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Europe Is Set For Another Chaotic Summer Travel Season — Here Are 5 Tips To Avoid Disruption

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This is the first summer in three years that Europe's borders are completely open and travel restrictions fully lifted following the end of the pandemic.

Needless to say, travel demand is skyrocketing, with millions of Americans flying across the pond for their summer holidays, but they might be in for an (unpleasant) surprise.

European airports and destinations may not be prepared for the influx of tourists that is bound to ensue, and we might witness a fresh wave of travel disruption as passenger numbers increase over the warmer months.

We regret to inform you that our worst fears could come true once again.

Female Tourist Holding Her Hat As She Stares At The Grand Canal In Venice, Northern Italy, Southern Europe

Much like last year, Europe looks set for a new summer of travel chaos, and it's not a matter of if, but when the first wave of cancellations will hit, but we have learned from the previous season of travel woes and have come up with 5 tips for you to minimize the risk of being affected:

What Is Happening In Europe Right Now?

(Other than anarchy in France, of course.)

Back in the summer of 2022, Europe was rocked by the worst travel disruption it's seen in decades, as countries within the bloc progressively began to ease restrictions and welcome Americans – and other foreigners – back in.

From disparagingly long lines ending in parking lots outside airports' terminals to flights being unceremoniously axed as airlines struggled to keep staffing levels at operational levels, tourists in Europe were left to fend for themselves amid an intensifying crisis.

Although European authorities have since stepped in, ramping up efforts to ensure a repeat of 2022's woes does not take place, we have been dealt a definitive blow this week as Eurocontrol, responsible for the European airspace, issued a new stark warning.

Crowded Airport Check In Area, Travel Disruption, Unspecified Location

Contrary to initial, more positive predictions, Europe will now surely experience ‘high overloads' of traffic on ‘most days' across many important hubs, including airports in France, Greece, Hungary, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

‘Overloads' often result in severe delays, and aircraft are required to undertake longer routes in order to avoid congested airspace. The scenario could be just as, or even more dire than last year's, as 33,000 daily flights are expected over the next eight weeks, an 8 percent increase year-on-year.

Raúl Medina, Director General of Eurocontrol, has affirmed that the industry is ‘better prepared' than it was last year, as they knew what to expect and which areas need reinforcement, but did concede that there will be ‘challenging' months ahead.

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Passengers Boarding A Crowded Plane In An Unspecified Location

This summer in Europe is challenging as we have less available airspace because of the war in Ukraine and the military needs‘, he offered, ‘to be successful over the summer, we need everyone to play their part‘.

He seems to allude to airport authorities, air traffic controllers, and national authorities' shambolic actions, who let customers down last year through successive cutbacks, strikes over pay, and lack of a more effective response amid the soaring demand.

With the threat of travel chaos looming, what can you do to avoid getting caught up in the mess?

1. Travel Light

Traveling with a carry-on only can largely minimize your risks of being affected by the aviation crisis.

As we know from experience, having bags to check in normally results in longer waits at the airport and a higher risk of having them mishandled or even lost.

Male Traveler Packing His Bag Ahead Of Traveling, International Travel

In 2022, reports of mishandled luggage spread across the industry, with up to 26 million bags displaced between January and December, according to data shared by aviation technology company SITA. In countries like Canada, those checking a bag were essentially asking for trouble.

We have seen huge improvements since the luggage fiasco of the previous summer, though loss reports have only been marginally fewer in 2023, with the Department of Transportation reporting that 0.64% of bags were mishandled in America this year so far, against last year's rate of 0.65%.

A Pile Of Unclaimed Luggage In An Airport, Luggage Mishandlement, Air Travel

By traveling light and keeping all of your personal items on you, you eliminate all chances that they will be separated from the aircraft you're boarding, and you won't need to go through the hassle of contacting the airline and authorities to find them, or enter a long dispute to claim reimbursement.

Fortunately, you can bring a lot with you onboard a plane, as evidenced in this article.

