LONDON (AP) — The airport lines are long, and lost luggage is piling up. It's going to be a chaotic summer for travelers in Europe.
Liz Morgan arrived at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport 4 1/2 hours before her flight to Athens, finding the line for security snaking out of the terminal and into a big tent along a road before doubling back inside the main building.
"There's elderly people in the queues, there's kids, babies. No water, no nothing. No signage, no one helping, no toilets," said Morgan, who is from Australia and had tried to save time Monday by checking in online and taking only a carry-on bag.
People "couldn't get to the toilet because if you go out of the queue, you lost your spot," she said.
After two years of pandemic restrictions, travel demand has roared back, but airlines and airports that slashed jobs during the depths of the COVID-19 crisis are struggling to keep up. With the busy summer tourism season underway in Europe, passengers are encountering chaotic scenes at airports, including lengthy delays, canceled flights and headaches over lost luggage.
Schiphol, the Netherlands' busiest airport, is trimming flights, saying there are thousands of airline seats per day above the capacity that security staff can handle. Dutch carrier KLM apologized for stranding passengers there this month. It could be months before Schiphol has enough staff to ease the pressure, Ben Smith, CEO of airline alliance Air France-KLM, said Thursday.
London's Gatwick and Heathrow airports are asking airlines to cap their flight numbers. Discount carrier easyJet is scrapping thousands of summer flights to avoid last-minute cancellations and in response to caps at Gatwick and Schiphol. North American airlines wrote to Ireland's transport chief demanding urgent action to tackle "significant delays" at Dublin's airport.
Nearly 2,000 flights from major continental European airports were canceled during one week this month, with Schiphol accounting for nearly 9%, according to data from aviation consultancy Cirium. A further 376 flights were canceled from U.K. airports, with Heathrow accounting for 28%, Cirium said.
It's a similar story in the United States, where airlines canceled thousands of flights over two days last week because of bad weather just as crowds of summer tourists grow.
"In the vast majority of cases, people are traveling," said Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of the Advantage Travel Group, which represents about 350 U.K. travel agents. But airports have staff shortages, and it's taking a lot longer to process security clearances for newly hired workers, she said.
"They're all creating bottlenecks in the system," and it also means "when things go wrong, that they're going drastically wrong," she said.
The Biden administration scrapping COVID-19 tests for people entering the U.S. is giving an extra boost to pent-up demand for transatlantic travel. Bue-Said said her group's agents reported a jump in U.S. bookings after the rule was dropped this month.
For American travelers to Europe, the dollar strengthening against the euro and the pound is also a factor, by making hotels and restaurants more affordable.
At Heathrow, a sea of unclaimed luggage blanketed the floor of a terminal last week. The airport blamed technical glitches with the baggage system and asked airlines to cut 10% of flights at two terminals Monday, affecting about 5,000 passengers.
"A number of passengers" may have traveled without their luggage, the airport said.
When cookbook writer Marlena Spieler flew back to London from Stockholm this month, it took her three hours to get through passport control.
Spieler, 73, spent at least another hour and a half trying to find her luggage in the baggage area, which "was a madhouse, with piles of suitcases everywhere."