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Passengers Cautioned As Strikes In European Airports Persist

Passengers stuck at Charles de Gaulle Airport in France/ Bloomberg Photo



Airlines are advising passengers intending to travel via European airports to travel with light luggage due to the ongoing strikes by staff.


Geert Lennen, the Country Manager of SN Brussels says passengers since last month have had to bear with long queues at security check points and arrive at final destinations in and outside Europe minus their checked-in baggage due to staff shortages.


“So many staff at the different airports were laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic and those retained have been managing the passengers, their baggage and cargo for the last two years. However when lockdowns and travel bans were lifted, airports did not recruit enough staff while some staff refused to return to the airport when recalled so the strikes are mainly because of staff shortages and the demand for a pay rise by airport and airline staff,” he says.


Lennen is now urging passengers, especially those connecting via London, Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels among other European cities to travel light. “Airlines are carrying passengers but the biggest challenge is having their baggage and cargo loaded on the planes. The best thing is for a passenger to pack the most essential items in their carry-on luggage. We cannot tell when passengers, affected by the strike, will be reunited with their baggage.”


Meseret Tsegaye, the Country Manager of Ethiopian Airlines in Uganda, agrees with Lennen on traveling light. “The situation is normal at Addis Ababa because airport staff were not laid off during the pandemic. But the strikes at different airports in Europe has seen many flights delayed, cancelled and airlines leaving luggage at these airports,” says Tsegaye.


SN Brussels staff went on strike on June 23 and 25th, resulting into flight delays and passengers arriving at their final destinations without their checked-in bags.


The strikes commenced last month at France’s Charles De Gaulle and Orly airports then spread to the United Kingdom’s London Heathrow and Gatwick airports, Amsterdam’s Schipol and Frankfurt in Germany, resulting in cancellation of over 4,000 flights, flight delays and long winding queues at the various airports. Analysts say the situation may worsen as Europe enters the peak summer season which runs from July to September.


Official Aviation Guide, which provides digital flight information and analytics, ranked the ten worst and best European airports based on percentage of delays in the first nine days of July. The best ten include Italy’s Bergamo, Dublin (Ireland), Marseille (France) and Spain’s Malaga.


The ten worst were Brussels, Gatwick, Frankfurt, Charles De Gaulle and The Netherlands’ Eindhoven amd Schipol airports among others where over 55 percent of the flights delayed and over 2 percent of flights were cancelled.


Nora Oanden Oudenryn, a Dutch national, told our reporter about the chaos she found at Schipol airport on July 1. She was traveling to Uganda, aboard KLM, for a week-long holiday.


Oudenryn says some travelers have resorted to showing up at Schipol Airport five hours or more ahead of the departure time to avoid long queues. “But this is in vain, because there are already many passengers waiting for information on whether or not their flights have been delayed or cancelled,” she says.


Douglas Mutumba, returned from a business trip in Vienna, Austria last week minus a bag he had checked-in. The 53-year-old Mutumba was supposed to depart Vienna Airport at 2pm on July 10 and arrive at Entebbe Airport at 3:30am next day via Istanbul. However, the flight from Vienna was delayed by over 3 hours.” I could not leave Vienna Airport because I had a single entry visa. I arrived at Istanbul after 6pm on July 10 and missed all connection flights that  day, and only left the next day via Dubai and arrived finally at Entebbe Airport at 2pm.”


But to his dismay, his bag had been left in Vienna. The bag was finally delivered to Entebbe Airport and he picked it on July 13. “But my bag was tampered with,” he says.


Dr. Maggie Kigozi, who recently traveled to attend the Uganda Diaspora Network Conference in Canada, says she was fortunate that they departed from Entebbe International Airport aboard Ethiopian Airlines for Toronto because they connected via Ireland’s Dublin Airport which has not been hit by the strike .


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Dr. Kigozi however says some people failed to travel to Toronto due to strikes by truckers and farmers in Canada.


Some of the tour operators led by Irene Nalwoga of Renewills Tour and Travels says their clients have been inconvenienced by long queues at the airports and missing their baggage.

A pile of uncollected luggage at London Heathrow Airport on July 8/AFP Photo

Nalwoga, also the MD of Women Tour Uganda, says in the past three weeks, five of her clients arrived from various parts of Europe to Entebbe International Airport minus the bags they had checked-in.


Nalwoga says travelers who insist on traveling are rerouting by using Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways to have direct flights to North America and North Africa among other destinations that usually have connecting flights at the strike-affected European airports. However, some clients have rescheduled their travel to later this year due to the strike.


She however says air ticket prices for several destinations are more expensive now due to the ongoing strikes and also large volume of travelers in the peak summer season.


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