The Dutch airline KLM blocked passengers from boarding at least 20 flights late on Saturday afternoon and instead flew empty planes back to Amsterdam Schiphol airport after a meltdown caused potentially dangerous overcrowding at its home base and hub airport.
KLM now faces a potential bill of millions of Euros in compensation, hotel costs and other welfare needs after thousands of passengers were left stranded in airports across Europe.
The embattled airline had already been preparing for a chaotically busy weekend as Dutch travellers headed on vacation for the Whit Monday holidays but Saturday proved even more difficult than anyone had planned for.
Along with ‘unfavourable’ weather conditions, Schiphol airport suddenly and unexpectedly announced it had to carry out urgent repairs on one of its runways. As a result, the rate at which aircraft could take-off and land had to be limited which, in turn, had an almost immediate effect on passenger movements in the airport terminal.
“It’s incredibly unfortunate that on top of everything else today, we’re also dealing with reduced runway capacity at Schiphol as a result of unfavourable winds and runway maintenance,” commented KLM’s chief operating officer Rene de Groot.
“Despite intervening earlier to ensure workable operations this weekend, today has been another extremely difficult day for our passengers and crew.”
With passengers backed up and with nowhere to go at Schiphol, KLM took the “far-reaching” decision to stop bringing any more inbound passengers to the airport from European destinations in order to avoid a potentially dangerous overcrowding situation.
The airline did, however, still fly planes back to Amsterdam from European destinations, but without any passengers on board. KLM said it decided to do this so that it could operate its operation as close to normal as possible on Sunday.
A spokesperson for KLM said the airline hoped that the weather would be calmer and runway repairs complete in order to get as many passengers away as planned.
The airport is already struggling to deal with passenger numbers due to staff shortages, especially at security checkpoints. Heading into the Whit Monday weekend, Schiphol officials asked passengers to leave luggage at home and travel with as little as possible to make the security screening process as quick as possible.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.