Extreme heat in Europe adds to summer travel chaos

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Remember the days when the biggest concern about a summer trip to Europe was who might be on strike?

A brutal heat wave in Western Europe this week produced Britain’s hottest day on record, warping a runway at London’s Luton Airport and affecting the availability of train travel. Portugal reported over 1,000 deaths related to extreme weather. Passengers on a train that was stopped in the Galicia region of Spain were alarmed to see wildfires out their windows on both sides of the car. Some beaches in France and Spain were closed as the fires encroached.

Now Central Europe is bracing for more temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Travelers to the continent can tack on climate disasters to a list of 2022 obstacles that include the evolving coronavirus, canceled flights, lost luggage, insane ticket prices, huge crowds and — yes — labor strikes.

Ross Caldwell Thompson, chief executive of Covac Global, said his medical evacuation company has been getting “numerous” calls from people wanting to know about the service because they are concerned that the heat in Europe will exacerbate a preexisting condition.

But, he said, they are still traveling.

Chaos at European airports strands travelers. Here’s why.

Kristy Osborn, who owns the Travel Leaders agency in Loveland, Colo., said pent-up demand has led to more clients traveling in four weeks this past month than in a typical five-month period. Greece and Italy have been especially popular, she said.

“The desire to travel to Europe this summer goes far beyond the inconveniences,” said Simone Amorico, chief executive of Access Italy, based in Holmes Beach, Fla.

Airports in London and Amsterdam are so overwhelmed that they capped the number of daily passengers, wiping out thousands of flights from summer schedules and probably leading to more cancellations.

Passengers trying to rebook may be met with extraordinarily long hold times and limited options, because the travel industry hasn’t made it back to pre-pandemic staffing levels. Even when a flight keeps its schedule, there is no guarantee that passengers’ luggage will go with it.

Welcome to summer travel. It’s hell.

Freda Moon, a travel editor with SFGATE, tweeted about her family’s luggage being lost for three weeks, resulting in them landing back in San Francisco with no child car seats to get the kids home from the airport.

Heather Ostberg Johnson of Fort Collins, Colo., leaves this week for a two-week working vacation in the London area. She planned the trip this spring after being accepted into a competitive theater intensive.

The timing felt right a few months ago, she said. The plane tickets were expensive, but her young son can still fly free. They had been vaccinated and boosted, and all had recently recovered from covid-19.

“I think we felt a little invincible,” Johnson said. “It kind of felt like it’s not going to get any better than this.”

Now, when she looks at travel problems in Europe, “it all feels like it’s imploding,” she said.

Because Johnson didn’t plan this vacation to see major tourist sites or museums, she said she won’t feel deprived skipping the crowded attractions. She plans to focus on her classes and take her son to playgrounds and gardens.

“I feel that we can pivot as we need to” around the weather and travel disruptions, she said.

“I think we’ll be okay,” she said. “We’ll just take a lot of cold showers, and sit in front of our friends’ swamp cooler and be with them.”

She’s not the only one with a general level of acceptance. Osborn said the only thing her travel agency’s clients have complained about is the heat, and they face that domestically.

Temperatures have climbed as high as 115 degrees in Texas and Oklahoma, and 28 states have issued heat advisories. Denver broke a 144-year record for warmest low temperature (72 degrees) on Monday.