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EXPLAINED: How long will the flight chaos in Germany last?

With thousands of flight cancellations, staff shortages and missing luggage, it seems that Germany's air travel problems are not easing off. Here's a look at what to expect this summer.

EXPLAINED: How long will the flight chaos in Germany last?
Numerous suitcases are stored in the baggage claim area at Hamburg Airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg

What’s happening?

Over the last few weeks, The Local has been reporting on the travel chaos that has been affecting flights to and from Germany. The renewed surge of passengers following the lifting of Covid restrictions, combined with airline staff shortages has led to thousands of flight cancellations.

Germany’s biggest airline, Lufthansa, has scrapped a total of more than 5,000 flights from its July and August schedules so far, while its subsidiary companies Eurowings and SWISS have also been forced to cancel hundreds of flights over the summer.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Lufthansa cancels 2,000 more summer flights

Are airports affected too?

Yes. Airports across Germany are continuing to struggle with severe staffing shortages in all areas from ground handling, to security staff and flight attendants. 

As with the airlines, many workers lost their jobs or left the industry due to companies cutting back in the pandemic, and airports are now struggling to recruit employees to catch up with demand. Many skilled workers are now looking for or have found new jobs in other industries.

A Lufthansa spokesman told Bild am Sonntag this week that sickness rates among ground staff have also risen sharply in recent weeks, due to an increase in Covid infections. 

Travellers wait at a check-in for their departure from the capital's airport Berlin Brandenburg (BER).

Travellers wait at a check-in for their departure from the capital’s airport Berlin Brandenburg (BER).
Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

Staff shortages at airports have led to chaotic scenes at airports including passengers queuing for hours for security checks and baggage handling problems. 

Business Insider recently reported that 5,000 suitcases had been left uncollected at Frankfurt Airport alone and that many owner-less suitcases are being regularly transported by truck from various German airports to Munich.

According to the Bavarian Ministry of Transport, around 5,000 suitcases from a wide range of airlines are currently being stored at Munich Airport and have yet to be delivered to their owners.

Are there any solutions?

At the end of June, government ministers announced plans to recruit 2,000 seasonal workers from Turkey to help alleviate the strain on holiday air traffic. Germany’s Minister for Transport, Volker Wissing spoke about “energetic people who are now coming here and taking on these tasks.”

READ ALSO: Flight chaos: How Germany wants to relax red tape to recruit foreign workers

However, the security checks and skills requirements of these new workers are proving to be a significant hurdle.

Workers from Turkey have to show that they have been in full employment for the last five years, with no gaps of more than four weeks. They also have to be able to speak basic German and pass a test set by the air authority.

According to Thomas Richter, head of the employers’ association of ground handling service providers in air transport (ABL), most of the seasonal workers are not expected to be able to start in the industry until mid-August or early September. 

By then, the summer holidays will mostly be over in most German states and the demand at the airports will not be so high.

Are the problems likely to continue?

Unfortunately, it looks likely that the problems will continue. 

The head of Frankfurt Airport (Fraport), Stefan Schulte, told the Mannheimer Morgen newspaper that he expects issues at German airports to continue in the coming weeks. “The summer will remain difficult,” he said. 

He added that the pent-up demand from air passengers had been underestimated: “We knew it was going to be a strong year, and we took that into account in our planning. But every forecast has been significantly outpaced, and many more people are flying than expected. The airports and airlines are understaffed at all levels for this.”

Schulte said it’s important to remember that “we’re coming out of the biggest crisis in aviation in decades”.

The German government, however, has been coming down hard on private companies in the aviation industry. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil recently said: “It is not acceptable for companies to create problems and dump that on the state’s doorstep, so to speak.” He added that the sector has to solve its staffing problem itself in the medium to long term.

Meanwhile, the problems will be exacerbated as more German schools finish up for the summer.

Germany’s largest airport – Frankfurt – is currently bracing itself for a particularly busy weekend from July 22nd to 24th, as this is when the school holidays begin in Hesse and Rhineland-Palatinate.

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Horrible queues’: What Frankfurt airport is really like this summer

A recent survey placed two German airports among the worst in the world this summer for delayed flights. The Local readers told us Frankfurt airport is particularly bad.

'Horrible queues': What Frankfurt airport is really like this summer

It’s well known that flying can be a nightmare at the moment, whether there are delays, cancellations, long queues or lost luggage. 

According to a recent ranking by FlightAware, Germany’s largest airport in Frankfurt saw 45.4 percent of its flights delayed between May 26th and July 19th, while Munich airport had 40.4 percent of flights disrupted. 

We decided to ask The Local readers what their experience of flying to or from these airports has been this summer. 

