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Travel chaos at Europe’s airports this summer unless governments do more to help


ACI Europe has issued a warning to governments about the risk of travellers having to spend hours at Europe’s airports over the summer due to COVID-19 checks.

With the on-going and expected further easing of travel restrictions both within Europe and beyond on the back of improving epidemiological situations, Europe’s airports are looking forward to welcoming travellers back.

Indeed, passenger traffic is set to increase nearly three-fold from 47 million passengers this month to 125 million passengers in August.

Although this will still be well below pre-pandemic (2019) traffic levels, ACI Europe warns that managing such an increase will amount to unprecedented operational challenges due to the unique combination of space constrained facilities; more peaks in air traffic; and multiple and diverse COVID-19 checks.

– Space constrained facilities
According to ACI Europe, the implementation of physical distancing where possible through all airport processes has resulted in constrained spaces across terminals – severely reducing available physical capacity and increasing passenger processing times. These operational impacts, it says, are particularly pronounced during peak times.

– More peaks in air traffic
It notes that airlines’ current plans are pointing to air traffic being very much concentrated on peak periods this summer – more than last year or even more than in summer 2019 at some airports.

Traffic peaks, it notes, are a usual feature of airport operations driven by airline scheduling, with airport facilities designed to efficiently accommodate the concentration of large passenger volumes. But, doing that becomes extremely challenging when capacity is reduced as a result of physical distancing and when seamless operational processes are no longer possible due to additional COVID-19 checks.

Multiple and diverse COVID-19 checks
Passengers are now subjected to additional checks at airports aimed at verifying COVID-19 test certificates, passenger locator forms and quarantine documentation.

The checks, it notes, are usually performed by public authorities, airlines and/or ground handling companies and very depending on their point of origin and destination, based on rules which remain largely unaligned and unstable across Europe.

And perhaps more worryingly it adds that tests are being carried at multiple times both at departure and upon arrival, most of the time manually – resulting in inefficiencies and considerably slowing passenger processing time.

ACI Europe’s director general, Olivier Jankovec, says: “Airports are desperate to see their facilities coming back to life, reconnecting their communities, and supporting the much-needed recovery of Europe. But the level of both uncertainty and complexity in planning for the restart is just mind blowing for now.

“With each passing day, the prospect of travellers enduring widespread chaos at airports this summer is becoming more real. We absolutely and urgently need governments to step up advance planning on the full range of issues involved – and work more closely with airports and airlines.”

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