Travel chaos: what makes Spain better?


At Spanish airports, the staff of the low-cost airlines Ryanair and Easyjet are on strike. But our correspondent reports that Spain does a lot better than Germany when it comes to transport and infrastructure.

Up until now, my brother Wolfgang had a rather negative image of the Spaniards: They like to party, they come too late and are poorly organised. But since his last stay in Madrid, he has had to reconsider his stereotypes, including those about Germany.

On the last Saturday in June, he had arrived at Düsseldorf Airport three hours before departure so as not to miss his flight to Madrid because of the waiting times at the beginning of the vacation. He had booked the Spanish Iberia, part of the International Airlines Group (IAG). Unlike with Lufthansa and Eurowings on that day, his flight was not canceled due to a lack of staff, but he had to sit on the plane for an hour before it took off because of the chaos on the runway.

When he was delayed in the arrived in Madrid's modern Terminal 4, which glows yellow, it only took him 20 minutes to sit on the airport bus, which took him to the center of Madrid for 5 euros. “I could even pay with my cell phone,” he said.

Quick return to normal

In some places, Spain's infrastructure is more modern than in Germany, mainly thanks to EU aid. Spain also has the advantage that it returned to normal rail and tarmac traffic early after the pandemic and thus quickly left the short-time working mode, explains a manager of a German company that specializes in baggage processing for airports and airlines.< /p>

Because Spain lives from tourism, everything has been gradually reopened since summer 2020. People were vaccinated at record speed to prevent a new lockdown.

Towards the crowd of passengers Many airports in Germany (here Düsseldorf) were poorly prepared for the start of the holidays

Because the Spaniards were almost back to 50 percent of the passenger volume of 2019 in 2021, the airports there have fewer financial problems today. In addition, they are all managed under the umbrella of the partially state-owned airport operator Aena, according to the same technical standards, which simplifies coordination.

In addition, the Spanish infrastructure – unlike in Germany – is not usually overloaded. Since Spain joined the EU in 1986, a lot of money has flowed from Brussels into roads, railways and airports. According to an analysis by economists Santiago Álvarez García and Juan José Rubio Guerrero from the University of Oviedo and the autonomous region of Castilla-La Mancha, the EU's structural aid for Spain during this period totaled 160 billion euros.

The money was also used to modernize airports and the rail network. The country's high-speed trains are considered comfortable and punctual.

Staff and police

All of this is now paying off in the summer of 2022. When it comes to security at airports, train stations and motorways, the Spaniards in Europe can hardly be fooled.

The bloody terror of the Basque separatist organization ETA ended in Spain only around ten years ago. The country still has more than 250,000 police forces. There are more per 100,000 inhabitants than the EU average and also significantly more than in Germany.

In an emergency, police officers and soldiers can be deployed flexibly in Spain. That's how it was during the corona pandemic, during the snow chaos in 2021 and also during the volcanic eruption on La Palma.

“Whether it's the organization of the NATO summit in Madrid, the COP25 climate conference, which was moved from Chile to Madrid two months before the start in 2019, or the current rush of tourists – the decisive success factor is our enormous ability to coordinate security companies, police, armed forces and the technical surveillance systems,” says Emilio Sánchez de Rojas, a former NATO colonel and lecturer at the EAE Business School in Madrid.

In June, after initial difficulties with passport controls at Madrid airport, additional police forces were assigned to the twelve largest Sent to airports.

Digitization helps

Of course, there have been and are still delays and queues at Spanish airports. But this is mainly due to strikes by ground staff at Ryanair and Easyjet and the chaos at the feeder airports.

Of course, the country also has more experience with crowds of tourists. In the record year 2019, 275 million passengers passed through. The airline Iberia – once chaotic – is now efficient and heavily digitized, as are the airports. In Palma de Mallorca, for example, the passengers are already counted when they drive up into the departure hall. Accordingly, staff will be added or removed at the security checkpoint.

It also helps that Iberia and the airport operator Aena cut fewer employees during the pandemic than, for example, Lufthansa and many German airports. “Despite unbelievably high government aid, the Lufthansa Group has cut far too many jobs,” says Swiss industry expert and management consultant André Dosé.

Pragmatism is an advantage

The Spaniards are also characterized by pragmatism in everyday life. “Not everything is discussed here as it is in Germany. That was already evident during vaccination,” says German lawyer Tim Wirth, who lives in Mallorca. “In Palma, the airport has set itself the goal that nobody has to wait longer than ten minutes for the security check. With a few exceptions, this will also be observed this summer.”

Wirth says what the handling of Corona is concerned, his clients are often amazed when they come to the island. Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez had already declared in spring 2021 that Covid19 would be treated like flu in the future. Since the beginning of the year there has not even been a quarantine regulation for sick people. In Germany, on the other hand, people are already thinking about the winter and possible restrictions.

When my brother arrives back in Düsseldorf on Tuesday, there are problems immediately. Again he has to wait 20 minutes in the plane on the tarmac. Added to this is the chaos in local transport late at night. A platform change is announced at the last moment, after delays had already occurred.

He had already sent me a text message after the check-in in Madrid: “The Spaniards are now simply better organized than the Germans. ” He wants to come back in October.