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Travel: Staffing issues in Europe are leading to major chaos at airports

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David Slotnick, senior aviation reporter at The Points Guy, joins Yahoo Finance Live to explain why there's so much chaos for those traveling within Europe and how some airports are responding.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

SEANA SMITH: The summer of travel hell gets even worse. London's Heathrow Airport is asking airlines to stop selling tickets until September. Now, in a letter to passengers, Heathrow's CEO, John Holland-Kaye, wrote, quote, "We recognize that this will mean some summer journeys will either be moved to another day, another airport, or canceled. And we apologize to those whose travel plans are affected." For more on this, we want to bring in David Slotnick. He's the Point Guy's senior aviation reporter. It's great to see you. First, just your reaction to this, David. Have we seen anything like this before?

DAVID SLOTNICK: Well, the thing is, we have. We have earlier this summer. Just yesterday, Heathrow warned that this might be happening. We've seen other airports, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport has been absolutely inundated. And they've put a similar cap in place. London's Gatwick Airport said the same. So, you know, unfortunately, this is definitely something that we're seeing in Europe this year.

DAVE BRIGGS: What in particular drove this, David? And could it happen here?

DAVID SLOTNICK: Well, what's driving it is, it all stems from the pandemic, from the height of the pandemic, when companies, both airlines, airports, and their subcontractors, laid off or furloughed a lot of employees. It's been very difficult to staff up. We've obviously seen that here, too.

But it's been a different situation in Europe. In terms of Heathrow, they're saying that it's specifically their ground handlers, so the people who manage baggage, the people who run things on the ground to help crowds, help move lines, get people checked in. That's something that they give to subcontractors a lot. And it's been hard for them to hire. We've also seen a lot of strikes among those companies. So it's been definitely a challenge.

In terms of here, I don't think we would see exactly the same thing. I don't think we're going to see cuts beyond what we've seen already. We do have long lines, but, you know, it's really not quite as dire as it is on the other side of the pond.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And then, certainly, obviously, with airports like Heathrow that are privately owned versus in the US, where a lot of these are government-owned, and then perhaps they have some private subsidiaries that they also subcontract to. I do want to ask you, though, in terms of perhaps the pressure that it's putting on some of these other airports, what is this doing for them, once one airport decides to sort of limit or start reducing flights?

DAVID SLOTNICK: Well, I mean, to be completely frank, it can't hurt the other airports at all. The only thing it can really do is alleviate the situation. One of the issues that Heathrow has cited is they've had a lot of trouble getting flights in and out on time. And one of the things they've blamed that for is the dysfunction at other airports. They're saying that if, say, the French airport can't get their flights out on time, then they're going to be late to Heathrow and things are going to pile up. So, in this scenario, where, presumably, we're going to see some flights canceled, it should actually alleviate pressure, really, throughout the whole European system, at least to a degree.

SEANA SMITH: David, when are things going to get back to normal, or "normalize," I guess, a bit, quote unquote, whatever normal may be here going forward?

DAVID SLOTNICK: Well, unfortunately, it's hard to say. The best hope, really, is that the airlines get things together by the holidays. At the very least, they'll have a better sense of what to expect in terms of demand, and they might be able to do a better job matching that. So that would mean scheduling flights more appropriately, knowing what the workforce is, and really just avoiding selling flights that maybe they're not going to be able to complete or that the airports aren't going to be able to service. That should fix things. Otherwise, I think it's going to be next summer that we're going to see, really, just the higher capacity be able to be managed by these airports again.

DAVE BRIGGS: In terms of the pilot shortage and air traffic controller shortage, we're talking about a couple of years before that's back to normal, though, right?

DAVID SLOTNICK: Yeah, absolutely. That's a thing that takes a very long time to fix. It takes years for a pilot to be certified to fly, especially a large commercial airliner. Same with air traffic control. Those are problems that are a little bit more manageable. They're just more-- the airlines know more what to expect from them, so they can sort of tailor their schedules around that. The big thing that's caused issues this year is they haven't really done that effectively. But ideally, the fact that things are a little bit more stable now than they've been the last two years means that for the next busy season, the airlines are going to have a bit of a better job predicting and better matching their capacity.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: I want to ask you about demand destruction because when we saw that with gas prices, we saw those go down, but then you also have this euro-dollar parity coming into play, which does make it more attractive for people to spend and travel abroad. What are you seeing in terms of those trends? Are we expecting any sort of demand destruction, given that prices are still quite high for some of these airline tickets?

DAVID SLOTNICK: You know, again, it's hard to say. The thing is that people who have mostly bought their flights for the summer already, so pretty much anyone is locked in. Unless they're really afraid of the cost of food or things like that on the ground, then it's unlikely that we're going to see them cancel. Now, we're getting into the shoulder season after the summer, so September, October, November, where things are typically slower.

But one of the most remarkable things we saw this summer over the course of the spring was that even as gas prices rose, as ticket prices rose, demand never really went away. People still want to travel. They still want to see their family. They still want to go out, just all the things that we couldn't do over the last couple of years. It's hard to tell how robust that's going to be in the years to come. But in the more short-term, it really seems like there isn't going to be much of a hit to demand.

SEANA SMITH: David, thousands of people will be heading to the airport despite all these disruptions over the next couple of months. Any tips for those people who are trying to avoid some of those cancellations or the severe delays that so many people are facing today?

DAVID SLOTNICK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the best thing you can do is just get there early. When the airport-- when the airlines give you a certain time that you should get there, say, two or three hours before your flight, this is not the summer to test that. Actually, get there. Maybe get there even earlier. Try and take the first flight when you can. The first flight of the day usually is the best chance of getting out on time, because delays tend to pile up throughout the day.

Aside from that, baggage handling has been a major issue for these airlines and these airports, especially in Europe, but here, too, to a degree. The best thing you can do, really, is just carry on whenever possible. And I'll give you an example. I'm flying in through Heathrow next week to cover an air show that's happening in the UK. And normally, I would check a bag, so I could carry on all my equipment. Instead, I'm going to carry everything on. It just isn't worth the risk at this point. And it's going to make things a lot smoother. So those are really the three tips that I would recommend the most.

DAVE BRIGGS: Get yourself one of those Apple AirTags today on Prime Day. Stick it on your bag if you're going to check it, right? Thanks, David Slotnick from the Points Guy. Appreciate it.