Travel chaos and understaffed airports are a wake-up call: Britain is unravelling | Gaby Hinsliff

WWe finally made it home from vacation on the third day of the trial. Not bad considering this hell of a summer. Better than being stuck for 21 hours in traffic outside of Dover with a screaming toddler at my back and miles without a loo. Or sit on the asphalt for six hours in a heat wave without eating or drinking, as were reportedly the occupants of an American Airlines flight to New York this week. At least I haven’t missed a wedding or funeral or (like a desperate passenger on our flight home) tried and failed to get back to a sister’s graduation.

All we had to contend with was a barrage of last-minute changes to our tickets, followed by a stranger’s plane breaking down on a New Jersey runway, setting off a now pathetically familiar chain reaction: late take-offs, jumbo jets, waiting in line on the tarmac, unloading increasingly stressed passengers at the gates, a missed connection, being unexpectedly stuck at Newark Airport for a day and a night. There’s only so much time you can kill while listening to Donald Trump’s “I’ll be back!” Kamala Harris commemorative t-shirts and socks are available at the airport gift shop.

Still, we managed to board another flight the next evening, which was airborne for a hopeful hour before hydraulic fluid spilled somewhere over Canada, resulting in a scramble back to Newark and an emergency vehicle-lined runway. The rest is a blur, to be honest. After more than 48 hours in transit, everything takes on a slightly dreamy quality, fogged up by a diet of in-flight snacks and never sure what time it is in real life.

Travel chaos is, of course, the ultimate first world problem, limited to those lucky enough to be able to afford a vacation. But if it’s a luxury complaint, it’s also an enlightening one, a lens through which something can finally be brought into focus. Traveling in summer is a matter of course for most people. When even hopping on a Channel Ferry turns into a heroic expedition against all odds, the sense of things getting out of hand is palpable.

The Ministry of the Interior has been failing in plain sight for years. But if more than half a million people waiting to renew their passports, these mistakes cannot even be hidden from those who would not normally notice. Nothing, meanwhile, expresses the reality of Brexit quite like Kent’s deadlocked motorways. now one summer by airmageddon threatens to uncover some painful truths about working life post-pandemic as well.

The never consciously understated Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has blamed a government for canceled flights that “couldn’t run a candy store‘, along with airports not preparing for a foreseeable summer rush, which feels at least partially true. Ryanair was more willing than some to lift travel bans; The company retained its employees during the lockdown (albeit with the imposition of an unpopular pay cut) and became visible angry about airports Canceling slots at the last minute, resulting in angry passengers being thrown off otherwise viable flights. But this is not a universal story. We were told to arrive at Heathrow four hours before our flight, where we found the longest queues not at security but at woefully understaffed airline check-ins. Too many hauliers who dumped their staff like hot potatoes during Covid seem surprised they haven’t come back after it’s over. Why be loyal to bosses who don’t care about you that much?

Worldwide, estimated 400,000 aviation employees have been fired, furloughed or warned they were at risk of being fired in the spring and summer of 2020. Many now, understandably, show little inclination to come back and bail out companies that have made them feel expendable. Pilots who left the RAF a few years ago for what seemed like a more comfortable life in civilian aircraft are now returning in the opposite direction. Thanks to an unusually tight job market, flight attendants are discovering they have other options in an industry notorious for cutting costs (Lisa Nandy, the secretary for shadow leveling, whose constituency includes workers at Manchester Airport, says she has heard from the crew take pot noodles with you on stopovers because their company catering no longer covers the cost of dinner on landing). Resentment seems to be growing among those who stayed on board. As we gloomily watched as the departure boards in Newark lit up with cancellations, Lufthansa was scrapping hundreds of flights through Frankfurt and Munich after the employees left. are British Airways pilots threaten to go on strike next about payment and conditions.

Long before Covid-19 hit, the airline industry had become a hard-hitting business operating on punishingly tight margins. First, airlines have squared the circle of fierce consumer demand for cheap fares by charging for things that used to be free. Would you like to sit next to your own children or take a real suitcase with you? That will be extra. But lately things have taken a darker turn. The American Airlines pilots’ union recently accused companies “trying to fly more planes than they can actually fly and pushing those flight schedules to inhumane levels,” prompting calls in the US for an industry-wide investigation. If you can’t sympathize with stranded vacationers, then think of short-staffed crews bearing the brunt of their anger as you watch colleagues drop like flies in a new Omicron wave. The captain of our aborted Newark flight was pulled from standby after the original pilot fell ill at the last minute and when we finally took off again five hours late simply because the crew voluntarily extended their work day; board quickly, we have been warned, or there will be no crew at all (there are legal limits on how long they can work without a break). Watching the weary-looking stewards rush through takeoff routines was the first time I felt a twinge of nervousness about flying, rational or not.

Memories fade almost as fast as vacation tans, so maybe by next summer we’ll just have forgotten what this one was like. But not everything is as easy to shake off as sand from a beach bag, and a lasting legacy of recent years may be a new sense of fragility: the insecurity that comes from feeling that loyalty isn’t rewarded, jobs aren’t for life, Things that were once taken for granted can no longer be guaranteed, and something may have been eroded somewhere. Buckle up: That means turbulence ahead.

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