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Nightmare at the Airport: Domestic and Foreign Travel in Chaos as Staffing Shortages Upend Vacations and Business

Nightmare at the Airport: Domestic and Foreign Travel in Chaos as Staffing Shortages Upend Vacations and Business

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Jun. 27 2022, Published 11:28 a.m. ET

Travelers in the United States and Europe are finding their worst travel nightmares are coming true as pandemic-cutbacks, staffing shortages and a surge in travelers combine to create the perfect storm of chaos at the airport.

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Missing luggage, no one answering phones, and flights cancelled as often as not - what's going on?

US and Europe See Chaos

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Across the US and Europe, people arriving to airports for both pleasure and business are finding their once-smooth experiences are a thing of the past, and chaos is the new norm.

One traveler described to CELEB their Europe travel experience, with luggage going missing for four days (and counting) and no one answering the phone to provide remedy. The source told us that AMEX hung up on them two times - leaving them on foreign soil and with no one to help. Some travelers described a sea of unclaimed luggage at Heathrow Airport in Europe, and a wait in the passport line that lasted hours.

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Another described delays and cancellations so severe that they ended up needing to rent a car and avoid the airport altogether.

At the heart of the delays, cancellations and absent customer service lies a labor shortage so yawning that many airports are having to cut back on how many customers they can serve.

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Financial Review reports, "All across Europe, airports are cutting back on the number of flights they feel able to handle, which is forcing airlines to slice their schedules.

Even Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport that is a byword for smooth efficiency, will this summer cut by 13,500 the number of passengers it can process."

American Airlines and United Airlines both recently announced that they would end or reduce contracts with many cities, a shortage of on-the-ground and in-air workers leaving them unable to meet demand.

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In Europe, thousands of flight cancellations a week are leaving travelers stumped and frustration, and some air workers unions are encouraging companies to cancel flights now instead of waiting until they're in the thick of the mid-summer rush to leave people high, dry, and stranded, but so far the companies are trying to push through and then winding up with their backs against the wall.

When Will it Get Back to Normal?

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The question is: is there an end in sight? Will travelers be able to expect more normal flights by Fall, Christmas - next year?

The short answer is - no one is sure.

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Airline companies are cutting pay and staff to try to recoup enormous losses taken during the pandemic, and unions are striking.

Around 700 in-airport staff at Heathrow are vowing to strike in July, during the height of summer travel, and other airports are facing promises of similar strikes. Unsustainably long hours, severe understaffing and poor pay are all in play, and workers are fed up.

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Pilots too are seeing a cut in wages, and considering the superhuman work expected from them - it's leading to the lowest morale and career dedication in decades. But airline companies see cutting wages from the bottom up as a way to balance their pandemic-related losses, even as CEOs don't feel the burn.

Another problem that won't go away any time soon is increasing weather events. With increasing frequency, more severe summer weather is impacting the US to Europe travel lines, and unfortunately it's not going anywhere. Heat waves that make it too dangerous to sit on the tarmac in an un-airconditioned metal tube, dangerous thunderstorms with 60MPH+ winds; it's all here to stay and getting worse.

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So if you combine striking workers, staff shortages, a sudden influx of pandemic-weary travelers and more severe weather than ever before - what you get is a perfect storm of chaos. And when it will end is anyone's guess.

Experts hope that the nightmares will be self-limiting; maybe people finding it too difficult to fly will ease up on the airport's requirements until the system can catch up. But everyone's tired of staying home and away from family, friends and business opportunities - so that may be a pipe dream.

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