International travel from Europe was set to make an earnest start to recovery in 2022. Sustained and acute chaos at many European airports is likely to hinder growth, as queues and cancellations are quickly becoming air travel norms.

Labour shortages across Europe have created chaos

Rising demand combined with pandemic induced layoffs, industrial action, and competition for talent with other sectors have resulted in widespread labour shortages in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries across several European economies such as the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. Major pain points have stemmed from a lack of pilots, vendors at the airport, baggage handlers, ground staff, and flight attendants, which has coincided with the start of the summer season. The extreme staffing deficit has resulted in airports being plagued by delays, cancellations, and backlogs of luggage. Airports like London Heathrow and Amsterdam’s Schiphol have been forced to ask airlines to cut flights while many carriers have had to preemptively cull their schedules by the thousands, affecting millions of holidaymakers.

Several airlines have reduced their summer schedules

Airlines such as British Airways and easyJet have significantly reduced their summer schedules. easyJet has reportedly cut more than 11,000 flights from its summer schedule. Meanwhile, British Airways has now cancelled 13% of its summer schedule, following a statement on July 6, 2022, that the company is to axe another 10,300 short-haul flights up until the end of October 2022. Both easyJet and British Airways have cited staff shortages as their reason for culling flights. However, when looking at British Airways’ hiring trends, the airline may have failed to adequately prepare for a rebound in travel demand this summer.

In November 2021, British Airways announced that it would be increasing its workforce by 15%, adding approximately 4,000 personnel, including pilots, cabin crew, ground staff, and back-office roles as part of a recruitment drive to prepare for Covid-19 recovery. However, the recruitment drive falls short after British Airways cut as many as 10,000 jobs during the pandemic. In addition, according to hiring trends on GlobalData’s Job Analytics Database, British Airways had not increased the number of job postings (active jobs) on its career pages until at least March 2022. Between November 2021 and February 2022, active job postings declined by 18.4%.

European travel rebound could be hindered by air travel chaos

Staffing shortages and industrial disputes have coincided with a rebound in international travel and, while destinations are eager to welcome visitors, supply simply cannot meet demand. International departures from European countries are expected to reach 69% of 2019 figures in 2022, according to GlobalData forecasts. However, travel recovery must contend with a multitude of challenges including inflation, rising costs of living, and the Ukraine War, as well as observed chaos and cancellations at many European airports. All of these factors are likely to significantly dampen travel demand.

Furthermore, the interconnected nature of the tourism ecosystem, which sees hotels, airlines, car rental firms, tour operators, cruise lines, and others dependent on each other along the traveller journey, means that disruption issues at any point along this chain has the potential to negatively affect the others. Unfortunately, prolonged financial hardship for a number of industry players is the corollary of cancelled flights.

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