This would not be enforceable and why should a particular segment of the population (air travelers) need to be more molly-coddled than others?
First, let's start out with the legal concept of Act of God. Or force majeure
common clause in contracts which essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot, crime, epidemic or sudden legal changes prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.
I'll return to it later. But first, let's quote the question:
After all, the (maximum) number of passengers travelling should be a known quantity to airports.
During 2020/2021, that known quantity crashed, due to covid. Airports were, literally, empty. Airports, and airlines, laid off a lot of staff.
Aviation lost 2.3 million jobs globally during the pandemic, with ground-handling and security hardest hit, according to industry lobby group the Air Transport Action Group. Many workers are slow to return, lured by the 'gig' economy or opting to retire early.
Now, of course, this could have been avoided, had governments put these workers on payroll. But as this wasn't the case, the industry, like other industries, laid off people.
Going into 2022 we started getting vaccines. But if you remember, the end of 2021, early 2022 saw the rise of the omicron variants, with numbers spiking through the roof. Which industry could predict exactly what governments were likely to do, and which industry is more uniquely exposed to covid restrictions than air transport?
Again, this could have been mitigated by governments bankrolling the payroll of airport staff. But, as a taxpayer who doesn't fly all that much, that already seems like a bad idea - user pays, at least on elective services, as far as I am concerned. More, as a person deeply concerned about climate and CO2 emissions, where aviation use is a non-negligible driver, despite the numbers being mostly due to minority of, well-off, people, that is a spectacularly bad idea.
In the US, 12% of people took 66% of all flights, while in France 2% of people took half of the flights, the report says. In China 5% of households took 40% of flights and in India just 1% of households took 45% of all the flights.
It was already known that 10% of people in England took more than half of all international flights in 2018. A global study reported by the Guardian in November found that frequent-flying “super emitters” who represent just 1% of the world’s population caused half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018. Almost 90% of the world’s population did not fly at all that year.
The coronavirus pandemic has slashed the number of flights taken but campaigners fear government bailouts of airlines will cause aviation to return to its pre-pandemic growth trend.
News to you, perhaps, but plenty of businesses are struggling with post-pandemic problems. There is nothing inherently special about airline passenger issues and, if you want better service, perhaps accept that you may need to pay more.
Again, very free-market: user pays.
Trying to enforce regular SLA contract compliance on a business that has been whacked with something as existential to the airline industry as covid is a fool's errand.
That is not to say everything airport authorities do is above scrutiny, only that expecting an immediate bounceback in service is unrealistic.
A major factor slowing hiring is the time it takes new workers to get security clearance - in France, up to five months for the most sensitive jobs, according to the CFDT union.
If this situation was happening within more usual circumstances, such as seasonal variations without exceptional circumstances, then you'd have a point. But this was unprecedented.
Last, it doesn't help that many travelers revel in vilifying airport security staff like TSA at the first opportunity, and that was before the pandemic. In many cases, this is neither a highly paid, nor a particularly attractive gig.
Marie Marivel, 56, works as a security operator screening luggage at CDG for around 1,800 euros a month post-tax.
She says shortages have led to staff being overworked. Stranded passengers have been turning aggressive. Morale is low.
"We have young people who come and leave again after a day," she says. "They tell us we're earning cashiers' wages for a job with so much responsibility."
When I do travel, which is a privilege, not a right, I have rarely had that much to complain about. Yes, airport security is annoying. Would you rather they not check anything before boarding?
On a longer-term, non-Covid, basis, the problem is that airports are most often operated either based on long-term concessions to commercial operators or by quasi-governmental NGOs.
Theoretically, the first type could lose their operating license, but in practice many private companies operating government-granted monopolies are rarely held accountable and rarely lose their concession.
The second type is even less likely to be sanctioned as it is essentially an extension of the local government. Firing the CEO or the like is doable, but whether it fixes structural problems is another.
YVR, for Vancouver says:
As a not-for-profit, community-based organization, we are not government-run or beholden to shareholders. Rather, we are committed to our communities, constantly improving the airport for everyone while supporting our region.
Once operating cirucumstances are back to pre-covid normal, putting in place compensation schemes for proven, avoidable, inconveniences: why not?
Last, but not least, capacity issues at airports are often due to physical constraints, where the surrounding community does not want to extend the airport, while the passenger load grows ever greater. Again, with the growing concern about climate change, expansion is unlikely to get easier.
Whole books could be written about the drama to expand Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle.
(BBC) Heathrow wins court battle to build third runway
(BBC) Climate campaigners win Heathrow expansion case - BBC News
The airport operator is hardly at fault in those cases, is it?