Dozens of flights to and from Ireland have been cancelled, compounded by “a Covid spike”
This week has seen more long lines for airport passengers, and Aer Lingus alone has cancelled around 40 flights due to strikes, staff shortages and “a significant spike in Covid cases” among staff.
So what is going on, and how long can Irish holidaymakers expect the summer travel disruption to last?
Today, Aer Lingus has been forced to cancel nine flights. Yesterday, it was 12. In the days before that, some 20 flights were cancelled by the airline, leaving a growing trail of unhappy passengers.
Services affected have ranged from Brussels to London Heathrow, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Berlin and a transatlantic service from Shannon Airport to Boston.
Meanwhile, Ryanair has also been affected by strikes, mainly at the French Air Traffic Control (ATC) centre in Marseille, and weather. Last weekend, it said less than 2pc of its 9,000 flights were affected.
While the vast majority of flights are departing, other airlines having cancelled limited services from Dublin Airport in recent days include American Airlines, British Airways, KLM and Lufthansa.
Travel in parts of Europe and the US has been rebounding at a level that has left airports, airlines and third-party companies such as baggage handlers struggling to keep up.
Limited strikes by cabin crew, pilots and air traffic controllers have added uncertainty, but staffing is a particular area of pressure, with shortfalls exacerbated by the time it can take to get airport security clearances.
An Aer Lingus flight to London Heathrow was cancelled this morning, for example, due to a mandate from London Heathrow Airport Authority.
In addition, a summer Covid wave is now bringing extra pressure, with the army now on standby to step in for security staff at Dublin Airport if necessary.
Seven of Aer Lingus’s cancellations today are due to “a significant spike in Covid cases”, the airline says. This week marks the first real breach of the “buffers” it says it built into plans to deal with additional disruption – a worrying sign.
It’s important to keep the cancellations in perspective.
Though thousands of people have been affected, just a tiny fraction of flights to and from Ireland have been cancelled (1pc of Aer Lingus's June schedule, for example, though most of those have come in the past week).
Dublin Airport may not be a fun place right now, but it is nowhere near as bad as UK airports like Manchester, Gatwick and Heathrow, where "baggage mountains", long lines and capacity cuts are disrupting travellers to much greater degrees.
While Aer Lingus is experiencing a significant blip this week, its and Ryanair’s schedules have largely held up well.
Let’s hope that continues.
Any passengers whose flights are disrupted or cancelled should be notified by email or SMS.
You can also check the airline website (under the 'manage my booking' section), and your airport's online departures boards.
Under EU Regulation 261/2014, if your flight is cancelled for any reason, and regardless of when you are notified, your airline must offer you the choice between:
1) Re-routing as soon as possible, subject to availability, free of charge.
2) Re-routing at a later date.
3) A full refund within seven days.
You can find full details on your rights, and whether you may be able to apply for compensation, here.
Unfortunately, uncertainty looks set to be a feature of this summer – with airlines like BA, Lufthansa and easyJet (as well as airports like Gatwick) cutting capacity, and ongoing problems reported with everything from baggage delays to queues for airport catering facilities. School holiday crowds are adding to the pressure.
Ryanair’s Michael O'Leary has said he expects flight delays and cancellations will continue “ right throughout the summer”, though Ryanair does not foresee widespread disruption of its own services.
In the immediate future, small numbers of Ryanair’s Spanish cabin crew are planning strikes from today to July 2, and other labour disputes are continuing throughout Europe – a strike by British Airways’ ground staff at Heathrow has been called for July, for example.
Aviation involves a complexity of interconnected companies (around 300 operate at Dublin Airport alone), and there isn't silver bullet in sight. Disruption is likely to continue at least through autumn.
Dublin Airport is now processing around 100,000 passengers a day – or roughly 95pc of 2019 peak levels.
While cleanliness is an issue, and there continue to be reports of queues at check-ins, bag drop and catering, as well as issues with baggage delivery, it says most passengers are getting through security “in under 45 minutes”.
“While other peer airports in the UK and Europe have taken the decision to cancel large numbers of flights to cope with this sustained demand, Dublin Airport is committed to avoiding such action,” says DAA spokesperson Graeme McQueen.
Many of the current issues are outside of passengers’ control, unfortunately.
You can make your journey less fraught by checking in online and using carry-on bags (this will allow you to skip queues for check-in and bag drop).
You can also refresh your memory on security rules, have travel insurance in place, and check the latest DAA advice (currently, travellers are advised to get to the airport two-and-a-half hours before short-haul flights, and three-and-a-half hours before long-haul, but to allow an extra hour if checking bags).
If you haven’t already booked, try to avoid peak times - flying midweek to midweek for example, or when schools return.
Regional airports and lesser-known destinations do not appear as badly affected, and flying to or from these could also save you time and money.
NB: This article has been updated to reflect developments.