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Delays, cancellations and chaos: European and U.S travellers feel the summer heat

Traveller tensions are rising in Europe and the U.S as a perfect storm of challenges combines to cause more disruptions to flight and rail schedules at the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Traveller tensions are rising in Europe and the U.S as a perfect storm of challenges combines to cause more disruptions to flight and rail schedules at the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

The unofficial start of summer over last week’s Memorial Day weekend in the U.S offered a troubling glimpse of what lies ahead for travellers during the peak holiday season.

U.S. airlines cancelled more than 2,800 flights from Thursday through Monday, or about 2% of their schedules, according to tracking service FlightAware.

“This was a chance for airlines to show that last summer’s delays would not be repeated this summer, and yet, it was not to be,” said Helane Becker, an analyst for banking firm Cowen.

She blamed the disruptions on bad weather, air traffic control delays, airline crew members calling in sick, and long security lines at some airports.

“We expect a busy summer, and are concerned about the industry’s ability to handle the demand,” Becker said.

Meanwhile, over in Britain, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has told airlines to stop selling tickets for flights they cannot staff after a spate of cancellations caused widespread disruption for holidaymakers.

Airports across Europe have struggled to cope with a post-pandemic rebound in demand, but British airports are facing a particularly difficult week as a school half-term holiday combines with a long public holiday weekend to mark Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne.

EasyJet is just one of many airlines that are being forced to cancel more than 200 flights over the next 10 days.

Airports faced similar queues over the Easter break earlier this year and Shapps said that while some steps had been taken, there had not been the progress that is needed.

“We need to make sure there is no repeat of the scenes witnessed over the last few days. Despite government warnings, operators seriously oversold flights and holidays relative to their capacity to deliver,” Shapps said, adding he would meet industry officials to discuss the issues.

“This must not happen again and all efforts should be directed at there being no repeat of this over the summer.”

Airlines had hoped for a bumper summer for passengers after two years of COVID-19 travel restrictions. But they have struggled to recruit staff after the turmoil of the pandemic, and complain it is taking longer to recruit new employees and vet them for security clearance.

Shapps said the government had helped the industry by changing the law to speed up the recruitment of staff, adding that the “government has done its part.”

However, Huw Merriman, chair of parliament’s Transport Select Committee, said the government had in fact told airlines to fly by saying they had to use 70% of their flight slots or lose them, adding that Shapps’ language was unhelpful.

“I think it’s disappointing for the government to appear to blame the industry. This is an industry that’s lost billions,” Merriman, a Conservative lawmaker, told Sky News, adding that airlines had been waiting for clarity on changing rules.

Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports and the Eurostar rail service also both warned of major disruption to travellers, adding to pressure on holidaymakers already facing delays across Europe.

The Paris Airport body sent a message on its Twitter account saying that software problems were impacting border control checks, and this in turn would lead to delays.

Eurostar, which runs train services linking London to Paris, also issued a similar warning.

“Our stations are very busy today. Passport and security checks are taking longer than usual due to issues with French authority control systems,” it said on its Twitter account.