Delays and cancellations displayed on departure boards, long queues of people waiting to board flights. Those were the scenes that greeted travellers at airports last summer. According to data from the Civil Aviation Authority a third of flights to and from UK airports were delayed in 2022. And a Eurocontrol report highlighted half of all European flights were delayed, with nearly 2,000 cancelled every day in 2022.
If you book travel for your organisation, you may be asking whether your business travellers could expect the same this summer. It’s a concern that was highlighted in the latest Global Business Travel Association poll of travel buyers. More than half surveyed said travel disruption concerns had reduced their willingness to travel for work.
We asked our experts – Head of Operations Tanya Michaud, Operational Experience Manager Sue Mynott and Operations Manager Robin Ganatra – what Reed & Mackay learnt from the 2022 travel disruptions and what steps travel managers and bookers can take to navigate travel over the next few months.
What were the main travel disruptors last year?
Travel disruptions happen every year – but 2022 was a particularly difficult year as travel then was still coming off the back of COVID. Airlines were operating with reduced schedules and inventory and were still in the process of bringing routes back. So there were fewer daily routes and demand was higher than supply.
Plus, there were staff shortages throughout the whole industry supply chain, which also played a part in flight cancellations. With this scenario, we were advising clients to arrive at airports as early as they could – three to four hours ahead if flying economy, two to three hours for business and first.
Furthermore, COVID testing still played a part; certain destinations required uploaded testing documents. Then, when airports introduced passenger caps to manage the number of people travelling – which resulted in some cancellations and delays – we advised clients to take that test 24 hours before travelling, as they were only valid for 72 hours; no good if delays occurred.
Flight capacity continues to grow. Are you confident there won’t be those issues this year?
The whole travel industry was caught off guard last year with how quickly travellers wanted to return to travel after the pandemic.
Now, global aviation analytics provider OAG has stated that, “in the week commencing 17 April (2023), another one million seats have been added to global airline schedules, bringing global capacity to 105.5 million seats. This means the number of seats in the market is now only 4% below where it was in the same week in 2019, and 23% above where it was this time last year”.
To ensure that capacity increase works, staffing levels are now much higher since the start of 2023…at Reed & Mackay as well as across the airports and airlines!
While flight capacity has increased and new routes introduced, there are other elements travellers need to be aware of. Some airports still have some caps on passenger numbers. For example, travellers to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport should be prepared for its current passenger cap to continue throughout the summer months.
WHAT’S IN PLACE FOR SPEEDIER TRAVELLING?
As of 6 April, travellers to Schiphol airport have been able to reserve a dedicated time to pass through security checks, as the airport aims to reduce waiting times and security control delays, which should help. The service currently applies to those travelling within the Schengen Zone.
There are other elements that will hopefully mean less delays to travel. London City airport’s new CT security scanners mean passengers will not need to remove approved liquids or electronics from hand luggage at security (Luton Airport is set to relax its these rules by the end of 2023).
And, if you’re travelling to Frankfurt airport, face-scan recognition is being rolled out from check-in to boarding gates at all the airport’s terminals.
What could cause travel disruption this year?
Strike action is likely to affect travel plans and, although we’ve seen a raft of strikes in the UK recently, Europe has been equally disrupted, from air traffic controller strikes in Spain to protests in France.
Each country has different laws when it comes to strikes so we can be better prepared for some. In Italy, for example, a minimum service is required (dependant on the state) and more advance notice is given, whereas in Germany, wildcat strikes can occur, for which no notice is given.
How can Reed & Mackay help?
As soon as our Incident Management Unit – which operates a 24-hour service, in conjunction with ETS monitoring over weekends – receives advance warning, the team runs a travel location report for our consultants and clients. This will cover any information on industrial action, airport passenger caps, bad weather, or general disruptions like protests.
Working in conjunction with other departments here is crucial; we receive information from our commercial teams, who have been updated by suppliers, we’re across trade media and we work in partnership with risk management organisation WorldAware for updates. Clients can also access information on COVID requirements via Sherpa, available on R&M/Portal, so all entry documents are correct.
Furthermore, since last year, we have introduced new strategies around cover and being on call; keeping those communication lines open between us and our clients is key.
What advice would you give to travel managers and bookers as they prepare for business travel in the next few months?
Be prepared for the possible delay associated with the current passport office strikes – the five weeks of strike action in Passport Offices until 5 May is likely to have an impact on passport applications.
At Reed & Mackay we have increased the reporting for expired passports and consultants are reaching out directly to clients who have travellers with less than a year’s validity left on their passports. We can then facilitate the process as we work closely with passport and visa agencies.
Where airport passenger caps are in place this year – eg in Amsterdam – or airport strikes are expected, we’ll suggest alternative routes such as train travel.
If you’re travelling to Europe, factor in more time at passport control. Brexit rules means British passports have to be stamped each time you visit an EU country. And, if you’re a frequent traveller to Europe, that could mean your passport fills up with stamps more quickly and you may need to renew it sooner than expected. If you are a frequent traveller, we recommend you apply for a 64-page passport.