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Could travel chaos return this summer?

After the queues, delays and cancellations of summer 2022, we ask travel experts whether anything has changed

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Last spring and summer, the aviation industry was a bit of a mess. When a huge increase in demand following the easing of travel restrictions around the world coincided with a major staff shortage, airports were scenes of huge queues, mini mountains of lost baggage and reels of cancelled and delayed flights. 

And so, the question on every keen traveller’s lips: as travel ramps up again this summer, can we expect similar levels of disruption? Has the aviation industry done anything to improve things?

Well, it depends who you listen to. On the one hand, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary reckons summer 2023 will also be characterised by delays and cancellations. O’Leary says that Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine is still causing disruption, as Ukraine, Russia and southern Poland’s airspaces are all closed.

But according to O’Leary, it’s strikes by air traffic controllers that’ll be most disruptive. Together with the situation in Ukraine, he says that they’ll cause the most delays this summer. But this is a bit more of a disputed issue.

Aviation strikes during the summer are nothing new. As it’s the peak holiday season and strikes are most disruptive at this time of year, summer has historically been the most popular time for industrial action. So air traffic control strikes aren’t really a reason for summer 2023 to be worse than any other year. 

As explained by a spokesperson for travel agent trade association ABTA: ‘Looking ahead to this summer, it is too early to say what impact, if any, potential strike action might have on overseas travel. However, it is not unusual to see the threat of strike action at busy times of the year and, on the rare occasions that strikes do go ahead, the industry is experienced at managing the impact on passengers.

‘The industry is in a very different place now compared to last year, when many of the operational challenges were due to there being very little time between the announcement that travel restrictions were lifting and those changes coming into force. That being said, most people travelled without issue last year and were finally able to take a much-missed overseas break.’

Which sounds a bit more promising, right? A spokesperson for Expedia was a bit more cautionary, saying: ‘Overall airline capacity isn’t back to 2019 levels yet and demand is expected to remain strong into the summer, meaning busy airports and full flights are likely during peak travel periods.’ 

In other words, while it’ll certainly be busy, this summer probably won’t be any rougher than the last. In fact, even with strikes, it’s likely that it’ll be business as usual in the aviation industry. But as always, we won’t know until peak travel season is well underway – in the meantime, take a peek at why you perhaps shouldn’t take a summer holiday in 2023.

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