Flight delays: time for policymakers to take action

Millions of flight passengers were affected by delays in 2018. Airlines, airports and air traffic control are all equally responsible for improving the customer experience by ensuring that more flights depart on time. The EU Member States also have to take action to remedy unacceptable policy related structural deficits in European airspace management.

TUI Airlines is working hard to reduce delay risks. Here are three examples:

  • Reserve aircraft: TUI now has increased its reserve capacity to 5 percent of its fleet. Prior to that it was leasing aircraft in the event of problems.
  • Ground times: When a flight is likely to be delayed, TUI will deploy additional staff to restock and clean the plane to save valuable time.
  • Maintenance: TUI brought forward major maintenance work which had beenscheduled for summer 2019 to the winter months. Although this is more expensive, it safeguards peak season operations.

Improve air traffic control efficiency

TUI Airlines is obviously doing everything it can to avoid summer chaos. But these efforts will have been in vain without the support of its partners. According to Eurocontrol, air traffic control-related delays almost doubled between 2017 and 2018. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, there are personnel shortages at the 61 European air hubs, especially in upper airspace control at Karlsruhe. Around 15 percent of air traffic control-related delays in Europe in 2018 were attributed to UAC Karlsruhe. The airline sector is urgently requesting the more flexible deployment of air traffic controllers to offset the shortage, and the use of all the technical means available.

Secondly, the European air traffic control sector has severe structural deficits. Since the 1990s the EU and the aviation industry have been requesting the EU Member States to facilitate an efficient, international air traffic control infrastructure with the latest technology. Unfortunately, national egoism is still preventing the realisation of a Single European Sky. Detours and routing along already congested airways are the result. This is also unacceptable from a climate protection viewpoint. Eurocontrol calculated several years ago that an efficient Single European Sky would reduce CO2 emissions in European aviation by around 10 percent.


Security and passport checks were responsible for 6.7 percent of all delayed German flights, including connecting flight delays, in 2018. Although this was a higher percentage than in 2017, the contribution of security and passport checks to flight delays EU-wide declined to 3.8 percent.

Passenger check bottlenecks

Passenger checks are another policy issue. The processes at German airports are far less efficient than in other European countries. The German government should introduce state-of-the-art technology and efficient processes to eliminate long waits and delays. A new pilot check point with state-of-the-art hand baggage scanning technology at Munich Airport sets the standard in this respect.