Ed Berrevoets on shortages in the industry
Everyone has looked in horror at the incredible lines of waiting passengers that could be seen at Schiphol Airport at the beginning of the May vacation. Travelers lined up all the way outside the terminal buildings to check in for their flight or get through security screening.
Our national airport is dealing with a shortage of staff, it turned out. At KLM, some of the staff were on strike, which added to the unrest and crowds. It is extremely annoying for all those travelers, who now finally after two years thought they were going to travel again during their vacations.
The following weekend, airlines were asked to cancel flights. Because the airport has not yet solved the problem. It probably can’t be solved in a week either, but these measures are very draconian.
It is amazing to note, that it apparently came as a complete surprise. Weeks before departure the booking systems show how many passengers are booked and where they are flying from or to. That cannot have been a surprise. So it could have been communicated earlier, that it would be too busy. Then you could also inform travelers in advance, instead of letting them suffocate in the queue at Schiphol.
For months, if not years, we have been hearing that unemployment is at its lowest point in decades. Despite the many millions of euros of government support, many workers still left for other companies because demand in the travel industry had all but dried up. The charts of the time show a sharp line downward. That’s why many companies needed that support: changing demand is something you can deal with, but not when it happens at such a rate and to such a large extent.
After most restrictions were lifted, the Netherlands again booked its trips abroad en masse and… foreign countries came to the Netherlands en masse again. Those last passengers also leave for home after some time, so they too contribute to that rush. The recovery curve upwards is almost as steep as the line that ran downwards in 2020. And there is no support available to deal with this problem. But all the departed employees are gone. The same is true in the hospitality industry, where restaurants are often still running at only half capacity because they can’t find any staff.
The most annoying thing is yet to come. There is a huge domino effect here. This is not only happening with travel agencies and airports, but also with airlines, rental companies and hotels. For Schiphol to ask airlines not to come is absurd. The airlines have already allocated their routes and slots, including the necessary catering, flying personnel and kerosene. Simply not flying or landing somewhere else with the announcement a day in advance is hardly organizing. And moreover, it leads to even more angry and disappointed passengers.
The airlines also have insufficient staff to meet the demand at short notice. Just try to get in touch with their customer service. The waiting time can easily run up to an hour. So you get complaints about the complaint, which is pending for so long. And so the complaints increase, while they have no capacity to handle them acceptably. Refunds or special requests all take much longer than they did before Covid-19.
Then we also have to deal with high inflation and sharp wage increases and more expensive oil and kerosene. The latter effect will take some time to kick in, because major airlines usually buy and fix oil prices six months in advance, but after that period expires, it is inevitable that fuel surcharges will reappear.
In addition to Schiphol, other airports are experiencing similar problems. Last weekend, about 12,000 passengers were asked to cancel their flights, for safety reasons at Schiphol. Similar requests have taken place at London Heathrow and other airports in Europe are also struggling with this problem. It seems inescapable, that soon you will have to pay much more for the service in our industry, while getting a much more inferior service than before. There is hardly an alternative, because the same problem is playing out everywhere in our industry, including outside of Europe. The high season for vacations threatens to be just as much of a strain and the problems really won’t be solved by then.