Crowded terminals. Delayed and canceled flights. Thousands of bags piled up at airports. Travelers may be surprised to hear that air travel in Europe is a bigger mess than it is in the States.
The operational reliability of European airlines has declined significantly since 2021. And the flights that are operating continue to face delays and cancellations – especially for short-haul intra-European flights. Airlines are concentrating their operations on long-haul intercontinental flights, meaning travelers in New York have a half-good shot of meeting the flight somewhat of their published schedule for flying nonstop to Paris. But those connecting from Paris to another European destination may have problems.
And those delayed and canceled flights have trapped thousands of passengers who have filled terminals as they wait for the way they are headed. Plus, Europe has more than a million fewer ground handlers, customer service agents, gate agents and baggage loaders than before the pandemic, meaning longer wait times for passengers at the end of their journey.
To combat airport congestion, some countries limit the number of people allowed in a terminal at any one time – creating lines on roads leading to airports. At Dublin Airport in Ireland, the line starts at 2 a.m. and by 3 p.m., passengers are on the streets outside the terminal, in some cases waiting three hours to get to an airline counter or go through security.
Then, flights are further delayed due to a shortage of workers “under the wings” – ground handlers and baggage loaders. Over 1,000 flights have been canceled at London’s Gatwick Airport starting last week. And this week, British Airways canceled 10,000 flights scheduled for the summer. This takes the airline’s total flights over the past few weeks to 30,000.
Passengers are facing similar problems at Frankfurt Airport, and not only are flight delays with thousands of passengers piling up in bag claim areas – and going nowhere, a combination of missed connections and There are not enough baggage handlers or airline staff to identify and start the bags. The process of reuniting them with their owners.
Worst example: Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. About 10 days ago, the government attempted to limit the number of people who could be inside the terminal at any one time. Then, the government asked airlines to cut their flight schedules. Nor did it solve the problem.
Now, the government of the Netherlands has taken the extraordinary and unprecedented step of ordering all airlines not to sell any more tickets between now and July 31. Translation: Airlines can only fly passengers who bought tickets before today. And the hat does not rise until August 1.
This mess of delays and cancellations is likely to continue through October, as airline schedules will not stabilize until demand eases in the fourth quarter, and restarts the hiring pipeline. Until then, try to choose a US airline for outbound trips to Europe and a foreign carrier based in that country for return travel. That way, you’re not waiting for an oncoming plane so you can depart. And make sure any connection times are at least four hours—not just for your safety, but to make sure your bags connect.
Or, better still, don’t fly between European cities at all. catch the train European trains are much more efficient and have a very good on-time performance record.
If you run into cancellations or delays, there is one aspect of the European flight experience that remains unknown to most American travelers that can make things a little easier. The European Union has a relatively strong compensation system for passengers whose flights have been delayed or cancelled, called EC Rule 261.
Under the rule, a passenger whose flight is delayed or canceled is entitled to receive up to 600 euros, and in the event of a more extended delay or cancellation, a hotel room and other expenses as well. Most airlines don’t take this rule voluntarily, and require passengers to know it exists—and that it works.