European travel chaos
Spanish EasyJet and Ryanair Holdings Plc workers strike in pay dispute. Image Credit: Bloomberg

London: Like the tens of thousands of pieces of luggage stranded across European airports, flight cancellations have piled up once again this week. In the UK, British Airways announced that another 10,300 flights slated for the summer season would be axed.

That brings the total cull to almost 30,000 flights between April and October at the British flag carrier, leaving apprehensive travelers feverishly checking their flight status and wondering if their trip will be next on the chopping block.

The UK has been among the hardest hit by the chaos at airports, with last-minute flight cancellations from the country almost tripling in June compared with the same month in 2019, even with fewer flights be operated by airlines, according to data from aviation analytics firm Cirium.

travel chaos
As the busy summer period beckons, here are some statistics and strategies to help navigate the madness.

Other airports in Europe have also been affected. Dutch carrier KLM on Friday announced that it would cancel 10-20 return flights a day from its main Schiphol hub, while Deutsche Lufthansa is also pulling a swathe of capacity in coming weeks in a frantic bid to straighten out its flight schedule.

How many flights are impacted?

With the latest announcement, BA has scrapped about 13 per cent of its planned capacity this summer. That’s up from the 10 per cent reduction it announced in May, and the carrier says the move was necessary in order to increase resilience as it copes with a severe staffing crunch.

EasyJet is canceling about 10,000 flights out of more than 150,000 during July, August and September.

Will my flight be canceled this summer?

BA has said that the latest round of cancellations only impacts short-haul services, so potentially services to Amsterdam, Dublin or Barcelona. It’s on such routes that the carrier operates multiple frequencies a day, meaning low-occupancy flights could be culled and merged with another departure on a larger aircraft.

The airline has said long-haul flights aren’t affected by the announcement, although some Twitter users have complained that services to New York have been hit.

How will I know if my flight is grounded?

BA says it will contact customers affected by flight cancellations, through email or with a call, provided the customer has supplied contact details. You can also check your flight status on the airline’s website.

If your flight is canceled, BA says it will offer you an alternative flight, or allow you to get a full refund. The airline is also recommending people ring their helpline if they’re unable to rebook online. But beware: some Twitter users have complained of long hold times.

What are my rights if my flight is canceled?

If your flight is canceled, you must be offered an alternative flight to your destination or a refund, according to consumer rights group Which?. An airline is also liable to pay compensation of up to a maximum of 600 euros ($609.69) per passenger, although the amount will vary depending on how far in advanced you were informed of the cancellation, as well as length of the flight.

travel chaos
Airlines have some wiggle room, as they could still deny claims for compensation citing extraordinary circumstances in the event of bad weather, political unrest or strikes initiated by airport employees or traffic control.

When will things get better?

Airlines say they’ve been hit by a perfect storm: travel demand shooting up on the one hand, and too few people on the ground at airports and in the aircraft cabins to process the passengers. Add to that the disruptions from strikes in places like Scandinavia, France and the UK, and you have a royal mess. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr has already said things probably won’t get easier in coming weeks, and that only by the winter schedule will service normalize.

But there’s at least some hope on the strike front. French airport authorities managed to avert an industrial relations conflict with firefighters that had crippled service at the Paris Charles de Gaulle hub. In the UK, unions also reached a pay accord with British Airways, overcoming an impasse.

travel chaos
Now some countries are accelerating hiring, with Germany bringing in foreign workers from places like Turkey to help depleted security staff on the ground.

“While most travelers should be able to get to the beach this summer, the chaos that’s already unfolded is taking the shine off,” said Rachel Humphries, director of communications at Cirium. “While only only a small percentage of flights have been canceled, it doesn’t take much to derail an airline’s operations as it’s so finely interconnected.”