Now we are heading into the heart and heat of summer, we can confidently expect longer and more frequent delays to any flight plans we may have. The expectation is that there will be around 33,000 flights per day across Europe between now and the end of August, which is around 3,000 more than the comparable period last year. On the other hand, it is 5,000 fewer than in 2019, the year before Covid 19. That should make congestion less severe, one might imagine, but there is a hitch: there are fewer air-traffic controllers now, the pandemic absolutely slamming air travel and job recruitment not having caught up with the reinvigorated demand.
Then, as with the many economic ramifications, there is the effect of Putin’s invasion of Russia’s neighbour. “This summer in Europe is challenging as we have less available airspace because of the war in Ukraine and the military needs,” explained Raul Medina, the director-general of Eurocontrol, which manages European air space. One cannot blame him or anyone else for being ultra-cautious when it comes to the Russians and overflying: it was a (possibly rogue) Russian military unit that in 2014 shot down a Malaysia Airlines flight as it flew over Ukraine (yes, Ukraine) on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people on board were killed.
That was obviously an outrage that led to a tragedy. A few airport delays or repeated circling in a holding pattern, however annoying, are nothing in comparison. But it is nevertheless disappointing that this sort of news is not surprising. It is essentially what we have come to expect. When you are on a flight that lands just about on time there is a feeling of relief and almost gratitude rather than an attitude of this being what one has paid for.
Apparently, the most problematic issues are likely to involve flights over France. There is a long-running air-traffic control dispute there and their operators are prioritising flights arriving in or leaving France, and also long-haul services which are over-flying the country. This means that if you are, for example, flying from the UK to southern Spain or Portugal, there is a good chance your flight will either get re-routed away from French air space (i.e. the journey will take longer) or get cancelled. As one can see, it is not only with urban disturbances that the French have things to sort out.