Around 30 people answered our survey last week – and of those, just over 32 percent said their flight from one of these two German airports had been cancelled. Meanwhile, 60.7 percent of those surveyed said their flight was delayed. 

Missed connections

Frankfurt airport, which is airline giant Lufthansa’s main base, seemed to be the travel hub where people had experienced the most problems. 

The airline has struggled with staff shortages after cutting back its workforce during the pandemic travel restrictions. Around 6,000 flights have been cancelled from Frankfurt this summer. Lufthansa ground crew staff also recently held a strike over pay and conditions. 

Adding to the problem is that many people are off sick in Germany at the moment due to a high number of Covid infections.  

READ ALSO: Why is flying in Germany so expensive and chaotic right now?

Alison Townsend, 49, said: “No problems at Munich but major problems outwards at Frankfurt. Only a 30 minute delay but then hit the 45 minute non-EU passport queue and ridiculous distance between gates.

“I missed my connection so missed boarding my cruise in Athens and had a five-day catch-up to board it after with high hotel costs and expenses. Staffing levels were ok but lines for border control were too long.”

However, Townsend said both airports were “very good in terms of seating and shops plus food outlets”.

Craig, 68, who flew to and from Frankfurt, said: “It was chaos and clueless. No Lufthansa desks were open. And it was the third flight of my scheduled trip to be cancelled.”

Queues at Frankfurt airport in July.

Queues at Frankfurt airport in July. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

Nicolas, 37, flew to Marseille from Frankfurt, and said there were no staff there to tell passengers about their cancelled flight. 

“You feel very lonely in the big airport,” he said. “No one knew the right answer. I travel a lot around the world and I never felt that before.”

Another reader called Anna, 33, said she was put off from flying with Lufthansa after having her travel plans wrecked during recent strike action. Her outbound flight was delayed by 2.5 hours “and I missed the connecting flight”.

“Due to the strike I was left all alone in Munich with a toddler,” she said.

Tom Boon said he experienced lots of problems when flying with Lufthansa from or to Frankfurt. He said his return Lufthansa flight from London was “almost an hour late due to the aircraft not leaving Frankfurt on time to come to collect us in London City”.

Long queues at immigration

Lots of respondents mentioned the issue of waiting in line when arriving at Frankfurt airport. 

Balakrishnan, 41, who flew to Frankfurt from Abu Dhabi in July, said there were problems getting through passport control: “We waited nearly two hours in a long queue to clear immigration.

“Though the queue was too much, only two counters with four immigration officers were opened for non-EU passport holders.”

Paul, 52, flew to Frankfurt Airport at the end of July. He said: “Horrible queues for passport control, two people were there at 7.30am and there were queues of at least 200 people, stretching out of sight down the corridor.”

Source: Statista

Will the problems continue?

At the weekend, Lufthansa board member Christina Foerster told newspapers in the Funke Media group that flight operations were now “stabilised”.

“The low point has passed,” she said. However, Foerster said there were still major issues with staff having to take sick leave. 

Last week it also emerged that hundreds of new temporary employees from abroad, likely to be stationed at Munich, Frankfurt and Nuremberg airports, are set to join teams on the ground later this month. 

READ ALSO: German airports to recruit hundreds of emergency staff ‘in August’

And some readers said it’s not all that bad – even with the current staff shortages. 

Rebecca, 70, flew to Frankfurt airport on July 28th. 

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She said: “Flight arrived early. There was no line at passport control. Baggage arrived on the belt within 30 minutes. Shuttle to Terminal 1 was punctual.”

Steven, 35, said: “Munich had no issues at all, the airport was practically empty around 3pm. No baggage delays, customs did take a few minutes longer than usual. No other problems at all.”

Meanwhile, one reader said his worst experience was actually flying from another German airport – Cologne/Bonn. 

Angad, 28, said: “Security lines that were kilometres long and more than a two hour delayed flight. Fast track security that we paid for did not exist. Horrible, horrible experience.”

Tips and advice

We also asked readers for their suggestions on travelling at the moment. Here’s a summary of what they said:

  • Put a tracking device like an AirTag in checked baggage or only bring hand luggage 
  • Arrive earlier than usual for your flight, and be mindful of leaving time for connecting flights 
  • Wear trainers or comfortable shoes for getting through big airports quickly 
  • Lower your expectations 

Nick, 56, said: “Remain calm, other airports in the world are also going through the same issues.”

Another reader, Fiona, 54, said: “Don’t travel unless you really need to.”

Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out our survey. Although we can’t include all the responses, we do read all of them and really appreciate you taking the time to share your views with us.

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