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

Flying in Germany - and elsewhere in Europe - is very stressful this summer and more expensive than usual. We break down what's going on.

Travellers stand in front of a departure board at Düsseldorf airport.
Travellers stand in front of a departure board at Düsseldorf airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | David Young

Jumping on a plane and going somewhere on holiday used to be an exciting experience. But lots of things have changed in the last few years. 

Firstly, Covid restrictions made travel abroad extremely difficult. And now staff shortages due to companies letting go of staff, or workers leaving, mean there is chaos in airports and lots of flight cancellations at the moment. Added to that is that flying has become significantly more expensive amid the backdrop of the rising price of crude oil and inflation in general. 

Another point is that society is more aware of climate change. So booking a flight now includes thinking more about the environmental impact than perhaps we did in the past. Yet getting the train can often be very expensive and takes longer. All of this adds to the stress of travel. 

Here’s an overview of the current situation to help you understand what’s going on.

READ ALSO:

Why are the prices for flight tickets exploding?

There are several reasons. One major factor is the development of the price of crude oil. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th this year, the price of crude oil has rocketed upwards significantly. This is now filtering through to customers who are seeing more expensive air fares. 

Furthermore, the demand for flights after two years of pandemic restrictions is off the charts. Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr recently said that even first-class flights coming in at the price of a small car are in high demand.

Airlines can’t currently cope with the demand, leading to many cancellations. Lufthansa, for instance, has scrapped a total of more than 5,000 flights from its July and August schedules so far. The fact that flight tickets are much pricier now while the service is terrible is certainly very annoying. 

Are the price hikes short-term or long-term?

There are many indications that air fares will tend to go up or remain at a higher level than in the past. Even low-cost pioneer Michael O’Leary, head of Ryanair, recently complained about tickets being “too cheap”. Because of the general rising costs, he assumes that there will be price increases of 25 to 50 percent for his airline. Among other factors, this is due to the high crude oil prices, but also the pressure on many airlines and airports to significantly increase staff salaries.

People queue at Düsseldorf airport.

People queue at Düsseldorf airport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | David Young

Can I still fly cheaply?

Times are tough right now, and people are looking for a good deal. It is worthwhile comparing departures at different airports. If there’s an airport one or two hours away, you could consider travelling there if the flight is much cheaper. 

In Bavaria alone, there are three commercial airports with an extensive route network: Munich, Memmingen and Nuremberg. Furthermore, there are other options in neighbouring states or abroad, for example in Salzburg, Austria. It is also worth comparing prices for departures at the weekend with those during the week. It can be much cheaper during the week, but the downside is that most people would have to book a day off work, using up their annual leave allowance. 

You can still get a reasonable deal sometimes if booking in advance, but keep in mind that airlines have changing flight schedules and short-notice cancellations at the moment – even if you’ve booked a flight months in advance. 

How quickly can German airports get employees to build staffing levels back up?

It will take a while, according to industry insiders. In the peak of the Covid crisis, many aviation companies cut too many jobs, and the roles can’t be filled quickly.

Among other factors, it takes several weeks before potential employees can get the necessary permits. One of the requirements for a job at an airport in Germany is the so-called “ZÜP”, the official background check. Plus it remains to be seen how many potential employees can be recruited at short notice in view of the general shortage of skilled workers in Germany.

What happened to the idea of recruiting employees from Turkey?

Due to the summer chaos at airports with long queues and baggage going missing, the German government eased regulations to allow private firms to recruit workers from abroad.

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

The idea was to bring in 2,000 skilled staff from airports in Turkey to Germany for a few months. So far, however, interest seems to be limited. So, at least for this summer, short-term recruitment abroad is apparently not the best solution. 

Head of the airport association ADV, Ralph Beisel said this week that disruption in airlines and airports in Germany was expected until October.

Is the end coming for domestic flights?

So far – unlike in France, for example – there have been no announcements on banning domestic flights in Germany. However, Lufthansa has cancelled some short connections in recent years because the same route can be served more cheaply and in an environmentally friendly way by train or bus.

As with everything though, it comes down to profit. Lufthansa often does not make money with flights on domestic routes used often by transfer passengers on their way to a hub like Munich or Frankfurt.

Germany’s Green party, currently in coalition with the Social Democrats and Free Democrats, have said in the past that they want to see fewer domestic flights, and instead make rail travel more attractive. 

Should I even be flying?

Most of us are aware of the environmental impact of flying. However for many people – especially those living abroad – it is essential to fly.

If you do want to cut back on flying, we’d suggest trying to take trains when possible (for instance, while travelling domestically). Book in advance to get the best value train tickets. Right now the €9 ticket can also get you quite far on regional trains, but it may not be the fastest route. 

READ ALSO: How to find cheap train tickets in Germany

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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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