SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

TRAVEL NEWS

Flight chaos: How your travel plans from Germany could change this summer

Staffing shortages, strikes and flight cancellations are threatening to interfere with the holiday mood in Germany this summer. Here's what we know so far.

Berlin Brandenburg Airport
A man observes flights taking off and landing from the visitor center at Berlin Brandenburg Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

What’s going on?

The days are getting brighter and longer in Germany, and in late June, schools in North Rhine-Westphalia will be the first of the states to break up for the summer holidays. For most in Europe, this will be the first summer in which they can travel with few Covid restrictions since 2019 – and plenty of people are hoping to make the most of it.

But early signs suggest that airports and airlines are poorly prepared for the peak travel months.

In a major blow to people hoping to fly this summer, Germany’s largest airline group, Lufthansa, announced on Thursday that it would be scrubbing more than 1,000 flights from its schedule. The vast majority of these will be Lufthansa flights, while the rest will be flights run by its subsidiaries Eurowings and Swiss. 

Announcing the cancellations, the company said it was “good news” that the travel sector was bouncing back after Covid, but added that infrastructure at airports, air traffic control and in airlines had still not been fully restored.

“Lufthansa and Eurowings have implemented numerous measures to ensure the greatest possible stability of the flight schedule and thus offer their customers the best possible planning security,” Lufthansa said. “However, it is foreseeable that the flight schedules cannot be flown as hoped due to the bottlenecks.”

The news follows reports of travel chaos in European airports over the Whitsun weekend, with travellers waiting hours at airports, facing delayed and cancelled flights and thousands of people getting stranded abroad.

With just weeks to go until the start of the school holidays in Germany, flight passengers should potentially brace themselves for crowed airports and delays on their travels.  

READ ASLO: Germany’s largest airline cancels hundreds of summer flights

Which flights will be affected?

Lufthansa has removed 900 planned domestic and European flights from its July schedule. These will all be taken off the weekend flight plan – meaning flights that usually run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays – and will only affect flights leaving from, or arriving at, Munich and Frankfurt airports.

The Swiss flight cancellations will affect routes running between Zurich and Germany. Eurowings has also cancelled hundreds of flights throughout the month of July, though it is still unclear which services will be impacted. 

Eurowings operates flights between Germany and other European countries including France, Denmark, Spain, Ireland and the UK, as well as flights to further away destinations like Armenia, Turkey and Morocco. 

Pressed for more details on the exact changes to the flight schedule, a spokesman for Lufthansa refused to comment further.

“We will not publish a list of cancellations, but will contact the affected guests directly,” he told The Local. “That will be more useful.” 

Do other airlines have similar issues?

Since the pandemic, British airline Easyjet has also faced major staffing problems and has even had to take some seats out of its aircraft in order to fly planes with fewer flight attendants. 

On Friday morning, the Märkische Allgemeine reported that the airline was cancelling 12 flights a day to and from Berlin Brandenburg airport due to its staff shortages. Until the end of August, just 100 Easyjet flights per day will be running to and from Berlin.  

“We plan to operate our regular summer schedule with an average of around 1,700 flights per day across the Easjet network,” a spokesperson told The Local.

“Unfortunately, due to the ongoing difficult operating environment, a small number of flights had to be cancelled in advance during the peak travel period from June 1st to August 31st. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and take action in advance where possible.

“We very much regret the short notice of some of these flight cancellations and the inconvenience this will cause to customers booked on these flights.”

palma mallorca airport

A man arrives at Palma Mallorca Airport – a popular destination for German tourists. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Clara Margais

This doesn’t appear to be the only headache facing Easyjet, as the company has had to contend with warning strikes at BER ahead of wage negotiations. On Friday morning, the union Verdi called on Easyjet staff to stage a mass walkout, which impacted numerous services at the airport between 5am and 10am. 

The union is calling for a wage increase of at least five percent per year – and if doesn’t get its way, further strikes could be on the horizon. 

READ ALSO: Germany may face airport chaos in summer, warns minister

At present, it’s unclear whether other budget airlines such as Ryanair will join EasyJet and Lufthansa in cancelling flights, but the Irish airline is currently mulling an increase in prices.

“We anticipate an increase of five to ten percent (in ticket prices),” Andreas Gruber, head of the German branch of Ryanair, told BR24. He also said that the company would be focussing on running services from regional airports amid disagreements over the fees at larger airports such as BER. 

The Local contacted Ryanair to find out about further reductions in services over summer, but at the time of writing, had not yet received a response. 

What about the airports? 

