Ascension Day, the day of aviation. On a day when the queues are again a good distance outside the departure hall, Schiphol publishes his ‘action plan’, in which the airport explains how it intends to avert the chaos that has repeatedly arisen at the airport in recent weeks. Will it work?
The plan itself is open: more staff, work at Schiphol must become more attractive, the flow of travelers must be improved, and the number of flights must be drastically reduced.
Everyone knows this is necessary. If you type ‘rows’ and ‘Schiphol’ into Google, you’ll find several videos from recent weeks with rows of waiting travelers apparently never ending.
Last Sunday night was the low point: a group of travelers feared missing their plane. This led to anger. A dangerous situation arose where passengers threatened to collide with each other and with security personnel. The military police had to intervene to de-escalate the situation.
The plan, announced on Thursday, starts with self-reflection: traveling through the largest airport in the Netherlands should be a “predictable and enjoyable Schiphol experience”, but “this promise has not been fulfilled in recent weeks”. And that needs to change.
An important asset to reduce the crowd is new rules for take-off and landing rights, which apply from 1 June to the end of August. As a result, the number of flights must be reduced. In short: Airlines flying to and from Schiphol have so-called ‘slots’, fixed times within which their aircraft can land and take off. If they do not use their slots, they may lose it to a competitor. Airlines therefore sent empty or almost empty planes up into the sky.
However, the new rule will prevent airlines from losing their unused slots to competing airlines. Schiphol hopes that the airlines will then choose not to let the planes take off and that it will be quieter.
But what happens after the summer, asks Frank Oostdam, director of the travel organization ANVR. If the rule is then repealed, Oostdam says, “you will quickly fall back into the old system”.
By quickly recruiting more employees in the near future, Schiphol hopes that the passenger flow at the airport will improve. Now that the corona crisis seems to be over, the number of travelers is rising rapidly again. There is a serious shortage of staff at the airport, especially among security guards and luggage staff.
Also read the first part of the On Hold series: Is the Netherlands getting congested? How waiting times can sometimes have far-reaching consequences
The lack of security officers was partly due to the fact that Schiphol outsourced security to a total of five companies. Three of them are in charge of security at the customs gates. A ‘fighting market’ has emerged between these companies, says Erik Honkoop, director of the trade union CNV. For example, security guards get irregular working hours, which can change at the last minute. “Some of the experienced security guards have packed their suitcases as a result.”
The problem is: you can not just bring those security guards back. The labor market is tight and the security guards have plenty of choices. They can also work in quieter places where they have to work under less pressure. Only if you give them really good terms of employment can you get them back, says Honkoop. “Even then, I do not know if it is enough to compete with other sectors.”
Schiphol is organizing a ‘job fair’ in the coming month. It also plans to turn to former security guards again. Improved terms of employment should entice security guards to come and work at the airport, but what that improvement consists of is still unclear in the plan, and the Schiphol spokesperson cannot explain either. “We are still discussing this with the unions.”
With the action plan, Schiphol is still trying to regain control of its own airport. If the measures do not work, Schiphol may choose to cancel flights in the ‘extreme case’. “This is a very serious measure,” the spokesman said. The airline KLM also announced measures against the persistent crowds on Thursday afternoon. For flights departing until Sunday, the airline restricts ticket sales.
Whether this is the end of the chaos at the airport remains to be seen. Honkoop from CNV is resolute: “You can not solve this with a flick of the finger, the reasons are structural. You have to deal with it.”
A version of this article was also published in the newspaper on May 27, 2022