Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. For years, this was the airport you wanted to use. If you were connecting, it was fast and easy. And it largely ran on time. If you were an avgeek, I mean, how many airports actually name their runways? If you had told anyone before the pandemic that you’d rather avoid Schiphol at all costs, you’d probably get a very confused look. But thanks to pandemic mismanagement and a host of other issues that are beyond my understanding, that is exactly what has happened.
The experience for travelers has been awful. Security lines have been terribly long, and the airport has simply been unable to handle the increase in flying. Just take a look at how on-time performance has been this year to get a sense of how it’s going.
2022 Arrivals Within 14 Minutes of Schedule for Flights Departing Amsterdam
How did we get here?
Since the early days of the Northwest/KLM joint venture, KLM had grown Amsterdam into one of the most desirable places to connect in Europe. The airport was easy to use, KLM was a good operator, and you could get to destinations big and small throughout Europe. The merger with Air France and Northwest’s merger into Delta did not change the situation. In 2010, the busiest month averaged under 85,000 seats per day. By 2019, the busiest month had just shy of 120,000 seats per day.
Then, the pandemic hit, and traffic tanked. In this regard, Schiphol was not unique, of course. Every airport saw traffic fall off dramatically, and then in 2022, they all saw the dramatic return of travel as well.
Before the summer season, it became clear that things were not ready to come back as quickly as travelers were, and that too wasn’t unique to Schiphol. There were horror stories of lost bags, long security lines, flight delays, and a host of other problems at airports ranging from Toronto to London.
In Amsterdam, it has been a unique situation. How so? I’ll let you read the list of press releases…
- May 25 – Amsterdam suspends “use it or lose it” rules on slots to hope airlines reduce flights
- May 26 – Amsterdam presents its so-called Summer 2022 Action Plan
- June 1- Amsterdam gives a temporary pay increase to various workgroups for summer with a lesser increase through September 2023
- June 14 – Amsterdam puts up screens with security wait times so travelers can track the pain in real time
- June 16 – Amsterdam mandates passenger caps of 67,500 per day in July and 72,500 in August
- June 30 – Amsterdam raises the August passenger cap to 73,000 saying there are still 1,000 too many local passengers traveling each day
- July 8 – Amsterdam starts actively recruiting for more security guards
- August 2 – Amsterdam announces it will add a passenger cap in September of 67,500 per day and October of 69,500 per day, saying there are now 3,500 too many local passengers during the fall holidays
- August 10 – Amsterdam drags office staff out to help in the terminals
- September 12 – Amsterdam asks airlines to cancel afternoon flights because security staffing is lower than expected
- September 15 – Amsterdam Schiphol CEO steps down
- September 16 – Amsterdam lowers the September passenger cap to 54,500 per day and October to 57,000 per day
- September 29 – Amsterdam extends a passenger cap through March 2023, teasing that maybe it can remove it by the end of January but no guarantees
- September 30 – Amsterdam says it is working with security companies “to improve its terms of employment and employment conditions”
- October 6 – Amsterdam comes to agreement to increase wages and improve working conditions for security staff
What’s unique about Amsterdam is just how long this problem has gone on. Since the beginning, the primary pain point has been at the security checkpoint. There just aren’t enough staff, as the progression of press releases makes abundantly clear. So why is this still going on several months later? Shouldn’t it have been fixed now?
If you ask other airports, then yes, it should have. Heathrow had more of a baggage issue than anything, as I understand it, but it had also implemented passenger caps. Those will end this Saturday. But Amsterdam has thrown in the towel on actually seeing any real improvement this year. In fact, it’s gotten worse as time has gone on. Here’s a look at scheduled flights and seats through February.
Scheduled Flights and Seats By Month Departing Amsterdam
What I can’t quite figure out is why this is extending so long. Do the Dutch really, really hate security work? That could be part of it. You never know what the Dutch are going to do. But there are clearly fingers to be pointed in many directions here.
The airport certainly deserves blame for failing to really grasp the extent of this problem. It talked a good game, but it only this month came to an agreement to actually improve wages and working conditions going forward. Note that the announcement of an agreement came just a week after the airport said it was entering negotiations. This wasn’t some long, drawn out process. The airport just figured the temporary wage increases it announced earlier in the summer would be enough.
We can also point fingers at the airport for a bad strategy for reducing passengers. As the press releases desperately note time and time again, this is a big issue for the local travelers in Amsterdam having to pass through security. But KLM runs a very large connecting hub. Why does a passenger cap make sense when KLM could have just run more flights to serve connections and limited local origins?
In true Dutch fashion, the airport has been very blunt and clear about its issues and how everyone feels. I think the press release announcing the extension of the cap through winter had my favorite quote.
Schiphol will place a cap on the number of travellers that can depart from the airport, after consulting with airlines, which are not happy about it.
KLM responded with an equally blunt press release of its own, saying…
Amsterdam Airport Schiphol has announced that it will again drastically restrict the number of departing passengers this winter. This is simply unacceptable to KLM.
At this point, all anybody wants to know is when this is going to end, and nobody seems to have a good answer. Meanwhile, those who have booked to travel via Amsterdam continue to run into trouble. The required cuts have reduced connecting options and forced people into bad situations. Even worse, some people have even gone as far as changing to connect through Charles de Gaulle instead. That’s when you know things are REALLY bad.
On top of this, the government is threatening to permanently reduce flying in Amsterdam for environmental reasons. It’s in this environment that new interim CEO Ruud Sondag has entered. Good luck to him. I mean that.