Airports in Europe at risk of ‘chaos’ as routes restart

Airports, governments may not be ready for passengers returning to air travel this summer, ACI Europe warns.

Passengers transiting Europe’s airports this summer could face "chaos" as the airports struggle to cope with changing COVID-19 pandemic rules and a surge of travelers, Airports Council International (ACI)-Europe warned.

ACI Europe predicts that an easing of COVID-19-related lockdowns will see passenger numbers almost triple over the summer, from 47 million this month to 125 million in August.

Although this will still be below pre-pandemic traffic levels, “managing such an increase will amount to an unprecedented operational challenge due to a combination of several factors,” according to ACI Europe.

These include space-constrained facilities, where physical distancing in airports has effectively cut capacity and increased passenger processing times; air traffic being concentrated into peak periods, which exacerbates pressure on airport facilities; and the length of time taken by officials to check COVID-19 documentation, mostly manually.

ACI Europe said airports should be prepared to ease physical distancing constraints as the year progresses and increasing numbers of travelers are vaccinated. 

“Airports are desperate to see their facilities coming back to life, reconnecting their communities, and supporting the much-needed recovery of Europe,” ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec said this week.

“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 travelers 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.”

To forestall problems, the airports body is urging European governments to uniformly apply the latest European Union recommendations for travel within the bloc, which is planning to lift travel restrictions for vaccinated travelers.

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