2. Travel By Land When Possible

A majority of last year's travel disruption was restricted to aviation and airports. They are the ones with lower staffing levels, shortages among immigration officers, and air traffic control strikes. On the other hand, bus and rail travel was left (almost) undisturbed.

Traveling via land in Europe, you avoid long lines at airports altogether and thorough individual screenings, which can add hours to waiting, and normally you can even bring as much luggage as you can carry in the carriage with you.

A Fast-Speed Austrian Railway Red Train Traveling Through The Green Landscape Of The Austrian Alps In Summer, Europe Train Travel

Europe is an extremely well-connected continent, and within the Schengen Area, borders are seamless. Taking a train between different European countries feels more like traveling domestically in a single country, as there are no border checks nor passport control – all you need to present is a valid ticket alongside your identification.

From Paris, you can reach countries like Belgium, Luxembourg, England, and the Netherlands in as little as 1h30, 2h12, 2h17, and 3h20 by train, and tickets are relatively affordable when booked some weeks in advance.

From Milan, in Italy, fast-speed trains are available to Zurich, calling at the Central Station 3h12 later; numerous other destinations in Switzerland are between 3 to 5 hours away. It is also linked to cities in Southern France like Nice (5h), and Lyon (4h47).

Aerial view and autumn cityscape of Zurich, Switzerland

Traveling from Vienna, in Austria, you will benefit from direct railway links to Bratislava, the less-visited, beautiful capital of Slovakia, only one and half hours away, Budapest in Hungary (2h39), Prague in the Czech Republic (4h), and Munich, in the German state of Bavaria (3h56).

Options are truly endless, and while it may seem as if train travel takes longer, you will probably arrive sooner than your fellow travelers who are flying.

During the peak travel season, airport authorities advise passengers to arrive at the airport between two to three hours ahead of flying, and considering the average flight time between European hotspots is two hours, and most of the train itineraries described above are four hours-long, or much shorter, you'll spend fewer hours commuting between neighboring countries when choosing the train.

A Young Couple Having A Romantic Picnic At Champs de Mars, At The Foot Of The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Plus: you get to enjoy Europe's beautiful scenery, whooshing past medieval villages and historic castles instead of gazing at a sea of clouds. Need some more convincing?

Learn here how you can travel to 7 or more countries within the European space, by train, for less than US$300 in total this summer.

Choose Your Airlines Carefully

A major issue facing tourists undertaking travel in Europe in the peak season is unreliable airlines unable to fulfill their promise, who will either delay flights significantly or cut them at the very last minute, with little to no warning.

If you believe low-cost airlines are usually the only ones to blame, you might want to read the following paragraphs:

American Traveler Holding Up Two US American Passports As He Uses His Computer, Booking A Plane Or Checking Into A Flight

German-based Eurowings has historically been reputed as one of Europe's ‘cheapy', sub-optimal carriers and the arch-nemesis of full-service airlines catering to affluent customers.

The comfort is minimal, to put it bluntly, with no reclining seats whatsoever in Economy and additional fees for literally every service you can possibly think of that is not your random seat in the aircraft, but where Eurowings lacks excellence at the point of delivery, it excels in pricing – and reliability.

It is among the most affordable airlines to travel in Europe currently, with international flights as cheap as US$30, or even lower on some routes, and the carrier with the highest on-time performance based on recent data.

Female Passenger Sleeping On A Plane As Her Partners Gazes Out The Window Listening To Music In His Headphones, Unspecified Airline

Over 48% of Eurowings flights departed on time in 2022, while only 3.62 percent were canceled. Other top performers included Turkey's Pegasus Airlines, Air Europa, and Norwegian Air Shuttle.

Ireland-based Ryanair customers were also 12 times less likely to have their flights canceled than those flying with British Airways, the U.K.'s flag carrier, in the summer of 2022. CEO Michael O'Leary attributes his company's success rates to its ‘timely' recovery of staff levels ahead of the world's wider reopening.

