Industrial action at airports

Airports across Europe saw thousands of flights delayed and cancelled by industrial action in summer 2022. This continued into autumn with strikes by budget airline unions in Italy and Spain, including Vueling and Ryanair, and air traffic control strikes in Italy.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, the travel industry was one of those most severely affected, with over 190,000 European aviation workers being made redundant or placed on furlough,” says Nicky Kelvin, head of travel news website The Points Guy. “With post-pandemic hiring being affected by factors such as labour disputes and airport logistics constraints, many of the current airport staff are striking to avoid being overworked. 2023 will be challenging for the aviation sector, as airlines and airports will need to invest in higher numbers of staff to ensure untimely departures do not cause unnecessary delays.”  

How to deal with it: If you’re travelling with a UK or an EU airline — or from either of these regions — and your airline cancels your flight due to strikes, its legally obliged to offer you a full refund or a rerouting as soon as possible. If your flight gets cancelled within 14 days prior to travel, or your flight is delayed for three hours or more, you may be entitled to compensation.

Staff shortages at airlines 

Along with strikes, the number of planes taking to the skies last year was curtailed by airlines going bust. “There’s been a significant reduction in flight numbers and routes which has negatively impacted the smooth running of air travel,” says The Points Guy’s Nicky Kelvin. “Virgin Australia, Flybe and Alitalia are just a few of the many airlines which filed for bankruptcy following the financial constraints of the pandemic passenger decline.”

And many of the airlines that soldiered on did so with reduced schedules due to staff shortages, having laid off staff during the pandemic. Last July, an understaffed Heathrow airport made the decision to limit departing passengers to 100,000 per day — 4,000 fewer than originally expected. British Airways, Heathrow’s dominant carrier, placed a sales freeze on short-haul flights from the airport, cutting over 10,000 flights over the wintertime alone. “This is not going to be a quick fix,” said the airport’s CEO John Holland-Kaye last July, adding, “It’s absolutely possible that we could have another summer with a cap still in place.”

The rising cost of fuel looks set to push up  airfares this winter. Along with the cost of living crisis, this will “likely stymie passenger demand,” says The Times’ Ben Clatworthy. “In theory, this will take the pressure off airlines and airports… But it will be vital aviation doesn’t make the same mistake again and emerge this summer with too few staff.”

How to deal with it: For now, last-minute flight deals are largely a thing of the past. So, your mantra for air travel in 2023 is: book as far in advance as you can. Most airlines release tickets around a year ahead of departure, with the exception of some budget airlines including Ryanair, which sells up to six months ahead.

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