Chaos, crowds, disorganization at European airports … Explained



In the last few weeks, as traffic has obviously increased during the summer season, we read about the chaos in Amsterdam, the disorganization in Frankfurt and the drama in London. It is almost always written that there is a lack of “airport” staff, that the airport does not pay people enough, that the airport has laid off many workers etc.

No, is that the case, and to what extent is the airport (operator) responsible for such a situation?

What is indisputable and unacceptable is that the large crowds at major European (but also world) airports are caused by a shortage of workers.

In order to better understand the business model of large airports (this does not include Croatian airports), we need to know the difference between the Airport (operator), the company that manages the airport, and other private companies that operate at the same airport. These are completely different business entities, but they all operate at the airport. The operator at a large airport normally has a tender for two large groups of aeronautical works, namely:

Registration and dispatch of passengers, aircraft and cargo (handling). This group of jobs includes check-in of passengers and luggage, check-in/take-off, and boarding/unloading of luggage.

Security screening of passengers and luggage (Security check). This group includes security screening of passengers, and hand and checked baggage.

Private companies that win the tender enter into a contract with the Airport, which must include the expected number of passengers, the standard that must be maintained, and of course the financial obligations of both parties. Such contracts are usually signed for several years because the tender process itself is time-consuming and expensive.

The predictions for passenger and traffic numbers for 2022 were made at the end of 2021, at the time of the peak of the Omikron virus variant, when it was very difficult to predict exactly how traffic will recover in 2022, and almost all airports have developed multiple possible recovery scenarios.

Now, we return to the current situation of the mass shortage of workers in handling and security companies at airports. These are mostly not airport employees, nor is the lack of people caused by poor airport payments or layoffs.

These are employees of private companies working at airports, companies that have a valid contract with the airport and which obligations they obviously cannot fulfil.

The exception is Frankfurt Airport, which has its own handling company, but it is not known to what extent this handling company lacks workers.

What is fundamentally a problem of the private company, not the airport, has suddenly become a problem of the airport itself, because now the airport cannot perform its core business at a satisfactory level.

All the negativity and frustration of passengers, the media, and even some airlines, is directed at the airports themselves, but this is a fact that happens almost every day and will happen unfortunately in the future. Even in case of aircraft delay, loss of luggage or poor passenger check-in service, the airport is always mentioned, but not the company providing such services

In order to alleviate or solve the problem, airports and handling and security companies are trying to find a solution on how to hire and educate additional people. It should be noted that the education of one person lasts at least two months, so the process of learning and training is not that short.

There is also a shortage of workers in the Western European labour market, and it is very difficult to find an adequate workforce to work in shifts.

Handling and security companies want to make jobs better paid and thus more attractive to workers, by increasing the hourly rate and / or better working hours.

Airports are also changing their passenger flows and spaces to minimize long waits, but some airports are unfortunately forced to reduce their daily capacity.

Also, for example, Amsterdam and Eindhoven airports (part of the Royal Schiphol Group) will additionally pay security, ground handling and cleaning workers (above the current contract) of € 5.25 per hour per worker in the summer season, to make their jobs as attractive as possible, in order for these companies to fill their capacities as soon as possible.

Of course, this is not an ideal solution, and the mess will continue in July and August. However, this is a very good indicator that caring for your employees and properly planning your capacities is the key to success and balance within the company, and between business partners.