Summertime sadness for Europe’s air passengers

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If you’re advertising a new car, don’t show it stuck in traffic. If you’re advertising a train, don’t show it broken down on the tracks. And if you’re advertising an airline in June 2022, might I suggest that you don’t show what passengers must go through before arriving at their destination.

Europe’s flying infrastructure is buckling under the weight of post-COVID demand. Would-be passengers queue for up to eight hours in packed airports, funnelled into security clearance bottlenecks. Flights are being cancelled across the board, and in several countries, serious industrial action is brewing.

Of course, this summer’s rush to travel was utterly predictable – you don’t have to be an industry expert to see that curtailing people’s movements for almost two years would result in an uptick in wanderlust once restrictions are lifted.

The primary reason given for the shambolic state of air travel is labour shortages – there simply aren’t enough staff to ensure the system functions properly, from security officials to ground handlers to cabin crew. The aviation industry has also blamed politicians for confusing messaging around COVID restrictions, which has made it challenging for them to plan adequately.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, international air travel was virtually suspended as countries closed borders in a (vain) attempt to stem the spread of the virus. It was an unprecedented hit to the sector. 

In this historical context, tens of thousands of workers were made redundant by airports and airlines in the EU. Around 2.3 million jobs were lost in the sector globally.

Now that restrictions have been lifted, however, these workers are reluctant to return. Among the reasons given are unfavourable working hours and low pay relative to the job’s demands.

The logical step is to recruit new workers, but this takes time, particularly for sensitive positions such as security operators in charge of screening luggage – in France, the requisite security clearances can take up to five months to obtain.

In addition to personnel shortages, strikes have also hit European airports as workers push for higher wages amid rising inflation. 

A total of 232 outbound flights from Brussels airport were cancelled Monday (20 June) after most of the airport’s security staff went on strike, VRT reported. The airport will see further disruption in the coming days as Brussels Airlines and Ryanair’s Belgian crew have elected to strike from 24 – 26 June.

Earlier this month in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, more than 100 flights were cancelled following a union-led walkout in a bid for higher wages. Italy has seen similar strikes among air traffic controllers and cabin crew.

“The aviation workers cannot take it anymore. They have been under significant pressure for some time now, and it is clear that this has reached boiling point. They are being stretched to their limits without any reward; we want better working conditions and fair pay for them,” said Livia Spera, General Secretary of the European Transport Workers’ Federation.

And so, it is something of a perfect storm: airlines and airports struggle to fill labour shortages amid a huge rise in travel demand.

For those who are booked to fly in the coming weeks, the advice is to expect long lines and to check to ensure your flight is proceeding as planned before arriving at the airport.

And if you do make it through the travel chaos to some sandy beach, savour it just that little bit more.

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Heat wave adds impetus to sustainable mobility congress

Shakespeare was adept at using weather to set the tone of his plays – the terrible storm raging in King Lear, for example, symbolises his inner turmoil, while in Macbeth, rain and lightning foreshadow evil acts.

Given the record-breaking heatwave experienced by much of Europe last week, the bard himself couldn’t have written a more fitting climactic backdrop to the Global Mobility Call congress in Madrid. 

As speakers inside the vast auditorium fretted about how to decarbonise our transport system, outside temperatures soared above 40 degrees. Walking through the streets to the venue became a sweat-drenched gauntlet.

The event (pleasantly air-conditioned, I can report) provided a fascinating mixture of practical steps to decarbonise our mobility systems in the short term, as well as more far-out scenarios, such as virtual reality commuting.

Speakers ranged from those running transport systems daily, such as the head of Madrid’s metro, to futurists like the American author and scientist Michio Kaku.

What became apparent from the event is the high-level backing that a transformation to sustainable mobility has in Spain. The country aims to assert itself as a global reference point for the shift to clean transport.

Strong political support mixed with private sector innovation means that Spain “has all the chances of turning into an international hub for sustainable and social mobility,” said Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, speaking at the event.

Doing so, it is hoped, will attract new and innovative sustainable mobility companies, making Spain the Silicon Valley of clean transport tech in Europe.

Already Spain has the second-largest automotive manufacturing sector in the EU (behind Germany but ahead of France), meaning it is well-positioned to capitalise on the turn to electro-mobility.

Read more at the link below.

Suns out, bums out: nude cyclists raise awareness of climate change

As temperature records are broken and the world slides further toward climate catastrophe, activists are using increasingly disruptive ways to bring attention to the issue. 

Blocking roads and motorways by banner-holding eco-warriors has become standard in parts of Europe. It’s a form of non-violent protest that almost inevitably ends in violence, as the activists are dragged from their position by enraged motorists. 

Does such an audacious stunt make drivers think twice about their impact on the environment? It’s difficult to say, but the ensuing clip of protesters being tossed about usually receives decent views on social media, which is more than likely the point.

In Brussels, the city of surrealism, a group of cyclists have taken a different tact – they decided to get their message across by riding their bikes sans lycra or anything at all.

Cyclonudista, back after a pandemic hiatus, saw dozens* of cyclists take to the streets of the Belgian capital last Saturday (18 June) wearing nothing but a smile (and in some cases, a helmet).

According to the organiser, the ostentatious move is to draw attention to climate change (and to, er, help normalise public nudity), according to a report by VRT.

Unfortunately, not all participants got to relax and simply enjoy the feeling of the wind blowing through their… hair, as one outraged witness in downtown Brussels allegedly expressed their disapproval by punching a cyclist in the face.

*How many people took part? The general newshound approach is to ask the organiser (who usually exaggerates) and then the police press office (which usually lowballs the figure). In this case, the organiser said 150 participants – the police, only 40. Your guess is as good as mine.

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Spanish PM: Ukraine war no excuse to postpone sustainable transformation

The dual crises of the war in Ukraine and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic “should not delay” Europe’s transformation to sustainable mobility, Spanish leader Pedro Sánchez said.

Sales of high-blend ethanol surge in France amid rising fuel prices

Record fuel prices seen since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led cost-conscious motorists to pivot towards alternative fuel sources, with sales of E85 – a mixture of petrol and up to 85% bioethanol – rising significantly in France.

Lawmaker: ‘Europe needs the internal combustion engine’

Rather than prescribing solutions like electrification to decarbonise road transport, policymakers should focus on creating a framework for innovation that takes a technology-neutral approach, argues MEP Barbara Thaler.

Dan Lert: The City of Paris aims to phase out diesel by 2024, and thermal cars by 2030

The objectives set by the Climate Air Energy Plan for Paris seek to meet the European and WHO standards on air pollution. In the French capital, “this implies the phasing out of diesel vehicles in 2024 and the phasing out of gasoline-powered vehicles in 2030,” Dan Lert, Deputy Mayor of Paris, said.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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