Cheap Is Not Always Better

Europe is the land of low-cost international flights, and despite the obvious rise in fares in recent months resulting from the pent-up demand, incredible deals have not stopped popping up, though they've become rarer.

A Female Traveler Using Her Phone Resting On An Airport Bench With A Plane Parked At The Tarmac Behind Her, Unspecified Location

There is nothing wrong with wanting to benefit from the cheapest possible fares, but as anyone who uses Skyscanner regularly will know by now, the least-costly route is not always the wisest pick, particularly in turbulent times like this.

The cheapest flights on booking platforms often include stopovers in intermediate countries, most of which involve a self-transfer. This means travelers have to book through air brokers in order to combine two separate airline tickets in a single reservation, and that's where the trouble lies.

Nonstop, self-transfer flights can work just fine – provided you're used to traveling with budget airlines with minimal comfort – so long as there is no change in the itinerary, you are able to make your next flight on time, and disruption does not arise at any point.

Young Female Traveler Checking Her Mobile Phone In Front Of An Information Board Displaying Several Canceled Or Delayed Flights, Air Travel

That will likely not be the case this summer, as delays are already being observed again across numerous European hubs.

Though it is important not to generalize, when anything goes wrong and you suddenly find yourself in need of assistance from the third party you booked tickets with, you may soon learn that their customer service is either poorly managed or you can't get through to them at all.

I have had instances where I was unable to make my connecting flight due to delays at my point of departure, and having booked through an air broker such as Kayak, it was literal hell managing to speak to staff to explore my alternatives, which were scant anyway.

More often than not, I would find myself having to ‘sort it out' myself, usually by booking a very expensive last-minute ticket to reach my final destination on time, and let me tell you:

Long Security Line At A Crowded Airport, Unspecified Location

It's no fun being stranded in a foreign airport, where the airline you were due to fly with can't really help you since the tickets were booked through an agency, and not with them directly, and with hard-earned vacation money going down the drain as you scramble for options to resume your travel plans.

Some of these agencies offer a ‘Missed Connection Guarantee' for a fee, but even the hassle of missing a flight and having to re-organize a significant part of your itinerary might be enough discouragement for you traveling in Europe this summer.

I would strongly advise you to book directly with airlines this season in order to avoid this well-documented problem. After all, delays will certainly happen.

Go Off-Path

The reason why Europe – or dare we say, Western Europe – is so crowded with tourists is because most of them insist on traveling to the exact same places, repeatedly, year after year.

Everybody wants a taste of Portugal's world-famous pasteis de nata, to ride vespas down a cliffside drive in Italy's picturesque Amalfi Coast, or get the perfect shot for the gram with the Eiffel Tower for a backdrop, but there is more to Europe than just that, and you can have a highly satisfying European summer experience by adding one or two off-path destinations to your list.

A Crowd Of Tourists And Locals Enjoying A Sunny Day In Place des Voges In Paris, France, Europe

We're not saying go completely off-path.

All of those places cited above are indeed gorgeous and surely worth a visit, but why not add a little stopover in Albania, one of the trendiest beach destinations this year, where the waters are even clearer than Greece's, and you'll only pay a small fraction of Santorini's prices?

How about Bulgaria? The beautiful Eastern Balkan nation straddling the under-explored Black Sea, where you'll find gorgeous cobbled towns where time has stood still for centuries, and where most Western tourists have never trod?

woman tourist photographing ancient theater in Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Do not get us started on Georgia, the hidden gem of the Caucasus, a region nestled between Europe and Western Asia, boasting a mouth-watering cuisine, dramatic nature, and some of the most ancient continuously-inhabited cities known to mankind.

Going off-path is not only guaranteed fun, but you can also be certain everything will feel new, refreshing, and most importantly, not over-touristed. And, of course, travel disruption in lesser-known countries is practically a non-existing concept.

As they are not as busy as Italy, France, Spain and the like, airports are not jam-packed with vacationers, and services continue running smoothly through the high season, which wouldn't even come close to off-season figures in Mediterranean Europe.

You can thank us later.

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