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If you’ve been reading this blog or any news site over the past few months, you know it’s going to be an insanely busy summer for air travel. Europe is expected to see 55% growth this summer (after huge growth in 2022) and Delta says its international flights are already 75% booked full. The unofficial kickoff to summer travel is this weekend, Memorial Day. Already there are some concerning issues with staffing, cancellations, and tech snafus.
British Airways canceled 118 flights and delayed another 327 flights on Friday. It said that computer issues caused crews and planes to be out of position and it disrupted the travel plans for thousands of travelers. Friday was expected to be the busiest travel day in the UK since before the pandemic.
Hello and a very good morning indeed from London Heathrow T5 where the current situation is quite a mess due to what seems to be a nationwide failure of the UK Border Control IT system. Thank you Brexit! But at least the weather is good… #heathrow #fail pic.twitter.com/ofeg2FdaaT
— Ivan Coninx (@ivanconinx) May 27, 2023
Those arriving at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) were met with long immigration lines as the UK’s Border Force eGate system crashed yesterday and had yet to be fixed today (the BBC reports they were still down as of an hour ago). The Border Force eGate system has more than 270 eGates at 15 airports and rail stations with the bulk of them at Heathrow. These were installed to quickly process British citizens as well as those from the EU, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, and the US.
This will do little to calm passengers who are already nervous about pending strikes at airports across Europe. Talks are not moving quickly enough and walkouts are expected in May and June across France, Italy, Spain, and other EU countries.
If France is in your travel plans, watch out for potentially disruptive protests on June 6th as citizens are still upset about the nation’s increase to its legal retirement age. French air traffic controllers continue to strike off and on. This should last until June 1st.
Travel in Italy on June 4th will be tricky due to a 24-hour ground-handling strike at airports across the country. Italian law protects flights departing from 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM and those between 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM. If you’re traveling through Italy on this date, try to fly in those windows.
In Spain, the Spanish Union of Airline Pilots (SEPLA) is calling for strike from May 29th to June 2nd. This is an ongoing protest against the Spanish Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agency’s minimum services law that requires pilots to report to work for a minimum 90% of scheduled flights even while they are protesting.
How to Handle Travel Chaos
The Points Guy gives a few tips on what to do if things melt down while traveling. These include:
- Only Bring Carry-On Bags: This is the only way I travel. I have not checked a bag for a vacation in over 15 years. If a flight is cancelled, you’re much less flexible in changing plans with a checked bag and you might eventually end up at your destination without your belongings.
- Fly Direct: This is a no-brainer, but not always an option especially if you’re headed to destinations not served directly (like we are when we go to Sicily and Sardinia).
- Leverage Travel Tools: This is getting trickier as airlines move away from Twitter. Airline apps have decent functionality overall and if they’re working properly can be a Godsend.
I’ll add a few more:
- Have a Backup Plan: Look in advance at other options and at the first hint of trouble be ready to book another flight.
- Use Your Miles: If you get stuck in a bad travel situation, last-minute tickets might be exorbitantly expensive. But, that stash of miles might save the day. Don’t be afraid to use them.
Anthony’s Take: I’ll be watching as summer travel unfolds and reporting back on the news around it. If you’re traveling, arrive early, be patient, and have a backup plan. It’s going to be a crazy summer and with labor shortages, strike threats, tech issues, and undoubtedly some summer weather, airports might get a little messy.
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