International holidays are back on the cards, but as UK and European airlines struggle to keep up with post-Covid demand, traveling Kiwis are racking up horror stories of delayed and canceled flights, writes Alice Peacock.
Malea Zygadlo and her partner Ned Marks were an hour away from boarding a flight to London in Lyon, France, when they were notified by email that the flight had been abandoned.
It was 6 p.m. the night before the Rolling Stones game in Hyde Park.
“They didn’t even announce anything over the loudspeaker or anything,” says Zygadlo, from Bay of Plenty.
Was the solution offered to them by EasyJet? A night bus to Bordeaux to catch a 7am flight to London the next day.
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The UK is one of many countries experiencing baggage delays at airports due to a lack of staff.
It wasn’t the first travel disruption the couple had encountered. Three weeks earlier, on June 2, Zygadlo and Marks had taken a trip with German airline Lufthansa to Bergen, Norway, via Frankfurt, which had taken 24 hours due to a series of delays and cancellations.
The first flight was delayed due to ‘technical issues’ meaning they arrived in Frankfurt around four hours late, missing their connecting flight, so Lufthansa put the pair in a hotel for what was left of the night.
The next morning they returned to the airport for another flight to Oslo, where they had a connecting flight to Bergen, as all direct flights from Frankfurt to Bergen were fully booked. Again this flight was delayed which meant they also missed their connecting flight in Oslo.
The flight that eventually took them to Bergen was delayed by half an hour, which Zygadlo described as “the icing on the cake”.
Zygadlo’s advice to Kiwis planning a European summer break: “catch the train”.
Their disrupted journey would resonate with tens of thousands of passengers across the UK and Europe, who in recent weeks have been hit by long airport queues, delays and last-minute flight cancellations.
Earlier this month, the government and aviation regulators wrote to airlines telling them to ensure summer flight times were ‘deliverable’ and to scrap flights in advance if necessary.
High demand for flights and staff shortages in airlines and air traffic control have created what has been described as a perfect storm, with upcoming strikes by airport and airline staff only expected to amplify existing problems .
Seven hundred British Airways workers at London’s Heathrow Airport have voted to strike over pay disputes over the upcoming summer holidays. Union members who were mostly check-in staff said the action was because a 10% pay cut imposed during the pandemic had not been reinstated.
A Heathrow spokesperson said they had coped with “40 years of growth in just four months” which had put the entire aviation industry under pressure.
“To ensure the resilience of the operation, [British Airways] has already removed 10% of [its] summer schedule. Our primary concern is the safe operation of the airport and we will continue to support airlines in making safe decisions for passengers.
Sarah Wilkinson’s 30th birthday trip was turned upside down when her flight to Mykonos from Gatwick, London on the evening of June 19 was canceled at 7pm the day before. She was notified by text message from Wizz Air, which she did not see until the next morning.
Wilkinson, an Auckland resident, said the options available to her were either a refund or booking an alternative flight to Mykonos. But the next Wizz Air flight to the Greek hotspot took off more than a week later and seven friends headed to Mykonos in the following days to meet her at the accommodation she had paid for.
Wilkinson then shelled out around £280 ($546) for an alternative flight with EasyJet; nearly six times the price she had originally paid.
“Probably if it wasn’t a birthday and I wasn’t meeting people I would be more flexible, but I had planned the trip a lot and was really excited to go. I thought: ‘ I just have to deal with this and eat this award.'”
Jeremy Matthews, a New Zealand-based travel consultant who has helped many Kiwis travel between New Zealand and the UK, was not surprised by the “slight chaos”.
A surprisingly quick recovery in business after a long period of stagnation in the industry and the difficulty of bringing workers back after the massive Covid-related layoffs created “a perfect storm”.
Matthews advised anyone planning to sightsee in Europe in the coming months to “limit it to the country you’re landing in and one or two adjacent (if you’re going to mainland Europe)”.