Flight chaos: This is what travelers need to know for their summer vacation – the most important questions and answers

Canceled flights and long queues at check-in and security checkpoints: For many Brits, spring break started in early June with a lot of airport frustration. The problems were caused by a lack of staff at the airlines and airports. The conditions at the airports showed: More people want to travel again, but the aviation industry can hardly meet this sharp increase in demand – there is a lack of employees who have looked or had to look for other jobs during the pandemic. Lufthansa and Eurowings have already canceled hundreds of flights for July. The head of the air traffic control union recently warned of unprecedented chaos at German airports this summer and called on politicians to take action. An overview of the most important questions.

What can holidaymakers expect during the summer holidays?

“We expect that this situation will last throughout the summer and into the autumn, as it is practically difficult or impossible to build up the necessary staff in all affected areas at short notice,” says Karolina Wojtal from the European Consumer Center Germany.

What can travelers do before departure?

Stay informed about the status of your flight. And be at the airport on time. “In general, travelers should get to the airport earlier than usual – at least two and a half to three hours before departure,” recommends Melanie Gerhardt, head of security and crisis management at the tour operator DER Touristik. If possible, check in online in advance. Those who can do without checked baggage on short trips.

If you live near the airport, you might be able to check in the night before and check in your bags at the same time. Some airlines offer this, says Gerhardt, and it saves holidaymakers the queue at check-in. It is recommended that you go to security as soon as you have checked in. If you have already checked in in advance, go there immediately after arriving at the airport. All of this advice applies especially to the busy holiday periods.

In view of the flight cancellations that have already been announced: when and how can my airline cancel my flight?

In principle, she can always do this – depending on the time, however, travelers are then entitled to reimbursements and, if necessary, compensation. That’s what the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation is for. It is applicable to all flights departing within the European Union. For flights that land in the EU, it only applies if the airline is based in one of the EU member states.

Is the booked package holiday for the summer holiday in danger?

The German Travel Association (DRV), which represents tour operators and travel agencies, at least gives the all-clear. “It is rather unlikely that well-booked routes to package holiday destinations around the Mediterranean or to more distant destinations will be canceled on a larger scale,” said the DRV on request. “This applies in particular to flights that tour operators have bought long in advance.”

Organizers and travel agencies are in close contact with the airlines in order to keep the effects of possible flight cancellations as low as possible. The DRV also states that not all airlines have so far communicated in detail which specific flights will be cancelled. However, domestic flights are often affected, which are of less importance for tourist trips.

Can I book at short notice now?

The DRV does not expect that the shortage of staff at airlines and airports will affect the offer of last-minute trips. “There is still a large number of trips that can be booked for the summer.”

And if I’m still looking for flights – won’t it be expensive?

According to a survey by the flight search engine Skyscanner published this week, travelers can save money by being flexible. Air travel to Turkey in the last week of August is about 36 percent cheaper on average than in mid-July – the average saving for a family of four is 428 euros.

You can also save money with the departure days if you can arrange it accordingly. According to Skyscanner, it is often advisable to fly within the week. The flight search engine and its competitors such as Kayak, Momondo or Google Flights have a calendar overview where you can compare the flight prices for specific routes over the course of a week or month and find out the cheapest flight days for the connection you are looking for.

In the event of a cancellation, does an airline have to rebook me in any case, or do I run the risk of getting my money back for the ticket – but then not having a flight?

According to the Air Passenger Rights Ordinance, travelers have the right to choose between a full refund of the ticket price and a rebooking by the airline. “So you are entitled to a rebooking,” said consumer advocate Wojtal. “It just doesn’t always work in practice.”

If the flight cancellation comes a few days in advance, holidaymakers should check what is cheaper for them. They may be able to book even cheaper flights because the prices sometimes drop again shortly before departure – that speaks for a refund. However, you should insist on rebooking if the alternative flights you have chosen are significantly more expensive than the canceled flight.

What you should note: As a rule, the airline rebooks the passenger, according to Wojtal. Otherwise, you should definitely get the airline’s approval for the independent alternative booking so that there are no problems with the refund.

What about my self-booked hotel or holiday home if my flight was canceled through no fault of my own?

