Staff shortages to blame for airport chaos, says Aer Lingus group boss

International Airlines Group chief executive Luis Gallego predicts transatlantic flying will hit 2019 heights

The chief executive of Aer Lingus parent IAG blames staff shortages for the growing travel headaches faced by holidaymakers this summer.

German carrier Lufthansa scrapped 1,000 July flights this week, while French airport workers walked off the job and Scandinavian pilots threatened strike, adding to European aviation’s mounting recovery woes.

Speaking in Spain on Thursday, Luis Gallego, chief executive of Aer Lingus-owner, International Airlines Group (AIG), blamed the airport chaos across Europe on staff shortages and poor pay. “When we see the chaos that happens now in some European airports, it is related to the difficulty to find staff.”

Dublin Airport aims to hire 265 security officers by the end of the summer to cope with the faster-than-expected rebound in air travel. Queue chaos, sparked by absent frontline staff on the last Sunday in May, caused 1,000 passengers there to miss flights. However, the airport reported no problems over the June bank holiday.

Mr Gallego argued that airports in some countries, including Britain, home to IAG’s biggest carrier British Airways, would have to boost pay to lure new staff. London’s Heathrow Airport is on a drive to recruit security officers.

Amsterdam Schiphol is increasing pay as it seeks to hire more security staff. The move comes after cancellations marred travel there over the June bank holiday.

Despite the problems Mr Gallego predicted that transatlantic travel would reach 100 per cent of 2019 levels this summer.

Aer Lingus confirmed that it is seeing “strong customer demand” for these services over the summer months. The Irish carrier relies heavily on its North American routes to boost growth and profits, and restored 90 per cent of pre-Covid capacity for the summer. It is flying to 13 destinations, including New York, Boston, Chicago and LA from the Republic and to three from Manchester in England.

The carrier says demand is coming from both Irish people flying out and US visitors heading to Ireland and Europe.

Airlines such as Aer Lingus are betting on a strong summer to get them back on the road to profit after enduring heavy losses through almost two years of Covid travel curbs. However, labour strife and bottlenecks threaten to slow recovery across Europe. Pilots and crews are demanding pay rises to offset inflation, while airports and airlines try to recruit workers.

On Thursday, 1,000 SAS pilots in Denmark, Norway and Sweden threatened strike from late June, while workers at France’s Charles de Gaulle airport walked off the job, forcing the cancellation of a quarter of its flights. Ryanair, meanwhile, faces strike threats in several countries after pay talks with two of its Spanish cabin crew unions failed.

On Wednesday evening German flag carrier Lufthansa and its subsidiary Eurowings said they would axe more than 1,000 flights in July, or 5 per cent of planned weekend capacity, due to staff shortages.

Spain on Tuesday announced the hiring of 500 additional police to staff passport controls at busy airports and tourist destinations, including Madrid.

Spain’s interior minister attributed reports of congestion at border controls to multiple flights arriving at the same time. But CEHAT, the country’s largest business group for hotels and lodging, said officials should have prepared for the congestion. “This situation should not have caught us off guard,” CEHAT president Jorge Marichal said in a statement on Wednesday. – Additional reporting: Reuters

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas