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A sign of things to come? Flight cancellations spark fears of another summer of travel chaos

People queue at arrivals at Heathrow airport in London, Saturday, May 27, 2023.
People queue at arrivals at Heathrow airport in London, Saturday, May 27, 2023. Copyright Ivan Coninx / AP Photo
Copyright Ivan Coninx / AP Photo
By Euronews Travel with AP
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British Aiways chaos during the bank holiday weekend has led to concerns that the travel industry isn't ready for a busy summer of travel.

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Friday was the busiest day for UK air travel since 2019. If Heathrow airport is anything to go by, the industry isn't ready to give passengers a stress-free experience.

British Airways (BA) cancelled dozens of flights at Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, on Friday. This led to the knock-on effect of delays lasting into the weekend.

"We're aware of a technical issue, which we have been working hard to fix," the airline said on its website. While Travel Weekly reports that the IT glitch occured on Thursday meaning Friday flights had to be cancelled.

Later that evening, Heathrow's e-gates went into meltdown. There are more than 270 of these at the UK border and they are much quicker for passengers to pass through than border guards doing passport checks.

The outage, which ended up lasting 24 hours, forced travellers to wait for manual passport checks.

So what's going on at airports and is the weekend chaos a sign of things to come?

Airlines and airports have to work in perfect synergy

Since travel restrictions lifted, Europe's airlines and airports have been beset by almost constant strikes.

The most disruptive of these has been France's air traffic controllers staging a strike which started in February this year and is set to end this week.

It has resulted in frequent delays across Europe as so many routes have to fly over French airspace. At Orly, Paris' second busiest airport, as many as 30% of flights have been cancelled on some days.

Airline industry group IATA warned that strikes are "cause for concern," particularly in places like France.

They certainly have been at Heathrow where security guards have gone on strike repreatedly over the last few months, launching the latest on Thursday - coinciding with BA's IT glitch and the e-gate failure.

As Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership, says "The industry is made of many moving parts and navigating some of the issues outside of our control at exceptionally busy periods does put increased pressure on the entire ecosystem".

It takes an army of workers to get a plane off the ground then to efficiently move passengers through the airport at the other end. When one cog in the wheel is missing, it has far reaching knock-on effects.

Do experts think it will be another summer of travel chaos?

Experts are in agreement that such frequent travel disruption is unacceptable.

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland points out that, “It’s especially concerning this year, when travellers have been asked to pay extortionate amounts for flights. Whether it’s issues with the airline, the airport or Border Force, passengers should receive the service they paid for.

If they don’t, companies and organisations must face consequences for their lack of service.”

While airlines are obligated to refund passengers for cancelled and delayed flights, getting the money you are owed is often a long and stressful process.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, whose union is behind many of Britain's recent transport strikes, says that “Escalating strike action will inevitably cause disruption, delays and cancellations across Heathrow."

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Matt Dunham / AP Photos
British Airways cancelled dozens of flights on Friday, May 26, 2023, due to computer problems.Matt Dunham / AP Photos

She also doesn't give much hope that there is an end in sight, saying "Strike action is now set to escalate throughout the summer and Unite will leave no stone unturned in support for our members involved in the dispute.”

Officials from IATA, on the other hand, are more optimistic.

"While some disruptions can be expected, there is a clear expectation that the ramping-up issues faced at some key hub airports in 2022 will have been resolved.

"To meet strong demand, airlines are planning schedules based on the capacity that airports, border control, ground handlers, and air navigation service providers have declared. Over the next months, all industry players now need to deliver".

What's the alternative to queues and cancellations at airports?

While air travel is giving travellers cause for concern, long distance train travel is just getting better and better.

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New routes are launching in Europe almost weekly, with more planned for 2024 and 2025.

It's now possible to do journeys like London to Istanbul and Amsterdam to Venice by train, taking in top European destinations along the way.

Making the journey part of the trip rather than just a way to get from A to B is one of the most popular reasons to opt for train over plane.

As well as saving you money, train travel can also save you time as you usually only need to arrive at the station one hour before departure, even for international routes.

Trains also mean a less stressful packing experience as you don't have to worry about liquids in your luggage or the strict rules airlines impose on weight and size of bags.

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If you're not sure how to check schedules or book train travel, follow these simple tips from an industry insider.

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