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Schiphol airport chaos continues but end in sight as workers cancel strike action

Long queues at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam
Long queues at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam   -   Copyright  Reuters Connect
By Charlotte Elton

Workers at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport will not strike this summer, saving thousands of passengers from holiday chaos.

Schiphol airport has been the scene of flight disruption over the last month as it has coped with severe staff shortages.

Last week, at least 28 flights were cancelled as travellers endure extremely long security queues and delays.

With trade unions planning strikes to protest low wages and a lack of Job permanency, the situation was likely to worsen over the holidays.

But in good news for travellers, the union and the airport reached an agreement on Tuesday, with the airport offering workers a higher wage allowance to call off planned industrial action.

"It will be rewarding to work at Schiphol again," said Joost van Doesburg, FNV trade union campaign leader.

What’s going on at Schiphol airport?

Schipol Airport is the second largest in the European Union and has seen severe delays over the last month.

Last week, staff shortages at security checkpoints led to hours-long queues that affected thousands of travellers.

On Friday, Dutch flagship carrier KLM suspended ticket sales from Amsterdam over the weekend.

“KLM is putting a brake on ticket sales for flights leaving up until and including Sunday because Schiphol can’t get its security problems fixed,” a spokesperson said.

The disruption is expected to continue this week, with 14 flights from the airport already cancelled from Tuesday 31 May. 

The most recent delays come after an unexpected strike led to warnings of “long queues at check-in, security and passport control" earlier this month in the run-up to the May bank holiday.

What is causing the delays at Schiphol airport?

Schiphol airport has faced an ongoing problem of considerable staff shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While passenger numbers are still below what they were in 2019, there are not enough staff to man all of the baggage checkpoints. It has led to queues that stretch into the terminals and beyond.

The most recent delays and cancellations are the latest development in weeks of chaos.

In early May, the Netherlands’ national airline KLM cancelled more than 70 flights from Schipol, while other airlines - including Transavia, Tui and Corendon - rerouted flights to other Dutch airports.

The airport requested the cancellations earlier this month as there weren't enough staff to carry out vital tasks. 

“It is an annoying but necessary measure to reduce the numbers of travellers, in order to manage the crowds in the right direction together with our partners," a Schiphol spokesperson explained.

Passengers were asked to arrive more than four hours before departure, and the fire department was called in to distribute water bottles to queueing passengers.

The airport also suffered from lengthy delays earlier in April after KLM baggage handlers staged a strike to protest working conditions.

Will things improve at Schiphol airport?

The agreement between the airport and the unions will help travellers heading to Schiphol this summer. 

Airport Chief Executive Dick Benschop has described the deal as a turning point. 

"For a long time, growth and costs were paramount, but that is no longer the case. It is now about quality and that includes quality of work," he said. 

The union and airport executives will meet soon to hammer out the final points of the deal. Mr Van Doesburg told press that there was only a "very small chance" that the agreement would stall.  

Reuters Connect
Chaos at Schiphol airport over the weekendReuters Connect

As the airport gears up for its busiest season, Mr Benschop has promised that the situation will improve.

"It hurts and something happens that does not suit Schiphol and what travellers do not expect from us,” he said last week.

“This is not who we are and it is our duty to tackle that. The long lines will be gone this summer."

Possible changes could include a flight cap on the number of flights leaving from Schiphol during the busiest periods of the year.

Passengers can check the status of their flight here.

Watch the chaos at Schiphol airport in the video above.