Along with flight cancellations, passengers should prepare for potentially long wait times at airports over summer – and particularly the biggest ones. 

Frankfurt airport (Fraport), for instance, scrapped 4,000 jobs during the pandemic and lost additional staff as people left to find more attractive positions elsewhere. The company says it wants to fill 1,000 positions this year, but admits that finding a 100 new staff members a month is no mean feat.

“Together with our partners, we have taken various measures to stabilise operations due to the well-known challenges affecting the entire industry,” a spokesperson for Fraport told The Local.

“This also includes the pre-tactical cancellation of flights by individual airlines. We thank our process partners for this. Because this step also contributes to stabilising the operational processes in the traffic peaks, especially in the summer travel season.”

Flight departures at BER airport

A woman checks the flight departures board at BER airport over the Whitsun weekend. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

Meanwhile, the head of Düsseldorf Airport has announced emergency measures for the start of school holidays in North Rhine-Westphalia at the end of June. Special airport teams will be on hand to help airline staff with the loading of luggage and student assistants will be called in to help speed up security and direct passengers to less congested areas.

The problems with Berlin’s cash-strapped airport are well-known, and it’s unlikely that passengers flying from BER will be exempted from the chaos. 

“Across all locations, the service providers involved in handling passengers are short of around 20 percent ground staff compared to pre-corona times,” the CEO of the German Airport Association, Ralph Beisel, told DPA recently. 

“This can lead to bottlenecks at peak times, especially in check-in, baggage loading and aviation security control.”

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The best night trains running through Germany

Why is this happening? 

During the pandemic, companies in the travel and tourism sector cut staff to a bare minimum and nobody appears to have anticipated the so-called “catch up” effect once the rules were relaxed. People are not just travelling like they did in 2019 – they’re making up for lost time.

In the case of the the Lufthansa Group, more than 30,000 staff were fired over the course of the pandemic. But now the airline is seeing record passenger numbers.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said in May that the airline was projecting a record summer for tourist activity, with the latest data showing passenger numbers bouncing back from the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of passengers on Lufthansa flights “more than quadrupled” to 13 million in the first quarter or 2022, compared to just three million passengers in the first quarter of 2021. 

Now, airlines and airports are scrambling to correct their mistake, but hiring and training thousands of people doesn’t happen overnight. 

Queues at BER airport

People queue at departures at BER airport on Friday, June 3rd. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

What can passengers do? 

Firstly, there’s no reason to panic about cancelled flights before they happen. If the airline does cancel a service for any reason, passengers will be informed in advance and given the opportunity to either rebook on a new flight or receive a refund. 

If necessary, your airline should cover meals and hotel rooms while you’re waiting for the next flight. 

In the case of Lufthansa and Eurowings, passengers can also exchange their domestic flight for a second-class train ticket to the airport they were intending to fly to. So, for instance, if you were flying from Berlin to Munich, you can easily hop on a high-speed train instead. 

In any case, it’s important to know your rights as a passenger. The European Union has strict rules on compensation for cancelled and delayed flights, so you could be entitled to up to €600 if something goes wrong. 

READ ALSO: Airport chaos in Europe: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

There are also some tips and tricks you can try to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Travelling on weekdays and at less popular times of day is one obvious way to avoid the crowds, even at the height of summer.

Focus Online’s Konstantinos Mitsis, who specialises in money-saving tips, also suggests using the €9 transport ticket to travel to a smaller airport in the region. For example, travellers from Munich could consider going to Memmingen Airport instead.

Flights may be cheaper from smaller destinations, and these regional airports could be less busy than the transport hubs attached to major cities.

Other than that, passengers can follow a few small rules of thumb to make sure things go smoothly: check in for the flight the night before online, get to the airport with plenty of time to spare and bring minimal hand-luggage to ensure you and others can get through security quickly. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

TRAIN TRAVEL

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Hoping to do his bit for the planet, perhaps save some money and avoid spending any time in airports, The Local's Ben McPartland decided to travel 2,000km with his family across Europe by train - not plane. Here's how he got on on and would he recommend it?

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying - even with kids

Summer 2022 has seen the return of people travelling across Europe en masse whether for holidays or to see family, or both.

But it’s also seen chaos in airports, airline strikes and more questions than ever about whether we should be flying at all as Europe bakes under consecutive heatwaves caused by the climate crisis.

But are there really viable alternatives to travelling 2,000 km across Europe in a short space of time – with young kids?

The predicament

We needed to get from Paris to Portugal, or to be more precise the western edge of the Algarve in southern Portugal, for a week-long family holiday.

