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Are flights around Europe returning to normal after borders reopen?

After coronavirus lockdowns that brought civil aviation to nearly a complete halt air traffic is slowly resuming in Europe as borders reopen, but tens of thousands of jobs are still hanging in the balance.

Are flights around Europe returning to normal after borders reopen?
AFP

The lockdowns saw air travel plunge by 94.3 percent in April compared with the same month last year, when measured by kilometres travelled by paying passengers. 

IATA, the leading trade association for the aviation industry, believes the recovery in air travel is likely to be determined not only by the pace of restrictions being lifted but also by the extent health worries keep people  from travelling.

IATA expects the recovery to begin in domestic air travel, then extend to continental travel and finally, at the end of the year, to long-haul inter-continental flights.

It sees air travel returning to its pre-coronavirus levels only in 2023.

Most travel restrictions within Europe have been lifted and starting Wednesday nationals from 15 countries are allowed into most EU countries.

The United States, Russia and Brazil — where the virus is still spreading quickly — were left off the list.

In Europe, during the week of June 15-21, an average of 7,706 flights were recorded each day, a 78 percent drop from the same week last year, according to Eurocontrol which manages European airspace.

The airlines operating the most flights were Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Wizz Air, the Norwegian regional airline Wideroe, and Air France.

The busiest airports were Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt, Amsterdam-Schiphol, London-Heathrow and Istanbul.  

The most popular destinations in Europe

Lisbon was the top destination for tickets booked in the first half of June, beating out Paris, Amsterdam, Athens, Rome, Madrid, Frankfurt, Vienna, Barcelona and London, according to data released Monday by ForwardKeys, an outfit which analyses trends in air travel.

Last year during the same period, London topped reservations, and its relegation is due to quarantine measures, according to the firm.

IATA's chief economist Brian Pierce said nations which have imposed quarantines have seen drops in traffic similar to a complete ban on flights. 

IATA has instead urged authorities to instead adopt sanitary measures like requiring travellers to wear masks, conducting temperature checks and requiring health declarations.

Worst yet to come? 

Government support measures for the industry “have saved thousands of jobs and are enabling airlines to keep connectivity going,” said IATA's regional vice president for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman, last month.

“But I'm afraid the worst may be yet to come,” he said, as airlines rely on the summer holiday travel season to earn profits that carry them through the lean winter months.

“There will be no summer cushion” this year, he said.

IATA expects European airlines to suffer losses of $21.5 billion this year compared to a profit of $6.5 billion last year. It believes 6 to 7 million jobs linked to aviation are at risk.

Job cuts 

Airlines and other businesses in the industry have already begun to cut jobs.

In recent days alone, Airbus has unveiled 15,000 job cuts — 11 percent of its workforce — as it seeks to adjust to the plunge in the commercial aviation business and as airlines eye delaying taking delivery of new aircraft.

SSP, the British owner of food outlets in railway stations and airports worldwide including sandwich chain Upper Crust and Italian takeaway Caffe Ritazza, said it may cut up to 5,000 UK jobs as the coronavirus pandemic keeps customers away.

Airport services group Swissport that provides check-in agents and cargo-handlers for airlines announced it was eliminating 4,000 jobs in Britain.

Swiss duty-free shop operator Dufry, which has more than 2,400 shops and 31,000 employees across the globe, said it plans to reduce its spending on staff by up to 35 percent.

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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