Business travel headwinds blowing in for European Summer 2024

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5 min read

JOHANNESBURG – The European summer holiday season usually brings some travel disruptions, but 2024 has a mixed bag of challenges for business travellers heading to Europe or transiting through one of its major airport hubs. According to Bonnie Smith, GM of Corporate Traveller, this means your business travel requires proactive planning and flexibility. By staying informed and adjusting their approach, business travellers can navigate the challenges.

The usual suspect: strikes

One of the biggest culprits for delays and cancellations is strikes by airline, airport and rail staff. “Strikes are an unfortunate but common occurrence during the peak European travel season,” says Smith. “They can cause widespread disruptions that are hard for individual travellers to overcome.”

Air traffic control strikes are particularly problematic, grounding flights across an entire country and its airspace. As Smith notes, “When the air traffic controllers walk out, the impacts reverberate through the whole aviation network.”

Smith’s advice is to build in extra time for connections, delays and re-bookings when strike action is possible. “Have a plan B for getting to your destination, whether that means taking the train, driving or being willing to fly into an alternate airport.”

Having a travel management company (TMC) monitor strike actions is invaluable, she says. “Our teams watch for strike announcements and quickly retrieve clients’ bookings to re-accommodate them before the disruptions even begin. We also leverage airline staffing and operations contacts to secure scarce re-bookings when inventory is limited.”

New nuisances 

However, strikes are just one factor making the summer of 2024 so unsettled for business travellers. Confusion around the changing rules for carrying liquids through airport security could mean longer wait times at checkpoints. Meanwhile, promised protests by activist groups like Just Stop Oil threaten to snarl ground transportation to and from airports.

“Build in extra time getting through security and to/from the airport when traveling through major hubs,” recommends Smith. She also suggests checking for airport alerts and terminal updates before departure.

“Our travel managers have the latest intelligence on which airports and routes will be most impacted by these issues on any given day,” says Smith. “We can steer travellers away from potential chokepoints and build in more connection time if needed.”

Adding to the woes, some airlines have had to trim their summer schedules due to aircraft shortages from manufacturing delays. “Fewer flights plus higher demand equals higher fares and potentially more disruptions from overbooked flights,” cautions Smith.

Her tips: “Book flights earlier than normal when you have inflexible travel dates. Opt for re-routing insurance in case you need to take a different path. And be prepared for potential weight restrictions on bags if your flight is overbooked.”

E-gate errors

Then there’s the repeated technical glitches involving the UK’s airport e-gates. A nationwide e-gate failure in early May caused massive delays as passengers had to be manually processed. Similar issues have plagued the system in recent months. 

“These e-gate meltdowns are hugely disruptive and there’s no easy way for travellers to work around them,” says Smith. “Build in extra time for passing through immigration processing and be ready for very long lines.”

The timing is unfortunate, as the EU is set to launch its new Entry/Exit System (EES) in October, which will require biometric data like fingerprints and facial scans from UK travellers visiting the Continent. A lack of public awareness about the EES could create chaos at the border. Delays implementing the supporting mobile app add another question mark.

“We’re staying on top of the EES developments and will leverage our local contacts in Europe to keep clients informed on processing times,” Smith says. “Having personnel on the ground is a real advantage in these situations.”

Olympic-size overcrowding

Don’t forget about the 2024 Paris Olympics from late July through early September, which will swell travel demand and put extra strain on the City of Light’s hotels, roads and other infrastructure. “For many business travellers, it will make sense to avoid Paris during the peak Olympic period if possible,” advises Smith. “The overcrowding and inflated prices for accommodation will be a challenge.”

If a Paris trip can’t be avoided, the TMC can secure accommodations and transportation further in advance when more availability exists. “Our negotiated rates also help offset the price surges common during major events like the Olympics,” Smith notes.

With so many potential disruptors on the horizon this summer in Europe, having back-up plans and building in extra time will be critical for corporate travellers. “Be proactive, patient and ready to pivot your plans with little notice,” says Smith. “It’s going to be a rocky few months for European business travel.”

“This European summer season will be much easier with a travel manager’s support. If your flights or connections need to be changed, you can carry on with work, meetings or even some sightseeing while we adjust your itinerary behind the scenes,” Smith concludes.

What if your flight is delayed or cancelled?

It’s important to note that air traffic control strikes and those by airport staff not directly employed by an airline are considered “extraordinary circumstances,” meaning you won’t be owed compensation from the airline. However, they still have obligations if you are disrupted mid-travel, warns Smith.

For cancelled flights, airlines must offer a full refund for the journey and any unused return flights, or re-book you on an alternative flight, potentially on a rival carrier. For extended delays, they must provide meal vouchers, communications assistance, hotel accommodations if overnight, and ground transfers.

“Keep all receipts, as you may need to claim reasonable expenses from the airline later. Get documentation confirming the cause of the delay/cancellation. And review your travel insurance policy, as it could cover some out-of-pocket costs depending on the coverage terms,” advises Smith.