Europe’s travel disruption woes continue with new strikes looming


An aircraft making its landing approach to Heathrow Airport in London in November. Airport and airline workers around Europe are said to go on strike throughout this month. — Reuters

Europe is bracing for new strikes affecting airlines ahead of its busiest Christmas travel season in three years, after months of disruption since the end of Covid-19 lockdowns.

Since the summer, strikes and staff shortages have forced European airlines to cancel thousands of flights to avoid long queues at major airports, and some disruptions persist as the end of 2022 nears.

Here is a summary of some of the developments:

Labour unrest

After job and pay cuts when Covid-19 halted travel, staff across the industry from pilots to baggage handlers are asking for big pay increases and better working conditions.

  • Border Force workers at several major British airports including the country’s busiest, Heathrow, will go on strike for eight days this month in a dispute over pay, threatening disruption to Christmas travel.
  • Heathrow baggage handlers employed by Menzies have also said they would strike in mid-December.
  • Hundreds of workers at Heathrow already walked out for three days in November over demands for better pay in the run-up to the soccer World Cup in Qatar.
  • Trade unions UNAC and SNGAF called for strike action over work conditions at Air France from Dec 22 to Jan 2.
  • On Dec 6, EasyJet averted a French cabin crew strike over the holiday period after it agreed to raise base pay by 7.5% while paying an additional ¤3,000 (RM13,974) bonus to staffers.
  • Labour union FNV said in October that Amsterdam Schiphol airport offered security workers a pay rise of 20% on average to try to solve ongoing st aff shortages. Schiphol, one of Europe’s busiest airports, has grappled with long passenger queues for months and has cut capacity due to the lack of security staff.
  • Ryanair’s Spanish cabin crew union members are striking from Monday to Thursday every week until Jan 7 over demands for higher pay and better working conditions.
  • In September, Lufthansa and pilots’ union VC reached a deal in a wage dispute. SAS and Ryanair agreed terms with pilots in July, while British Airways and KLM signed deals with ground staffers. Norwegian Air in June agreed a 3.7% pay rise for pilots.
Schedule cuts, caps on passengers

Airlines including Lufthansa, British Airways, easyJet, KLM and Wizz Air had cut thousands of flights from their summer schedules as major airports capped passenger numbers.

  • Schiphol said on Sept 29 it would reduce daily passenger numbers by around a fifth until at least March 2023, as it struggles to solve a shortage of security staff.
  • Heathrow lifted its 100,000 daily passenger limit at the end of October and has ruled out capping passenger numbers for the Christmas peak. Its CEO on Nov 21 said the numbers would not be capped in summer 2023 either.
  • British Airways said in August it would reduce its winter schedule by 8%, impacting around 10,000 flights.
Hiring and incentives

Industry executives say it is hard to recruit for often physically demanding, relatively low paid work at airports usually located out of town. Training new hires and getting them security clearance also takes months.

  • Lufthansa said on Nov 21 it planned to hire 20,000 new employees mainly in product-related and service-oriented areas.
  • Schiphol agreed to pay 15,000 cleaners, baggage handlers and security staff ¤5.25 (RM24.45) extra per hour during the summer.
  • Airport security company ICTS, which operates at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, has offered 150 euros for staff who sign up new recruits, a CGT union representative said. – Reuters
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