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Bag-less in Europe: Indian athletes stress over misplaced baggage in airports before CWG

With paddlers G. Sathiyan and Harmeet Desai's luggage being misplaced in Portugal by the airlines, does it point to the harsh reality of European summer travel and how it might snowball during the CWG 2022?

Harmeet Desai and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran

Harmeet Desai and Sathiyan Gnanasekaran (Source: WTT)


Sohinee Basu

Published: 6 July 2022 3:51 PM GMT

It's been a perplexing few days in Portugal for paddlers Sathiyan Gnanasekaran and Harmeet Desai who haven't been at ease ever since their Air France flight touched down in Lisbon and their check-in baggage went missing, thanks to Air France.

While Sathiyan and Harmeet didn't need to hover around like Tom Hank's Viktor Navorski from The Terminal, they are having to repeatedly rush to the airport to enquire about their lost bags containing all-important playing equipment.

"It's quite a fix! I'm going to the airport now to check on the bags and follow up with the airlines," Sathiyan Gnanasekaran tells The Bridge while commuting, having already issued a tweet expressing his frustration with Air France who wasn't responding to their repeated calls.

Currently, Sathiyan and Harmeet are in Portugal where the Indian table tennis team bound for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games are training hard with the Portuguese team ahead of a jam-packed month ahead, filled with tournaments in Budapest before the big one at Birmingham.

While as exciting as the number of tournaments is, it also means a lot of air travel across Europe will be required and in light of the recent events, this is quite the concern.

"This is the first time something like this is happening to me in Europe. The situation in the airports is terrible right now, we have long queues and a lot of chaos."

READ | Armed with 'deadly combination', G. Sathiyan is hungry for medals at CWG 2022

"Many people have not received their baggage from our flight, in fact," Sathiyan informs. Thankfully, Butterfly which sponsors Sathiyan's table tennis kit and paddle has sent over equipment but this is just a temporary save for now.

In fact, Tokyo Olympian golfer Aditi Ashok also had a similar issue in May when Air France did not carry her golf kit which she required for a tournament too, showcasing how this isn't a standalone issue but has been seeing a rise in the recent past.

Therefore, what Sathiyan and Harmeet and other Indian athletes are currently facing might be pointing to a different scenario that has come up as a result of the post-pandemic world.

Brace for Airmageddon

Travelling to Europe looks like a nightmare currently with airports across the continent having a difficult time handling the chaotic reality of summer travel. Airlines and airports are bracing for potential meltdowns and passengers might have to undergo such stressful conditions, given the situation, with people terming this as an Airmageddon.

Luggage pile up at Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 (Source: Reuters)

In June, several pictures surfaced from London's Heathrow Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, where piles of luggage were simply lying around owing to baggage handling issues.

Around 15,000 passengers on 90 flights were estimated to be affected by this and it forced Heathrow to ask for 10 per cent of flights to be cancelled from Terminals 2 and 3.

There are several reasons behind this taking place with people being advised to steer clear of travelling to Europe as well.

In the post-pandemic world, Europe has become the "Epicenter For This Summer's Travel Chaos," according to Bloomberg, which added that "recent weeks have been dominated by images of lines of people snaking outside terminal buildings in Amsterdam, groups camped out in departure halls in Frankfurt and piles of misplaced luggage in London."

The other harsh reality of the sudden boom in travel is that airports are grossly understaffed and recruiting skilled labour for jobs like this is not easy. According to reports, the industry is facing a lack of 7200 skilled workers and the toll can be seen obviously.

The pandemic which had brought travel to a standstill had made airports and airlines issue pink slips to workers to reduce costs as flights remained grounded for a long time. But once travel kicked off once again, they did not re-hire timely and several workers have also gone on strike, asking for better pay, all of which is contributing to this mess, making European travel quite the mess this summer.

However, this is a big concern given the sporting calendar.

With a little over twenty days left for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games to begin, this is quite the point of worry for not just the Indian athletes bound for the grand event but even others headed to Birmingham, as cases of lost baggage are on the rise.

India is expected to send a 150-plus-members-strong contingent ultimately to the Games and the footfall will be massive for the athletes bound for the UK city of Birmingham - and the thought of baggage getting misplaced of even 1/10th of this squad is quite anxiety-inducing and stressful for Indian athletes who need to travel with a lot of sporting equipment in any case.

With European travel being such a point of distress at this juncture and airports finding it difficult to operate with fewer hands available on deck - all of these can potentially snowball into bigger issues if airports and airlines do not reach a solution at the earliest and ensure that all baggage, if lost, is found, on time, without any hassle.

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