Thursday, February 2, 2023

Europe airline strikes: What to know for your summer trip


Workers at European airports are on strike, and the timing isn’t ideal. With lifted pandemic restrictions in Europe, the continent’s busiest travel season is back in full swing, and travelers are dealing with long lines at airports and canceled flights.

If you’re planning a European vacation, here’s what’s happening and how it might affect your trip.

Chaos at European airports strands travelers. Here’s why.

Why are workers striking?

Amid labor shortages and inflation, airline employees in Europe, including pilots, are striking to demand better wages and more hiring. In addition to asking for higher salaries, union activists in Paris urged airports to implement an emergency recruitment plan to build back pre-pandemic staffing numbers.

Verdi, the German trade union, called on technical staff at the Hamburg airport last week to strike. The German government is attempting to smooth things over by fast-tracking visas and work permits for thousands of airport workers from other countries, mainly Turkey.

Travelers in Italy have run into issues, too, when air traffic controllers went on strike in June. Hundreds of flights were canceled as a result of the strike.

The travel-related strikes aren’t just hitting airports. In June, the London Underground — commonly referred to as “the Tube” — was mostly closed because of a strike.

“European labor unions are fond of striking at times when they can cause the most pain,” said Diana Hechler, president of travel planning company D Tours Travel. “However, their strikes differ from those in the U.S. because they are usually timed for one day or even scheduled on a running basis but for short periods of time.”

Which airlines are affected?

Workers across Europe are speaking up, and it is creating a domino effect. A long list of airlines are being affected by strikes and staffing shortages, and it’s growing weekly.

Some airlines have suffered direct hits because their pilots or crew have gone on strike; some have made cuts to routes to avoid walkouts. SAS, the national airline for Denmark, Sweden and Finland, filed for bankruptcy after warning that the pilot strike could cancel half of its flights.

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Brussels Airlines, part of German airline Lufthansa, cut 6 percent of flights for July and August, which the airline said should “bring a better balance in the work/life of our crews.”

British Airways workers at London’s Heathrow airport suspended a strike after reaching a deal on better pay this week, but not before the airline canceled 10,300 flights through October.

Employees of low-cost carriers easyJet and Ryanair also have called for strikes this month.

How might my travel be impacted?

In addition to your flight being potentially delayed or canceled, your experience at the airport itself may be chaotic. Travelers are enduring long lines at check-in counters, security and immigration.

At Amsterdam’s airport, the security line extended outside, forcing the airport to cap passenger arrivals to no more than four hours before their flights. Luggage has piled up at airports across Europe and delayed getting to passengers as a shortage of baggage handlers continues.

The number of flight cancellations and delays across Europe this summer is three to five times higher than in the United States, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said.

The advice for travelers to show up early and only bring a carry-on bag holds doubly true for those flying out of a European airport.

What are my rights if my flight is canceled?

Under Department of Transportation rules, airlines are obligated to refund you if your flight (to and from the United States) is significantly changed or canceled, and if you don’t accept the alternative offered.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, DOT has opened more than 20 investigations into airlines for failing to provide prompt refunds.

How to get a refund for your canceled flight

For flights within Europe, regulation EU 261 lays out compensation rules and assistance for passengers if their flight is canceled or delayed, or if they’re not able to board.

If your flight is arriving or departing from a European Union airport, you are entitled to up to 600 euros for long delays or cancellations, according to the Department of Transportation. The airline often hands out paper forms for passengers to fill out, or it will have an electronic form available on its website.

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