We didn’t have that much time to spend travelling there and back so the dilemma was how could we get there, fairly quickly?

“We” in this case being a family of four including two children aged 5 and 7, one fairly easygoing mum and a dad (me) who increasingly comes out in a rash when he goes near an airport.

Normally we’d have flown – as we did when we went to the same region of Portugal in October – but the stories of airport chaos, delays, cancellations, strikes and never-ending queues around Europe at the start of the summer made the prospect of taking the plane far less appealing.

Then throw in the climate crisis and the growing feeling that we, as a family, need to make an effort for the cause.

So the thought of flying, during what forecasters say was one of the hottest Julys on record in Europe and as rivers dried up and wildfires burn, just didn’t feel like an acceptable option – to me anyway – when there are alternatives.

There was the option of driving from France to Portugal, as many French and Portuguese nationals living in France do every summer. But driving nearly 2,000 km there and back for just a week’s holiday with two kids strapped in the back for hours on end would have been asking for trouble – either a breakdown or lots of meltdowns.

So that left taking the train. But would it be viable?  Would something go wrong as my colleague Richard Orange had warned on his own rail trip across Europe with kids this summer?

READ ALSO: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Planning the route

With the help of some really knowledgeable European rail experts like Jon Worth and information from the excellent The Man in Seat Sixty-One website we looked at the various rail routes through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

One problem was the line from southern Spain to the Algarve no longer runs which meant the best we could do was get to Seville and then hire a car.

At one point the best option looked like a night train (fairly cheap with a whole cabin reserved for the family) down to the Pyrenees (Latour-de-Carol) and then a local train to Barcelona before onwards travel to Portugal.

But in the end we settled on the direct train from Paris to Barcelona, spend the night in the Catalan city before taking the train the next day to Seville and picking up the car.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from Paris by train

It would be mean Paris to Portugal in two days – or to be precise 7 hours to Barcelona, one night in a hotel, before a five-and-half-hour train journey to Seville and a three-hour car journey. It was the quickest way without flying, as far as we could see.

We were about to book the tickets when friend who was travelling by rail through Europe mentioned the Interrail option.

I did Interrailing as an 18-year- old and it was a great way to spend a month travelling around Europe (and Morocco) but had never thought it could be an option for a quickish trip to Portugal and back.

But Interrail has changed a bit since 1996 and indeed since 1972 when it was first launched for under 21s.

Now it offers passes that can be used for 4, 5 or 7 days a month – perfect for travel to a few destinations in a short space of time.

And, this was the clincher – Interrail passes for under 11s are free if they are with an adult.

Well almost free, because in certain countries like France and Spain you still need to pay for seat reservations for anyone travelling.

But the cost of the passes for two adults, plus seat reservations were cheaper than just booking direct trains and much cheaper than flying (more on costs below).

The high-speed train from Barcelona to Seville. Photo: The Local

The Upsides

Let’s start with not having to wake up at 4am and arrive at the train station three hours before the train leaves just to check in a bag and then spend the next three hours queuing in various lines – bags, passport, security, boarding etc..

We arrived at Gare de Lyon around 30 minutes before the train left and boarded without queuing and the train departed on time.

Compare this with having to get a taxi or the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport and then still find yourself in Paris three hours later as you queue to board. (I know this is not always the case but this summer the advice was to arrive three hours before your flight to check in bags.)

Plus there was no luggage limits on the train and no having to empty your bags at security because you left an old roll-on deodorant at the bottom of your bag.

Although rail stations in Spain do have airport style x-ray machines to check all luggage, they were very rapid and didn’t result in any long queues.

Add to this comfortable seats with leg room, a bar you can walk to and spend hours watching the beautiful French and Spanish landscape whizz by.

You arrive in the centre of town – in our case Barcelona – so there’s no need to get public transport or taxis to and from out of town airports. 

Spending a night in Barcelona was a great way to break the journey – albeit a bit expensive (see below).

And it all ran pretty much on time. Over five train journeys in four days we had 15 minutes of delay. Spain’s high-speed trains were fantastic.

To sum it up: when flying your holiday only really begins when you arrive at your final destination because these days the day spent travelling is one big headache, but with the train the holiday begins as soon as you leave the station.

It’s just far, far more relaxing.

heading back to Barcelona Sants station after a night in the Catalan capital. Photo: The Local.

The Downsides

But what about the kids, you say?

