Possible passenger ceiling at Schiphol again due to staff shortage, travel agency angry
During the busy May vacations and summer, Schiphol may have to reintroduce a cap on the number of daily departures. This is because the handling companies at the airport are still short of hundreds of employees. If they don't solve that problem within a few weeks, Schiphol will have to step in again, according to CEO Ruud Sondag.
"We are raising the red flag," Sondag said Friday in an interview with Het Financieele Dagblad. "We will intervene because things are not going well. We have talked to everyone about how to solve the staff shortage, but nothing helps. He also told the newspaper that working conditions are not attractive enough. "A security guard at Schiphol today earns 17 euros an hour, a handler only 12 euros. This difference is far too big."
Just last month, Schiphol announced that the limit on the number of passengers allowed to depart from the airport each day would be lifted starting in March. The cap on passengers had been in place since last July. It was imposed due to a shortage of security personnel at Schiphol. This led to long lines forming from the May holidays onward, sometimes extending beyond the departure lounge.
A spokesperson confirmed that Schiphol is not out of the woods yet. In the meantime, a large number of security guards have already been hired, so security is likely to be up to speed soon. Baggage handling and other areas are simply still short of hundreds of staff.
However, Sondag's ultimatum is directed at the handling companies and airlines. Schiphol believes it is up to these parties to find a solution.
Earlier this year, the trade union FNV also feared new chaos at Schiphol if the airlines did not act quickly to address the shortage of handlers. According to the union, this meant they would have to find additional resources. Handling companies such as Swissport or Aviapartner would not be in such good shape that they could significantly improve working conditions on their own.
However, the problems are not the same for all handling companies. Transavia for instance, said it works with handling company Viggo, where it says there are no problems. Corendon also mentioned it is in very close contact with its handler and has full confidence in its own operation next summer.
KLM has its own handling company and said it has already hired hundreds of new employees recently. "Recruitment is going well," claimed a spokesperson. But the bottlenecks Schiphol is signaling at some other handlers could affect KLM flights, the spokesperson explained. "If a plane doesn't leave a gate on time because the handler doesn't have enough capacity, that will also delay the next plane expected at that gate.”
Furthermore, travel agents are upset that Schiphol chief Ruud Sondag said that restrictions on passenger numbers may again be needed during the busy May vacations and summer. The travel industry association ANVR called Sondag's statements "unacceptable" and said it appeared Schiphol was trying to "wipe its slate clean" by shifting responsibility for the problem to the handling companies.
"It cannot be that we are now blaming each other," an ANVR spokesperson responded. "It seems that Schiphol is now shifting it onto the handling companies, only to say later that we have everything in order after all." The spokesperson thinks this "blame shifting" is "rude to the travelers." It would only confuse them. Last year, Schiphol was already in a state of chaos, with long queues, cancellations and missed flights.
The tenor of Sondag's new ultimatum differs markedly from the message the Schiphol chief had formulated just last month. In mid-January, for example, he said that the limit on the number of passengers allowed to depart from the airport each day would be eliminated starting in March. "The May holiday, we'll just do it," Sondag was still confident at the time.
"That was only a few weeks ago," stressed the spokesperson for ANVR, which includes major travel groups such as TUI, Sunweb and Corendon. TUI was also "surprised." The company stressed that preserving travelers' vacations is its priority. "And we are convinced of that."
The travel industry is in almost constant contact with Schiphol on this matter. In these discussions, ANVR will also comment on Sondag's new statements. Just like last year, having all flights canceled is not an option for the travel organizations for the coming holiday seasons. "Not after all the plans that have been made, all the promises and all the harsh words from Schiphol itself," they said.
However, a Schiphol spokesperson said that "relocation is out of the question." That would be a task for the parties to solve together, the spokesperson said. BARIN, the airlines' advocacy group, agrees. "We all need to step up our efforts to make sure we can handle the supply of travelers," argued BARIN chairman Marnix Fruitema.
Reporting by ANP