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Since the end of health restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, European airports have been struggling to recruit staff, while strike calls within several airlines could disrupt holiday departures.
Delays, canceled flights, endless queues… European airports, overwhelmed by the sudden resumption of traffic, are expecting the worst this summer, due to the lack of staff and several strike calls.
From this weekend in France, Spain, Belgium, Italy and Portugal, the flight and ground staff of the Irish low-cost airline Ryanair will be on strike to protest against their working conditions and demand wage increases.
In France, “the company does not respect the rest times as provided for by the civil aviation code”, explained the representative of the National Union of Commercial Flight Crew (SNPNC), Damien Mourgues. His union is also asking for a salary increase for employees who are “paid at minimum wage”.
“Thefts will continue even if a ‘Mickey’ union goes on strike”
Claims brushed aside unceremoniously by the boss of Ryanair, Micheal O’Leary. “We operate 2,500 flights a day. Most of them will continue to operate, even if a ‘Mickey’ union goes on strike in Spain or if the Belgian cabin crew unions want to go on strike,” he said. -he assured during a press conference, Tuesday, June 14.
Ryanair is not the only company where the threat of a social movement hovers in the middle of the summer. The anger also affects the British low-cost EasyJet in Spain, since the Union Syndicale Ouvrier (USO) is planning a nine-day strike in July at the airports of Barcelona, Malaga and Mallorca.
According to the USO, “EasyJet’s flight crew in Spain currently have a base salary of 950 euros” per month, the “lowest salary” of “all bases in Europe”.
Sudden increase in traffic
After two years of turbulence linked to health restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, these two social movements could further disrupt the operation of airports faced with a sudden resumption of traffic.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the increase reached 76% in March compared to 2021, but traffic remains 41% lower compared to 2019. However, due to lack of staff, some airports are already overwhelmed.
In the Netherlands, Amsterdam-Schipol airport has been struggling for several weeks to cope with the influx of passengers. Long queues form and sometimes violent incidents break out between passengers on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In Copenhagen, Edinburgh or Frankfurt, travelers must also take their troubles patiently.
At Heathrow, several thousand suitcases have been stuck since last week due to a technical breakdown and lack of staff. The problem is such that the London airport has been forced to ask companies to cancel 10% of their flights.
🇬🇧 London Heathrow Airport had to deal with a malfunction in its baggage system at the weekend, leaving thousands of travelers without suitcases on Saturday.
Faced with this situation, passengers had to take their plane without their suitcase.pic.twitter.com/IrekDkTdtC
— air plus news (@airplusnews) June 19, 2022
A sign of the disorganization that is hitting airports, the number of mishandled bags has increased by 24% worldwide, according to the air transport specialist Sita.
The recruiting challenge
On Monday, the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) warned in an open letter that “the chaos facing the airline industry will only worsen throughout the summer as workers are pushed to their limits”. According to Eurocontrol, the European organization for the safety of air navigation, traffic is expected to reach up to 95% of its 2019 level this summer.
While many employees have chosen to retrain during the health crisis, airports and their subcontractors are facing a considerable challenge in attracting new employees: security, maintenance, passenger reception, catering, hands are lacking almost everywhere . Example in Paris, where nearly 4,000 positions are to be filled in the airports of Roissy Charles de Gaulle and Orly. But between staggered hours and low wages, attracting seasonal workers to these low-value trades is no small feat.
Questioned by the newspaper Les Echos, Jean-Baptiste Thélot, president of Sesa, the union of security companies specializing in aviation security in France, warns that passengers will have to be patient this summer. “Our permanent workforce has eroded due to departures and retraining; and then, we still have employees who benefit from the partial activity scheme as a vulnerable person in the face of Covid”, he explains.
>> To see: Labor shortage: many sectors are experiencing a haemorrhage of personnel
Especially since these recruitments take time, particularly for security reasons. It is necessary to train these new agents, but also to carry out the usual checks before providing them with the red badge which allows access to sensitive areas of airports.
In the meantime, the month of July promises to be very hot for European airports. After a social movement on June 9, the Paris airports launched a new strike call on June 1er July, a week before the start of the school holidays in France.