Lufthansa scraps 3,100 flights as Europe’s travel chaos mounts

DEUTSCHE Lufthansa AG is canceling 3,100 flights after a wave of coronavirus infections worsened staffing shortages, adding to Europe’s travel chaos as the crucial summer vacation period gets under way.

Germany’s flagship airline scrapped 2,200 domestic and European routes for July and August, a spokesman said on Friday. That comes on top of 900 cancellations announced earlier this month. Lufthansa fell as much as 3.3% in Frankfurt.

Travel demand has rebounded dramatically in Europe with the lifting of virus curbs, leaving some airlines struggling to cope and subjecting passengers to hours-long queues and cancellations. A new Covid-19 outbreak – while less deadly than previous waves – is causing growing absences from workplaces, worsening acute labor shortages.

Growing labor unrest as workers seek pay increases to keep up with inflation is adding to the problem, with strikes threatened or under way at airlines including Ryanair Holdings plc and IAG SA’s British Airways.

The developments are a fresh blow to the European aviation industry that was among the worst-affected during the pandemic, with airlines and airports losing billions of euros after the virus burst a decades-long travel boom. Carriers had cut back staffing during the health crisis and were slow to rebuild, worried about the resiliency of ticket sales.

The Lufthansa cancellations add to disruptions at the region’s airports, which are struggling to attract ground-handling staff over pay disputes, further crimping capacity.

Weekend Walkouts

Ryanair workers will stage walkouts in countries including Italy, France, Portugal and Belgium, where flights are set to be disrupted Friday or over the weekend. British Airways check-in staff are set to strike at London Heathrow airport, the GMB and Unite unions said Thursday, though no dates have been set as they pursue a last-minute settlement in the pay dispute.

Airports have had to adjust their schedules as a result of the chaos. London Gatwick last week announced it would scrap hundreds of flights over the peak summer travel period – hours after Amsterdam’s Schiphol hub took a similar step – because of the deepening staffing crisis.

EasyJet Plc, which operates many routes at those airports, said it would cap flights as a result, suffering an earnings hit of £100 million ($123 million) to £200 million. Earlier this spring, British Airways scrapped 10% of flights from its timetable through October in a move that it said was aimed at boosting “operational resilience.”

Lufthansa, looking to a busy summer to boost sales and reduce debt, had planned to deploy 2022 capacity equal to 75% of the 2019 level. While Chief Executive Officer Carsten Spohr last month said he was “mentally ticking off the crisis” as the Covid threat recedes, the recent surge is again shaking his summer plan. – Bloomberg / pic AFP