Passengers face chaos at German airports during autumn holidays

With autumn holidays underway in some German federal states, air passengers are dealing with long queues as they try to jet off. At one airport, passengers have been advised to arrive four hours before the scheduled take-off time.

People queue at the check-in desk at Düsseldorf airport on October 9th.
People queue at the check-in desk at Düsseldorf airport on October 9th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roland Weihrauch

In non-Covid times, school holidays always see a spike in traffic jams and long waits at airports. But with severe pandemic restrictions in the last 18 months, travel hubs have been quieter. 

Now that travel rules are significantly eased in Germany, Europe and in some other parts of the world, more holidaymakers are finally jetting off for time in the sun – and this week during the autumn holidays (Herbstferien) there’s already been huge disruption.

Passengers have been reporting chaotic conditions while trying to check-in and get through security with some even missing their flights. 

On Tuesday it emerged that in Berlin’s BER airport, passengers are being advised to turn up four hours before their flight by some operators due to the long queues. The usual advice is to get to the airport two hours before take-off.

Passengers are also advised when possible to speed up the process by checking in online before going to the airport. 

READ ALSO: ‘Better than I could have imagined’: How foreigners feel about being able to travel to Germany

A spokesperson for BER airport said one reason for the long waiting times was Covid-related checks.

Airport spokesman Hannes Stefan Hönemann told regional broadcaster RBB that under Covid regulations, the passenger check-in process is longer “because you still have to show your vaccination certificates, you have to keep a greater distance and, on top of that, different Corona rules apply for different destination countries”.

BER also said that staff shortages “due to sick leave” at check-in counters were causing problems. The ground handling service providers were also short of staff due to sick leave at the weekend, which meant that there were longer waiting times when disembarking and unloading aircraft, according to BER.

However, the airport said it would provide more check-in counters at the request of the airlines.

BER said it is expecting 900,000 passengers between October 8th and October 24th.

“It is expected to be particularly busy on the holiday weekends, peaking on Fridays and Sundays. On these two days, the passenger figures will be between 60,000 and 65,000,” the airport states on its website.

Other airports are also seeing a spike in passengers. 

Fraport, the operator of Frankfurt Airport, recommends careful preparation before travel and keeping all necessary documents “handy at all times”, reported Tagesschau.

Although lots more people are going on holiday now that the travel rules have been eased, passenger numbers at Germany’s airports are still far below pre-crisis levels.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about travelling between Germany and the US

German airports are currently handling about half as many passengers as they did before the Corona pandemic. About 2.7 million passengers were counted in the week ending October 3rd, according to the German Airports Association (ADV).

This was 51.6 per cent less than in the corresponding week in 2019, but 158.1 per cent more than a year ago.

Both airport operators and airlines have cut thousands of jobs due to these consequences of the pandemic.

Lufthansa, for instance, is in the throes of a painful restructuring to slash costs that will include thousands of staff losing their jobs, with 30,000 jobs already axed since the start of the pandemic.

As part of the recovery plan, the airline, which was rescued by the state, will reduce its current fleet of 800 aircraft to 650 by 2023.

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When will Germany’s €49 ticket start?

Germany announced a €49 monthly ticket for local and regional public transport earlier this month, but the hoped-for launch date of January 2023 looks increasingly unlikely.

When will Germany's €49 ticket start?

Following the popularity of the €9 train ticket over the summer, the German federal and state governments finally agreed on a successor offer at the beginning of November.

The travel card – dubbed the “Deutschlandticket” – will cost €49 and enable people to travel on regional trains, trams and buses up and down the country.

There had been hopes that the discount travel offer would start up in January 2023, but that now seems very unlikely.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €49 ticket

Martin Burkert, Head of the German Rail and Transport Union (EVG) now expects the €49 ticket to be introduced in the spring.

“From our point of view, it seems realistic to introduce the Deutschlandticket on April 1st, because some implementation issues are still unresolved”, Burkert told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland. The Association of German Transport Companies, on the other hand, considers the beginning of March to be a realistic start date.

The only thing that seems clear regarding the start date is that it will be launched at some point in 2023.

Why the delay?

Financing for the ticket is continuing to cause disagreements between the federal and state governments and, from the point of view of the transport companies, financing issues are also still open.

Burkert from EVG said that the federal government should be prepared to provide more than €1.5 billion for the ticket if necessary.

“Six months after the launch of the Deutschlandticket at the latest, the federal government must evaluate the costs incurred to date with the states and, if necessary, provide additional funding,” he said. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany’s €49 travel ticket is far better than the previous €9 ticket

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn has warned that the network is not prepared to cope with extra demand. 

Berthold Huber, the member of the Deutsche Bahn Board of Management responsible for infrastructure, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that a big part of the problem is the network is “structurally outdated” and its “susceptibility to faults is increasing.” 

Accordingly, Huber said that there is currently “no room for additional trains in regional traffic around the major hub stations” and, while adding more seats on trains could be a short terms solution, “here, too, you run up against limits,” Huber said.