Explained: The Emirates-Heathrow spat that highlights Europe’s aviation understaffing crisis during peak holiday season

As Europe’s peak summer travel season sets in, destinations across the continent brace for an unforeseen travel load, and airlines and airport operators brace to handle traffic.

Airports have alerted passengers to potential delays in travel plans and airlines are beginning to cancel flights to key destinations. The issue has come under the spotlight after a public brawl between London Heathrow Airport and Dubai-based airline Emirates, after the airport operator forced airlines to reduce capacity so that it can handle unusually heavy traffic.

When the Covid-19 pandemic emerged two years ago and the aviation industry was badly affected, airlines and airports issued pink slips to workers to cut costs as flights remained grounded for a long time. However, as the pandemic receded, people began to travel and airlines began to organize flights.

But airport staff have not been hired in line with the increase in traffic. This, in addition to several unions of airport and security workers at European airports striking for better wages, has resulted in a severe labor shortage, leading to disruptions in flight operations.

What are the destinations concerned and what are the problems that have arisen?

These issues have surfaced at some of Europe’s major airport hubs, including London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol, Brussels Airport, Frankfurt Airport and several others.

The most visible problem is delayed baggage. Due to the labor shortage, passengers’ luggage is not loaded onto planes on time and several flights depart without carrying their passengers’ luggage.

In addition to this, airports are witnessing long queues which cause passengers to miss their flights. In addition, according to a Reuters report, the port of Dover, which is the UK’s main gateway to Europe, declared a “critical incident” on Friday over long delays, accusing French authorities of having caused a bottleneck as holidaymakers seek to start their summer holidays.

Ferry operators have warned passengers traveling to Calais they face delays of up to four hours at the start of what is usually one of the busiest travel periods as schools split for their summer vacation.

What is the problem between Emirates and London Heathrow?

On July 14, the Dubai-based carrier issued a strong statement, rejecting London Heathrow’s demands to cut airline capacity.

“At London Heathrow Airport (LHR), our ground handling and catering services – managed by dnata, part of the Emirates Group – are fully ready and able to handle our flights. The crux of the problem therefore lies in the central services and systems which are the responsibility of the airport operator… LHR has chosen not to act, not to plan, not to invest. Now facing an ‘airmageddon’ situation due to their incompetence and inaction, they are pushing all the burden – of costs and the rush to sort out the mess – onto the airlines and the travellers,” the company said. airline in its press release.

However, a day later, Emirates and LHR issued a joint statement announcing that they had reached an agreement, in which Emirates agreed to cap sales on its flights from Heathrow until mid-August while that he was working “to adjust capacity”.

Robert M. Larson