rebound in the number of bookings, most operators are now showing themselves to be overwhelmed. The pent-up demand ahead of the peak summer travel season is outstripping the ability to find enough qualified workers, for example as flight attendants, at security checkpoints and in aircraft handling. The global industry association IATA expects air travel to exceed 4 billion by 2024, the pre-Covid level of 2019. According to OAG analysis, the recovery is occurring fastest in the US and for intra-Asian flights, as Europe had cut back flight capacity the most. In general, tourist travel in particular is increasing rapidly again, while the number of business travellers is rising more cautiously.
Nevertheless, the pent-up demand is now showing up massively. Some of Europe's top destinations now even have more passengers wanting to reach them than in 2019. The first consequence is delays in all flight handling processes, especially at peak times. The second effect is that airlines have now started to reduce the flight schedule. The cancellations started around Easter and now more and more flights are being taken out of the schedule. Here are a few examples:
AUA (Austrian Airlines) is apparently short of hundreds of staff on board and on the ground. According to the industry magazine Austrianwings, the staff is unhappy because of meagre pay and not entirely voluntary salary sacrifices. They strategically chose to hold staff meetings over the busy Whitsun weekend, resulting in about 60 flight cancellations and 5000 passengers affected.
Easyjet, for example, is reducing the number of seats sold per aircraft in order to be allowed to fly with fewer flight crew in accordance with current regulations. The other complication that led to dozens of flight cancellations in the UK was a wave of Covid illnesses among its own flight staff. Hundreds of flights were cancelled in the UK in a short period of time (including by British Airways and Wizz-Air) because over 30000 aviation staff had been laid off in the pandemic and were now missing. This has led to very long queues at UK airports.
Swiss stresses to have deliberately thinned out the flight schedule due to staff shortages in order to minimise rebookings due to spontaneous cancellations. The originally planned capacity of 2019 of over 18 million passengers is thus no longer targeted, but only 80% of it. Effectively, this will result in more than 100 flight cancellations. About 2% of Swiss passengers are affected (about 10,000 passengers in July and August), 80% of whom could be rebooked on other Lufthansa Group or Star Alliance flights. The Vienna-Zurich connection is also severely affected.
Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr already revealed in a CH Media interview in April that the airline had cancelled a three-digit number of flights from the summer timetable and that the additional costs of $10 per barrel of paraffin would be directly reflected in the price of a ticket. A joint offer by Lufthansa and the Swiss shipping company MSC to buy the Italian state airline ITA is also being considered, as Spohr believes that this, like other airlines in particular, would not be able to survive the year 2022 economically. Lufthansa cancelled about 900 flights for the month of July, the Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings more than 100.
Airport operators in general expect that two-thirds of European airports will not be able to keep up with the passenger rush due to a lack of ground staff and that there will therefore be more frequent flight delays into the autumn. However, their international associations (ACI, ASA) consider complete and spontaneous flight cancellations less likely. Lobbyists of the airport operators criticise above all too little state aid, which could have absorbed cancellations. In addition, there are supposed to be too strict safety deadlines for the training of new staff, who are only allowed to start work at the airport 16 weeks later in some cases.