Travel

Delta among 5 airlines suing Dutch government over Amsterdam Airport Schiphol flight caps

Editor’s note: This post has been corrected to correctly identify KLM’s CEO.


Delta Air Lines and four other airlines are taking the Dutch government to court over its decision to cap flights at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS).

Last month, lawmakers in the Netherlands told AMS to limit its number of annual flight movements to 460,000 until September 2024, down from the previous cap of 500,000.

The cap was initially sold as a temporary measure introduced to ease pressure on Schiphol’s creaking operations during a surge in travel demand as the industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, authorities folded it into a drive to reduce noise pollution surrounding the airport and make a wider dent in its carbon footprint.

Branding the decision “incomprehensible,” Delta, EasyJet, TUI, KLM and Turkey’s Corendon Airlines have vowed to fight the decision in court, arguing it will hurt their business, the wider economy and travelers.

Noise pollution is a concern for the built-up area surrounding the airport. VLIET/GETTY IMAGES

“The airlines have already made multi-billion euros investments to meet near- and long-term goals in line with their own decarbonization trajectories as well as government policies, while the government’s justification hinges on operational restrictions with no consideration of alternative workable solutions to effect noise reduction,” the airlines said in a joint statement.

They said the decision violates national, European and international legislation and is “unnecessary, damaging and lacks proper substantiation.”

Related: How I avoided 6-hour lines at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol – and you can too

The challenge, led by KLM Group, which accounts for 60% of the airport’s traffic, is supported by industry bodies Airlines for Europe and the European Regions Airline Association.

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The International Air Transport Association has also joined the argument. It says the decision is incompatible with international aviation rules set out by the Chicago Convention, which established rules of airspace, aircraft registration and safety, security and sustainability in 1944.

“The dangerous precedent that this illegal approach creates left no choice but to challenge [the government] in court,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said in a statement.

“By choosing to pursue an arbitrary flight cap, the Dutch government totally disregards both the efforts made by the industry to decarbonise as well as the socio-economic benefits of aviation, significantly reducing connectivity,” William Vet, who manages EasyJet’s Dutch operations, said.

KLM CEO Marjan Rintel added her own take. “We are embracing the targets set for reducing noise levels and CO2 emissions, investing billions in fleet renewal and SAF procurement that will ultimately supersede these targets while maintaining our network that serves 170 destinations worldwide,” she said.

Related: London City Airport to scrap 100ml liquid rule by Easter

“This is good news for the millions of people who fly from the Netherlands with KLM every year, whether for business or leisure and for the cargo industry,” he continued. “As the government appears not to hear our call, unfortunately we find ourselves compelled to take legal action.”

Schiphol said it “regretted” the suit but defended the cap as “a necessary intermediate step.”

“We are aware that, among others, KLM has started summary proceedings against the Dutch government,” the Ministry of Infrastructure told Reuters.

Elsewhere, JetBlue is embroiled in its own battle with the Netherlands government after campaigning hard for its slots at Schiphol. The New York-based carrier had previously asked the airport authority to give it the slots that once belonged to Aeroflot and Flybe as they are currently going unused. That request was declined, so JetBlue has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to get involved.

JetBlue wants the DOT to require KLM to give up two slots for its use. It claimed in a filing last month that the Netherlands government is violating the U.S.-European Union open skies air transport agreement by not ensuring JetBlue “is provided all operating authorizations, including slots, required to conduct international air transportation at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.”

What impact could this have on passengers?

Schiphol suffered one of the worst summers of any airport in Europe in 2022 as it attempted to bounce back from the pandemic. RAMON VAN FLYMEN/ANP/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

If the airlines’ challenge fails to overturn the decision, time will tell what effect it will have on passengers. At the very least, resident airlines claim the capacity reduction would significantly reduce travel options and connectivity for consumers hoping to fly into or out of Amsterdam.

On top of that, the last thing anyone wants is a repeat of last summer, when Schiphol suffered one of the worst meltdowns of any airport in Europe as travel resumed after pandemic-related restrictions were lifted.

A stampede of holiday-hungry travelers hobbled the hub’s operations as it struggled to handle the surge in demand. Concerns are now growing for this coming summer. The season is expected to be even busier than last year as airlines close in on a return to pre-2019 levels of traffic for the first time since the pandemic began.

Due to still-unresolved labor shortages, the airport has already said it will impose a 66,000-passenger-per-day cap for the 2023 European holiday season in May.

Staff shortages have left airport bosses no choice but to continue the passenger limits. EVERT ELZINGA/ANP/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Issues have continued to mount inside the airport. De Telegraaf reported last month that a shortage of baggage handlers and ground staff has meant that airport bosses had no choice but to continue the passenger limits.

“Sticking to a maximum number of departing passengers also helps cope with operational changes, such as a delayed flight arrival or departure,” one airport insider told De Telegraaf. “Virtually all parties at the airport are understaffed, and any unexpected changes can result in delays to the entire airport process at Schiphol.”

KLM, whose passengers faced mass cancellations and lost luggage problems last year, has also warned of more issues for passengers this summer. “The staff shortage at some handlers may result in a delayed aircraft, that might also delay one of our aircraft and thus affect our operations,” KLM told the newspaper.

It is worth noting that this latest cap has been sold mainly as a response to environmental concerns rather than staff shortages.

For its part, KLM is doing its best to encourage travelers to arrive by surface transport rather than one of its short feeder flights. The has partnered with NS (Dutch Rail) and French operator Thalys to work on viable rail alternatives for travelers making short journeys to the airport.

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