You still have to pay for it. Wojtal explains that you can only ask for your money back if the general terms and conditions of the holiday home or hotel operator provide for a cancellation. Otherwise there is only hope for goodwill.

What applies to package tours in the event of a flight cancellation?

The organizer is responsible for this. The Hamburg consumer advice center makes it clear that he must arrange for a replacement transport. And the travel price should not increase as a result of the new flight connection, even if the tour operator had to buy more expensive flights at short notice due to the cancellation.

Anyone who has given their mobile phone number when booking will be informed immediately by our security management if flight times are changed or canceled, explains Melanie Gerhardt from DER Touristik. And: “Should a guest really miss their flight, we’ll take care of the rebooking around the clock.”

According to consumer advocate Wojtal, if a flight is canceled as part of a package tour, claims against the tour operator can be considered – for a reduction in the travel price or even compensation for useless vacation time.

In the event of a cancellation as an individual traveler, am I also entitled to a compensation payment?

Possibly yes. The timing is crucial. If the cancellation information is sent by the airline less than 14 days before departure, in addition to the described right to choose between reimbursement and rebooking, you may also be entitled to a compensation payment of up to 600 euros – depending on the specific individual case.

According to consumer advocate Wojtal, there are important questions: When exactly was one informed? Was a replacement flight offered and if so, how much later should it take off or land? How long is the flight route?

Specifically: If notification of the cancellation was made seven days to two weeks before departure and alternative flights were offered that depart a maximum of two hours earlier and land a maximum of four hours later than the original flights, there is no right to compensation. If you have been informed less than seven days in advance, this only applies to alternative flights that depart a maximum of one hour earlier and land a maximum of two hours later.

Otherwise, you are usually entitled to compensation payments. For example, for flights of up to 1,500 kilometers, it is 250 euros. The only thing that can throw a spanner in the works: If extraordinary circumstances such as extremely bad weather caused the flight to be cancelled.

Good to know: If you have to wait for your alternative flight at the airport due to a cancellation at short notice, you are entitled to support services. According to Wojtal, depending on the length of the waiting time, meals or hotel accommodation are possible.

What is the legal situation if I miss the flight due to a lack of staff at the security checkpoint?

“Here it depends on the individual case, this is not regulated by the regulation,” says Karolina Wojtal. A claim against the airline, the tour operator or the airport operator only exists if the passenger has arrived at the airport in good time before departure.

A prerequisite for the airline or operator to be held accountable is an organizational error in the run-up to check-in or the control, for example the use of too few staff, the opening of too few counters or locks or an overall poor organization of the processes.

As a judgment by the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main shows, in the event of excessive waiting times at security checks organized by the federal police, you may also be entitled to compensation from the Federal Republic of Germany if you arrived at the airport ahead of time as recommended by the airport operator or airline. (Ref.: 1 U 220/20)

If you are at the airport on time and still risk missing the flight because of long queues, it is important to document the passage of time, travel lawyer Paul Degott told the editorial network Germany. So you should take photos of some situations – such as arriving on time at the airport, the queue in the terminal, the number of open counters.

Consumer advocate Wojtal also advises: If there is a risk of reaching the plane, you should ask to be given priority at the control. “Otherwise the passenger can be blamed for missing the flight.”

Who helps you to claim your rights in the event of postponements and missed flights?

Rummaging through the passenger rights regulation yourself and then contacting the airlines – many people shy away from this effort. The Flugärger app from the NRW consumer advice center can be helpful here, for example. With the free application, available for iOS and Android, travelers can check their claims and write an email to the airline.

The European Consumer Center offers a browser-based self-help tool for flight problems.

There is also a compensation calculator at the ADAC motorists’ club. This allows you to check your rights free of charge and then decide whether and how you want to take action, according to the ADAC. Users could then create a sample letter, contact the arbitration board for public transport (SÖP), or hire contract lawyers from the club or the passenger rights portal Myflightright, with which ADAC works.

There are plenty of such passenger rights portals, other providers include EUclaim, Fairplane or Airhelp. Your service will cost commission if successful, depending on the amount of the reimbursement. This means that the passenger helpers take part of the compensation payment. It is therefore advisable to first contact the airline directly yourself, for example with the help of the free tools mentioned.