For members


How airports across Europe have been hit by travel chaos

Long queues, delays, and even cancellations: European airports have been chaotic ahead of the summer holidays. Here is what you need to know.

How airports across Europe have been hit by travel chaos
If you don't want to be left in the terminal, arrive earlier than usual to Kastrup airport for flights during holidays. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

It has been the perfect storm: an increase in passenger flow as holidays arrive and Covid restrictions end and a shortage of workers in the tourism and travel sector after the coronavirus pandemic.

While each country also has its own problems on the ground, including IT issues and even an influx of UK tourists adding to long queues for passport control, the main problems are still pandemic-related and affect nearly every European country.

First, people have resumed travelling. After two years of corona-related restrictions that made travelling more complex with the fear of lockdowns and the virus itself driving tourism down, most EU countries now have none or almost no pandemic restrictions.

In most places there is no longer any need for green passes, health passes, Covid-apps, vaccination certificates or proof of negative test results. The combination of easing restrictions and lower Covid numbers in most of the world, especially in Europe, has made passenger numbers surge.

But at the same time, there are severe staff shortages in the continent. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that “thousands of ground handling staff left the aviation industry during the pandemic”.

The most pressing issue is the bottleneck for security and baggage checks as the airline industry prepares for the peak season, the association says.

“The peak northern summer travel season is fast-approaching, and passengers are already experiencing the effects of bottlenecks in getting security clearances for staff at the airport”, said Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President for Operations, Safety and Security.

In some European airports, the combination has led to chaos. Here’s a run through of where is most affected.


In the Paris region, travellers at Charles de Gaulle airport were already reporting long queues at the beginning of May.

“We should not be under any illusions; we will be understaffed to get through the summer. Clearly, there will be additional expectations at the controls and elsewhere,” Thomas Juin, the president of the Union of French airports told Le Figaro.

READ ALSO: ‘We will be understaffed this summer’ warn French airport unions

In recent weeks, there have been chaotic scenes at airports around Europe, and unions warn that France is likely to face similar problems this summer.

So far, Orly airport has not seen its capacities “overflowing”, but it is already “under tension.” Nevertheless, the airport’s director, Sandra Lignais, told Le Figaro that she is attempting to stay “vigilant” about the situation.

France’s Charles de Gaulle airport still advises passengers to “be at the airport 2 hours before the departure of your flight to drop off your luggage and complete all police and security formalities.”

However, the airport’s website warns passengers to check their boarding passes because they will indicate more specific boarding time instructions “according to the busy periods at the airport.”

READ ALSO: “IT problems” blamed for cancellation of flights from French airports

Recently, French airports also saw several flights cancelled after “IT problems”, as The Local reported. The issues were with the British budget airline EasyJet and 200 flights across Europe were affected.


Swedish airports have also seen queues lasting more than one hour at security controls. Arlanda’s airport operator said the lines resulted from a resurgence in travel combined with staffing shortages at Avarn, the contractor responsible for managing the security checks.

READ ALSO: ‘Utter chaos’: Stockholm’s Arlanda airport still hit by long queues

“The wait times are due to a staff shortage with our security services contractor – which is caused by ongoing recruitment and absences due to illness,” the airport said on its website.

Travellers took to social media to report on the status of the chaos.


Staff shortages at security checks, caused by a lengthy rehiring process following the Covid-19 crisis, have been blamed for crowds and long queues at Copenhagen Airport during peak times over the spring.

And the situation is not expected to get better anytime soon.

The airport’s commercial director Peter Krogsgaard told DR that Copenhagen is not alone in experiencing problems with queues. “​​We are therefore seeing that now passengers are coming back and fortunately want to travel again. We are under a bit of pressure, to begin with,” he said.

READ ALSO: Copenhagen Airport passengers warned of more queues on holiday weekends

“We expect to be very busy and are therefore advising all passengers travelling within Europe to arrive two hours before their flight. If you are going outside of Europe, to the United States or Asia, you should come three hours before,” Krogsgaard told DR.


Spain has seen a surge in air travel, according to the country’s state-run airport manager Aena. There were more than 20.4 million passengers in April, just 12 percentage points from pre-pandemic levels.

The accumulated figures up to April 2022 reflect a recovery of 76.8 per cent of passenger traffic compared with the same period in 2019 and an increase of 389.7 per cent compared with 2021, the organisation said.

READ ALSO: Will Spain follow in Portugal’s footsteps and fast-track UK travellers?

Meanwhile, issues with passport control due to staff shortages and the post-Brexit British on non-EU passport lines could cause trouble in the future.

Spain’s Airlines Association (ALA) has called for more police officers to be deployed before the summer to prevent some of the travel chaos seen at airports’ passports and security controls over the Easter holidays.

More than 3,000 passengers are believed to have missed their flights at Madrid’s Barajas airport over Holy Week due to the holdups at third-country nationals’ passport queues.


Italy is also expecting summer tourism to boom, especially as it dropped all Covid rules for travellers.

