If you’re planning to travel over the upcoming winter school holidays, you’re not alone. Millions of Australians will take to the skies over the coming weeks, in what is set to be an even busier travel period than the Easter holidays. Many Australians are preparing to travel to international destinations such as Europe and Bali.
It’s great to see travel making such a strong comeback. But around the world, many airlines and airports are not prepared with many struggling to overcome staffing shortages.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce claimed recently that his airline is better prepared for the upcoming holidays after the chaotic scenes at Australian airports over the Easter holidays. But Sydney Airport’s CEO is more circumspect.
Sydney Airport says it has employed additional service staff, reconfigured queueing systems and reopened a priority security screening lane in the international terminal to prioritise passengers in Business & First Class or with imminent departure times. But passengers can still expect lengthy queues and delays.
“Our forecast shows the July school holidays are going to be even busier than what we saw in April,” Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert said this week.
“It’s terrific to see the ongoing demand for air travel but we won’t sugar-coat the fact that the terminals will be busy during the school holidays, and there will be queues.”
Unfortunately for Virgin Australia passengers flying out of Sydney – or Brisbane and Melbourne, for that matter – Virgin still hasn’t reopened its premium lounge entry facilities (nor committed to doing so).
Airports around the world struggling to cope with demand
Things aren’t much better overseas, with European airports including Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and London Heathrow Airport among the worst affected.
Many flights out of London Heathrow Airport have been cancelled in recent weeks and many passengers are missing their checked bags. Footage of a mountain of lost passenger bags at Heathrow went viral this week.
Meanwhile, there are simply not enough security screening staff at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport after many quit due to poor pay and conditions. The situation in Amsterdam is now so dire that Schiphol Airport has had to cap the number of passengers it will allow through its airport over the coming European summer months. This has led to mass flight cancellations.
AFF member SCM flew out of Schiphol Airport last week and had to wait three hours to clear security.
The situation in Europe is unlike anything I’ve seen. Going through security at Schiphol airport today took about 3 hours (just the security, not everything pre-flight). The line first spun around a wing of the airport public area, then outside for a good 800 metres or so both ways, then back inside and the entire top level of the public departures area.
Hundreds of people are missing their flight every hour, so the lineup at the service desks is also very long – but moves much more slowly, so you would need to spend another 3 hours waiting in this one, hoping by the time you reach the staff, there is still a flight with a spare seat to take you to your destination before the day ends.
– SCM, 14 June 2022
Airlines in North America are also struggling to serve the huge numbers of passengers, with pilot shortages compounding the problem.
Tips to ease the travel pain
If you’re flying over the coming weeks, be prepared for disruptions.
With large queues at many airports, try to arrive at the airport a little earlier than you normally would. It’s not necessary to arrive at 5am for a midday flight – in fact, if everyone did this it would just make the crowding at airports worse. But if you get to the airport only 40 minutes before departure, you might not make your flight.
If you happen to be flying from an airport in the United States and have an Expert Flyer subscription, you can check average TSA security line wait times for US airports at different times of the day using Expert Flyer. (Unfortunately this feature doesn’t exist for Australian airports.)
Many flights are likely to be delayed or cancelled, so if you can, try not to fly the day before you need to be somewhere important such as a wedding, job interview or the start of a cruise. Allow a “buffer” in your schedule in case of delays and try book a direct flight if you can. (If you can’t, it might help to book a longer connection time to reduce the risk of missing your connecting flight.)
Avoiding flying at peak times like Friday evenings, Monday mornings or the first day of school holidays can help.
If you can, consider travelling without checked bags – especially if you have a connecting flight. Qantas lost a lot of checked bags during the Easter holiday chaos, and there have been similar issues overseas with many bags going missing during peak periods.
If you do need to check luggage, make sure you pack anything important such as medication – as well as a change of clothes – in your carry-on. You might also consider placing an Apple AirTag in your checked luggage so that you can track its location if it goes missing.
Consider getting travel insurance – especially for international travel. This will usually cover your expenses if your travel is disrupted or your bag goes missing.
Finally, please be patient with airline and airport staff! They are currently overworked and doing their best. The delays are not their fault.
Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Holidays and Airport ‘Chaos’ 2022