Heathrow crisis: Emirates spat highlights European aviation’s staff shortage in peak travel season

The airport operator forced several airlines, including Emirates, to cut capacity to better manage the unusually heavy traffic.

Heathrow crisis: Emirates spat highlights European aviation’s staff shortage in peak travel season
Heathrow, one of the airports that handles most traffic in the world, recently imposed a capacity cap. (Reuters)

Airports across Europe are forcing airlines to cut capacity amid the peak travel season — an issue highlighted by the very public spat between London’s Heathrow and Emirates, the Dubai-based airline.

Travellers are set to embark on vacations in unprecedented numbers following two years of enforced break due to the Covid-19 pandemic and airlines and airport operators are preparing to manage the heavy traffic. However, many airports have now begun to alert passengers about potential delays while airlines are starting to cancel flights to and from key destinations.

Heathrow, one of the airports that handles most traffic in the world, recently imposed a capacity cap. The airport operator forced several airlines, including Emirates, to cut capacity to better manage the unusually heavy traffic. This led to Emirates firing back at the authorities in a scathing statement last week.

“Emirates values our partnerships with airport stakeholders across our network with whom we engage continuously, and collaboratively, to secure our flight operations and ensure minimal customer disruption, particularly over the peak travel months,” Emirates said in a statement on July 14.

“It is therefore highly regrettable that LHR last evening gave us 36 hours to comply with capacity cuts, of a figure that appears to be plucked from thin air. Their communications not only dictated the specific flights on which we should throw out paying passengers, but also threatened legal action for non-compliance.”

A day later, however, Emirates and the airport authority issued a joint statement and announced that they had reached an agreement where the airline would cap sales on its flights out of Heathrow until mid-August.

STRIKE ACTION

Heathrow also faced the prospect of a strike by refuelling staff that could have disrupted services later this week. Fifty workers from Aviation Fuel Services were scheduled to go on strike for three days from Thursday over a pay dispute. However, the strike has since been called off in a relief to the airport authorities.

PROBLEM AT EUROPEAN AIRPORTS

The aviation industry was severely hit following the emergence of Covid-19 two years ago. Both airlines and airports sacked workers to cut costs as flights were grounded for months. However, with the pandemic now receding, people have resumed travelling and airlines have started increasing flights.

However, airports have not hired staff members in line with the growing traffic. This, coupled with several airport and security worker unions at European airports striking for seeking better pay, led to a severe shortage of labour.

The issues plagued top European airport hubs — Heathrow, Schiphol in Amsterdam, Brussels airport, and Frankfurt airport.

The biggest problem was that of delayed baggage. Due to the labour shortage, loading passenger luggage onto aircraft is being delayed and several flights are departing without carrying the luggage.

Airports are witnessing long queues, causing passengers to miss flights.

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