READ ALSO: Italy scraps all Covid entry rules for travellers

The number of domestic and international tourists in the country is set to rise by 43 per cent compared to 2021, according to a survey from the market research institute Demoskopika.

That means 92 million people – both Italians and foreigners – are expected to take trips throughout 2022. Since staff shortages hurt the sector, though, the combination of problems is set.


Long queues as staff cannot handle demand have also been a problem in German airports. The Autobahn country, though, might face further issues this summer, as a cheap public transport ticket, which allows for unlimited travel in regional transport for € 9 a month, increases demand for train travel.

READ ALSO: ‘A great thing’: German residents welcome cheap public transport deal

Still, with the country removing most of its Covid restrictions for travellers (at least those coming from the European Union) and Germans heading to their paradise destinations of choice over the summer, airports are set to have high traffic in the coming months.


Since the corona pandemic, Austria has been facing broad issues with staff shortages. Currently, the country has thousands of open positions, especially in tourism and aviation. So the ingredients for long queues and headaches at airports are there.

Staff at airports, including Vienna International Airport, have warned that “the situation is drastic”, and current employees both on the ground and in the air alert that the summer months could bring problems as demand is set to surge.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

An anonymous employee told Austrian media that delays are already happening.

“The passengers already have to wait an hour at check-in, then another hour at the security. I have already been insulted by aggressive passengers”, the person said.


Switzerland has started preparing for summer by hiring new staff in February, as The Local reported.

The increase in the number of staff providing passenger services such as check-in and gate assistance and baggage-handling and aircraft services will help airport servicer Swissport’s 850 client airlines scale up their operations and bring it back to essentially its pre-pandemic number of employees.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Do flights to and from Switzerland require face masks?

Still, the country has faced several issues recently, from temporary disruption after fires to being affected by Easyjet’s IT problem. Most of the affected flights were from Geneva.

Other airports

Travellers were complaining of two-hour queues at the border control at Heathrow Airport in the UK. At the UK’s Manchester Airport, passengers were reporting queues for the security of up to two hours on Thursday.

Dublin Airport is also facing regular two-hour queues at security. Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport recently had a 1km security queue, pushing the Dutch airline KLM to cancel flights.

Know your rights

If you have issues with delays, cancellations or other problems with the airline, you might be covered by the EU legislation on passenger rights. Depending on the case, you have a right to refunds, transfers, food vouchers and even cash payments.

Here is what you need to know about your rights as a traveller in the European Union.

Member comments

  1. I used to do a lot of air travel but not any more. Back in April I took the TGV from Nice to Paris. I still regret taking a flight back to Nice. The EU should study the railway system in China to see what’s possible. But the EU Commission is full of empty suits that babble green.

  2. The Berlin airport is a tragedy. It is still being constructed and is not finished. The security lines are endless and no one cares. It is faster to take a train these days. The security lines take longer than most inter European flights.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


EXPLAINED: Norway’s plans for a tourist tax 

Norway’s government is looking at options to introduce a tax on tourists and tourism-related activities. Here is what we know so far. 

EXPLAINED: Norway’s plans for a tourist tax 

Around 10 million tourists flock to Norway annually, drawn in by its majestic fjords, world-famous hikes, rugged wilderness and bucket-list activities such as Northern Lights tours. 

Many travellers already remark that the country is incredibly expensive. However, the cost of being a visitor in Norway could soon increase as the government plans to introduce a new tax on tourism-related activities. 

Earlier this week, the minority government consisting of the Labour Party and Centre Party, agreed on a budget for 2023 with the Socialist Left Party. 

Norwegian newswire NTB reports that as part of the agreement, the government would propose introducing a tax on tourism in 2024. The policies will be included in the budget for 2024, which will be presented next autumn. 

A potential tourist tax is still in its early stages, though, with the policy yet to be fully formulated. Still, Norway’s Ministry of Finance has begun exploring options regarding a tourist tax. 

“We have to investigate this and see how such a tax can be designed, both practically and legally. But the idea is that the local communities should be able to be left with more,” Lars Vangen, state secretary in the finance ministry, told NTB. 

The tax could come in the form of tourists paying additional tax on hotels, souvenirs and tourism activities. 

Proposals to pass some of the maintenance and cleaning costs on to tourists have appeared several times in recent years, most recently in the political agreement on which the current government was formed in October last year.

One of the reasons for a tourist tax is that many hotspots are located in small local authorities, where municipalities spend huge amounts each year on the upkeep of attractions, maintenance of key hiking trails and dealing with the pollution and litter caused by visitors.

Earlier this year, the Norwegian region Lofoten, known for its spectacular fjord and mountain scenery, said it would be willing to test-pilot a tourism tax scheme

The Norwegian Hospitality Association (NHO Reiseliv), an employer organisation for the sector, has previously been critical of potential tourist taxes, arguing it would make Norway a less desirable destination. 

READ ALSO: Best things to do in Norway in the winter