Europe faces holiday airport chaos due to Covid health regulations

German federal police officers check the Covid status of passengers arriving from Palma de Mallorca.
German federal police officers check the Covid status of passengers arriving from Palma de Mallorca. AP - Michael Probst

Air travel associations have said they fear chaos during Europe's summer holiday season as travellers could wait hours before boarding planes due to health checks. Strict Covid controls are in place at most European airports.


The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports that people travelling at peak times now spend an average of three hours in airports, twice as long as pre-Covid delays.

That time is generally spent checking in, passing security and immigration controls, picking up checked bags and making it through customs. And there's the new reality: airlines are now obliged to check passengers' Covid test results, temperature and other health documents.

The wait time has increased even though the volume of traffic is "only about 30 percent of pre-Covid-19 levels", an IATA statement said.

The air transport lobby group has warned that time spent in airports could swell to five hours and 30 minutes if traffic rebounds to 75 percent of its pre-pandemic level, and even longer "without process improvements".

Eight-hour airport delays possible

If traffic fully returns to normal, the IATA estimates people could spend up to eight hours getting to their planes and back out at their destinations.

The European branch of Airports Control International (ACI Europe) expects 125 million people to travel by air in August, barely half the level recorded two years earlier.

Eurocontrol, the organisation tasked with air navigation security on the continent, forecasts the level in August to be between 46 and 69 percent of that in August 2019, depending on how the health crisis plays out in the next two months.

The EU Digital Covid Certificate -- showing whether a traveller has been vaccinated, has immunity from a previous infection or has passed a coronavirus test -- will be available from 1 July in an effort to make travel smoother within the 27-nation bloc.

Real prospect of widespread chaos

"The level of both uncertainty and complexity in planning for the restart is just mind blowing for now," said ACI Europe director general Olivier Jankovec, whose association represents 500 airports on the continent.

"With each passing day, the prospect of travellers enduring widespread chaos at airports this summer is becoming more real."

Verification of Covid tests, passenger location forms and quarantine documents "vary depending on their point of origin and destination, based on rules which remain largely unaligned and unstable across Europe," ACI Europe noted.

In France, border police now systematically check identity papers, even for passengers within the Schengen passport-free travel zone, and machines that do it automatically have been shut down.

Airport authorities are focused meanwhile on keeping passengers moving, in particular at inspection points aimed at detecting potentially dangerous objects and liquids.

Immigration control remains under the state's authority.

"At the top of my list of concerns are talks with the interior ministry on how to keep this summer from becoming an apocalypse in terms of passenger delays," said Augustin de Romanet, head of the Paris airport group ADP.

An industry insider has suggested that the warnings of potential chaos are exaggerated, saying "ADP and the airlines are sounding the alarm to put pressure on the French government" to ensure lighter health measures.

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