Yep this can be an issue. Travelling for 7 hours on a train is not easy with two young kids but if you come prepared and can think of 75 different ways to occupy them from drawing and playing cards to I-spy and “count my freckles slowly” then it’s possible the journey will be tantrum free. (Playing hide and seek on a train with 12 carriages isn’t advisable.)

And kids adapt, so the following day’s five and half hour journey from Barcelona to Seville was a breeze because they settled into the pace of life and by that point had worked out the code to get into my mobile phone.

One complaint was how long the TGV train took to get along the southern French coast. Does it really need to stop at Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Perpignan? Can’t local trains serve these stations and the TGV just head straight to Spain?

Another little gripe was the train food. Whilst buffet cars on SNCF and Renfe trains are great for a coffee or a beer they don’t really offer a selection of healthy meals, so you need to come prepared. We weren’t and spent a lot of money on crap food and drink during the trips.

But if you know this in advance you can bring whatever you like onto the train, with no nonsense about 100ml limits on liquid.

Cost comparison

Working out cost comparisons are hard and anyone looking to do a similar trip will need a calculator at hand. 

It’s hard to do a direct comparison between flying and taking the train because so much depends on what the prices are when you book, the route you want to take and how quickly you want to travel and whether to go first class or standard.

But for us at the time of booking (roughly two months in advance) flights from Paris to Faro were about €1,500 for four people, train tickets booked directly with SNCF and Renfe (not interrail) for four people were around €1,200 (this probably could have been much cheaper further in advance), whilst the Interrail option – 4 day passes plus seat reservations was around €810.

So on the face of it travelling by train, especially using Interrail passes, was cheaper – but then add on the cost of two nights in hotels in central Barcelona and there was no real financial benefit of going by train.

But then it was never all about money – what price on not having to spend three hours at Charles de Gaulle airport?

How easy is it to Interrail?

Interrail proved a great option for us, even though it was only a relatively short trip. It’s more suited to those looking to do multiple journeys through various countries, perhaps at a slower pace. But the kids being free was crucial for us, so other families should definitely explore the option.

The one downside to Interrailing through France and Spain is the requirement to book seat reservations for the high-speed trains.

Whilst this sounds fairly straightforward we couldn’t do it through the Interrail app or website so had to be done with Renfe directly. For most countries you can reserve seats through the Interrail app (more on this below).

With SNCF it required a lengthy phone call because we reserved the seats to make sure there were some available before getting the Interrail passes.

For Paris to Barcelona the reservations cost €34 for standard class seats or €48 for first class.

With Renfe it was more complicated although much cheaper (Around €10 to €12 a seat). We were told on the phone that to reserve seats with Interrail you have to do it either at a Spanish train station or by phone but only if you can pick up and pay for the reservations at a Spanish train station within a certain amount of time.

Neither of these were possible when booking from Paris back in May/June. But the helpful website Man at Seat 61 recommended going via the man behind the AndyBTravels website, who charges a small fee. A few emails were exchanged and our reservations for Barcelona to Seville arrived in the post a few days later. 

Renfe and SNCF could make it easier for Interrail passengers.

The Interrail mobile pass on the the Rail Planner app was very easy to use. It was just a case of adding the days when we were travelling and then adding the specific journeys.

This brought up a QR code for each trip but the ticket controllers were always more concerned about the seat reservations we had on paper.

But all went to plan.

 

Conclusion

Those days spent sitting drinking coffee, orange and beer (in separate cups) starring out of train windows at fields, hills, mountains, villages, beach and train platforms were part of the holiday.

I’d say that if you have a day or two to spare then travelling across Europe by train instead of plane is well worth it – yes, even with two young kids.

They might even thank you for it one day if we all help avert a climate disaster. 

Advice

It’s hard to give advice because each person has different requirements that need to be taken into account – whether number of passengers, time needed for travelling, destinations, cost etc.

But plan ahead and do the research to see what’s possible.

One bit of advice if you need to travel quickly is try keep connections to a minimum or give yourself plenty of time to make them.

My colleague Richard Orange had problems on his trip from Sweden to the UK via Denmark, Germany and Belgium because of delays and missed connections.

Useful links and extra info

You can explore Interrail pass options and prices by visiting the Interrail site here. The site offers plenty of info to help you plan your trip and reserve seats on trains if necessary.

The fantastic Man in Seat 61 guide to train travel across Europe is a must-read for anyone planning a trip. It has pages and pages of useful up to date info and can be viewed here.

It also has loads of information on how to use an Interrail pass and calculations to see whether it’s the best option – if you need help with the maths. The page can be viewed here.

SHOW COMMENTS