From Suva to Rome, from New York to Paris and from Christchurch to Athens, tourists are desperate to escape a bleak southern winter for a late summer vacation in a glamorous European hot spot.
After two years of coronavirus anxiety and oppressive rules, pent-up demand for travel is likely to push global air passengers to 83% of pre-pandemic levels this year, according to a report by the International Air Transport Association.
But while that may be good news for struggling airlines and tourism industries, the influx of global travelers has also resulted in widespread chaos at airports.
Queues snaking through the door in Amsterdam made headlines, while in London, photographs surfaced on social media of huge piles of misplaced suitcases, sometimes taking days to piece together with owners.
“Most airports are already full because of the resumption of international travel,” said Adrian Esterman, Chair of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of South Australia.
Check-in terminals, security checkpoints and baggage claim have become clogged as airlines try to iron out problems in their plan to resume fast, large-scale travel.
Travelers to Europe and North America are being warned to expect longer waits, last-minute cancellations and flight disruptions.
For those who have booked a flight, navigating a post-COVID-19 world will require planning and patience.
What’s behind the airport chaos?
The cause of the outages is twofold, according to Dean Long, chief executive of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents.
One focused on transit arrangements, with airports and airlines unable to get their systems up and running to meet return demand.
This is largely due to a shortage of qualified personnel, Long added.
With travel restricted during the pandemic, airlines have slashed their workforce, leaving a deficit once travel resumed again in March of this year.
In the resulting hiring frenzy, airlines struggled to re-attract those who found better opportunities elsewhere, or had little interest in working with physical demands and lower wages. higher risk of unemployment.
Some governments are considering possible solutions, eager to see tourism return.
In the UK, for example, ministers unveiled a 22-point plan to help tackle staff shortages at the country’s airports, including accelerating recruitment and allowing airlines to reduce their summer hours.
Germany said it would help bring in airport security workers from places like Turkey to fill the void left by people who left their jobs during the pandemic.
But the problem is not limited to recruitment. Airlines are also facing employee revolts over low pay, long hours and a shortage of workers.
Ryanair, Easyjet and Scandinavian airline SAS will be hit by worker strikes this month, with security officers, ground crews, baggage handlers and other airport workers spurred on industrial action to secure better pay and more staff.
“Delays and cancellations everywhere. Why? Because there are no employees. Why? Because conditions and wages have been reduced for more than a decade,” said Eoin Coates, head of aviation at the European Transport Workers’ Federation, in a tweet last month.
As airlines try to deal with shortages, airports are also trying to adjust to other pandemic-induced challenges.
Demand for travel is increasing across the world, with UK airports seeing a nearly 35% jump in passenger numbers every month from the start of the year to April, according to data from the Civil Aviation Authority.
Meanwhile, passengers are now required to do more “checks and balances” at their arrival and departure destinations than they were before COVID, Long said, including proving COVID-19 vaccination certificates and negative PCR tests.
“So these lines are automatically longer, it doesn’t matter if they’re international or domestic. And as a result, it’s creating a situation where … the systems that were being invested in by governments are no longer as perfect as they used to be. ,” he said.
In the meantime, there are a few things travelers can do to save time and money while traveling.
Know the rules
Browsing a patchwork of COVID-19 restrictions around the world will now be part of your usual vacation search, travel experts suggest.
This includes observing relevant mask requirements and vaccine certificate mandates before travelling, although most European countries have now decided to scrap both measures.
“There are still things that cause concern and stress for people when they are not sure how to comply with local customs or local law in some cases,” Long said.
the government’s Smartraveller website It can be a good starting point for up-to-date travel advice about your destination.
It may also be a good idea to monitor COVID-19 case numbers in the week before your flight so you can make your own preparations.
“Clearly, the biggest problem is avoiding getting infected or reinfected,” Esterman said.
“While for most people the infection is mild, there is always the chance of becoming seriously ill. Clearly, this has health implications, but also logistical and cost implications.”
If you catch COVID-19, depending on country rules, you may need to isolate, which can have a knock-on effect on your plans.
You may have to work out alternative accommodation arrangements, cancel reservations and delay flights, so it’s important to be adaptable.
Don’t leave the booking too late
With the current level of disruption, travel experts suggest that the spontaneity of a last-minute flight to Paris might not be worth the money and stress.
“We’re seeing it’s very difficult to find a seat on a plane right now for anything in the next few years. [few weeks]”, said Mr Long.
Australians looking to fly to Europe at the last minute could be spending thousands. At the time of writing, flying Qantas from Sydney to London (round trip) in July will cost around $5,000.
“If you want to get the best value for the end of the year, there are no more last-minute deals,” Long said.
Experts say the best deals available are for those who plan ahead, maybe even next year.
Be deliberate about when you fly
It’s also worth being informed about your flight times, with passengers advised to book earlier in the day rather than later.
It gives travelers more options to book other flights on the same day in case a flight is canceled or has a significant delay.
And just like before COVID-19, it’s important to get to the airport early and leave enough time to get through security.
“We all used to be pretty good at getting to the airport two hours early and spending [however long] in safety. If you allow that time, it’s a lot easier to grab a coffee, airside — or by the seaside if you’re traveling — than panicking,” Long said.
Given the current scope of delays, experts are divided on how far in advance you should arrive at the airport. This is when airports ask people not to arrive too early to avoid queues for those who leave early.
“It sounds absolutely crazy, but a lot of these lines are people who took a flight at 10am and arrived at 5am.” UK travel expert Simon Calder told ITV’s Good Morning Britain in May.
Some airlines have started campaigns urging passengers to arrive no earlier than three hours before your flights.
Triple check your carry-on luggage
When the first reports of holiday-induced chaos in Sydney emerged in May, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce blamed the delays on “non-compatible” travelers.
“I went through airports on Wednesday and people forget they have to take out their laptops, they have to take out their aerosols… [security] queue,” he said at the time.
Some passengers “are not necessarily doing things right at airports,” Long said, but it’s not fair to put widespread delays squarely on travelers.
But experts recommend leaving enough time to sort your carry-on luggage before heading to security.
check your insurance
Health experts also recommend taking out travel insurance, particularly for those who haven’t had COVID-19 or are worried about getting it.
“Many countries – including some European ones – have horrible healthcare systems compared to Australia – [which isn’t] good if you are seriously ill,” Esterman said.
Some countries offer Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCAs) with Australia – including the UK and New Zealand – but the level of coverage you have access to differs depending on where you are. And if you’re traveling to a country without an RHCA, it’s up to you to cover any medical expenses.
“It’s easy to think that the government will save you [but] It doesn’t happen that way,” Long said.
Some insurers have introduced coverage for various COVID-related travel situations, except for destinations that have a Level 4 ‘Do Not Travel’ warning, according to the Insurance Council of Australia.
Ultimately, travelers must find a good travel insurance product that suits them, experts said, ensuring:
- The destination is covered by the policy
- The policy covers COVID-19
Independent consumer advocate CHOICE is a good starting point for evaluating options.
Ultimately, passengers should moderate their expectations for the coming months.
The aviation industry is reeling from the worst travel slump on record and will need time to adjust, which could mean investing more in resources.
But for those who exercise patience and planning ahead, there is still the promise of a memorable journey.