Strikes and shortages: Passengers from Switzerland to face continued disruption
After several months of chaos across Swiss airports, there appears to be no end on the horizon for travellers looking to avoid the rush this August. With luggage piling up in Zurich and air traffic control shortages in Geneva, we explore what’s behind the prolonged nightmare in Swiss airports and airports around the world.
Easing of travel restrictions leave the Swiss ready for holidays
Following the end of COVID restrictions, many countries have reopened their borders for the first prolonged period since the beginning of 2020. In Switzerland and beyond, this has meant that people who have been unable to travel abroad are now keen to enjoy the summer, especially those with kids who can’t go away unless it’s during the school holidays.
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many airport staff lost their jobs and eventually found jobs elsewhere. According to a study by the European Transport Workers Federation in January 2021, at least 23 percent of airport ground staff were made redundant, making it unsurprising that airports are now shortstaffed. A lack of ground staff has led to baggage piling up at a number of airports in Switzerland and long lines at passport and security checkpoints across Europe.
Switzerland's shortage of air traffic controllers adds to problem
Now that demand for air travel has surged, hiring new recruits for ground staff is taking an extensive amount of time, since workers must also submit to detailed background and security checks. Some ground staff that voluntarily exited their profession during the pandemic also blame the staff shortages on the long working hours for relatively low pay compared with other jobs with better salaries.
Additionally, airports in Switzerland are also suffering with a more long-term issue: a shortage of trained air traffic controllers. According to Swiss air navigation service provider Skyguide, this issue is widespread across Europe, but is particularly problematic in French-speaking Switzerland. There are currently a significant number of air traffic controller posts that need to be filled in Switzerland, but only five people are set to start training for those roles in September, leaving a significant shortage.
Upcoming strikes expected at numerous airlines
Tensions are also rising between airline bosses and employees over wage increases. A number of airlines have already seen their staff go on strike as record levels of inflation increase the cost of living significantly, and many other airlines are set to experience strike action over the coming months.
Pilots at Switzerland’s flag-carrier airline SWISS have recently voted down a proposal by the airline for a new collective labour agreement (CLA), further proving the level of tension between pilots, unions and employers. Pilots at SWISS’ parent company Lufthansa have already voted to strike, just one week after the airline’s ground staff staged industrial action causing more than 1.000 flights to be cancelled.
There’s also bad news for Swiss travellers heading to Spain, who could also find themselves struggling to make their trip as Spanish pilots at the popular budget airlines Easyjet and Ryanair are set to strike for nine whole days during the month of August.
What are my rights as an airline passenger in Switzerland?
In short, passenger rights in Switzerland are similar to those of European Union member states, since Switzerland adopted EU Regulation 261 / 2004 / EC. According to cancelled.ch, the regulation stipulates that passengers are entitled to compensation for cancelled flights that would have departed from Switzerland (or any other EU country), that would have landed in and been operated by a Swiss (or EU) company, and where the event that led to the cancellation was within the power of the airline to avoid.
In the case of delays, the situation is more complex. For the most up-to-date legal advice on cancellations and delays make sure to check your airline’s website and be sure to read up on your passenger rights regarding cancellations, delays and loss of luggage.