The airlines were totally unprepared when travel quickly returned | Business

Airlines and airport executives have spent the past two years trying to convince everyone it’s safe to fly during a pandemic, promoting discounted hotspots and hospital filters. They didn’t know how confused they would be once the travel came back again.

From Sydney, where passengers wait for hours to check-in, to the chaotic scenes of India and Europe, where Deutsche Lufthansa AG has canceled hundreds of flights, the airline industry has almost not enough people to run operations smoothly, even after summer travel demand remains. not clear.

As countries reopen borders and COVID-19 restrictions ease, travel is once again booming with a force that has led to an unprecedented labor crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic laying off hundreds of thousands of workers, from pilots to cabin crew and ground personnel. – Dealing with employees. Many aren’t in the mood for a comeback, but even if they are, expanding at this pace is a risk for airlines and airports, with spiraling inflation and economic pressures putting into question how sustainable current demand really is.

“All airports and airlines have very few employees at the moment,” said Jeff Colbert, chief executive of Sydney Airport, with nearly half of the 33,000-strong workforce losing their jobs during COVID-19. The airport is trying very hard to rebuild, but “we are not as attractive a place to operate as before,” he said. “There is still an element of concern about job security.”

Having lost their jobs due to the pandemic, many aviation sector employees have moved on to other, less volatile jobs, and winning over them has become difficult. Singapore’s Changi Airport is looking for 6,600 workers, from security to catering staff. One group, Certis Group, is offering a S$25,000 ($18,000) login bonus, about 10 times the base monthly salary, for the role of an assistant police officer that will help with traffic and crowd control.

The severe staff shortage, which is sure to be a topic of discussion at the 78th annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association, which kicks off in Doha on Sunday, has led to delays, cancellations and severe frustration for both airlines and travelers across geographies. The situation has turned so bad that Ryanair Holdings Plc CEO Michael O’Leary has called for help from members of the British military, and Australian Qantas Airways Ltd has taken on calling head office staff to work as volunteers at the airport during the height of the July holiday period.

“The staff shortage means we are struggling to run our planned schedule with the quality and punctuality we promise,” Lufthansa CEO Jens Ritter said in a LinkedIn post last week, apologizing for canceled flights in Munich and Frankfurt. “Many people have left the aviation sector during the pandemic and found work elsewhere. Now, our partners in our system, such as airports and caterers, are severely understaffed and struggling to recruit new staff.”

Security clearances required for airport business also cause hiring delays. British Airways has around 3,000 potential recruits stuck in background checks while at EasyJet Plc, 140 crew trained and ready but do not yet have the necessary air clearances.

All this means it could take up to 12 months to alleviate the shortage, according to Izham Ismail, Malaysia Airlines CEO. “We see this mostly, very clearly in Europe. We see this in North America. I think stakeholders and policy makers need to work together to solve all the problems,” Isam said at a forum in Singapore earlier this week.

How airlines and airports are run varies from region to region. Airports in Asia have usually been more proactive when it comes to avoiding meltdowns, and at times airlines have refused permission to add new flights or ask them to reschedule, said Brendan Sobe, founder of Singapore-based Sobe Consulting. Other parts of the world are hoping for a breather as demand continues, or even begins to wane.

“No market is immune to workforce issues, so any window to address these problems can be seen as beneficial,” Sobe said.

The need for play emerged while visiting Sydney airport last Friday, at the start of a long weekend. Queues to clear the security route for Virgin Australia and Jetstar flights have disappeared. Besides security checks at the Toby’s Estate Café, one barista said he had made at least 300 cups of coffee by midday, 50% more than usual. 20 people waited deep in McDonald’s.

However, the drive to hire more employees is a lingering concern that may not last. Then, airlines could face the problem of overcapacity – in terms of fleet and workforce – if they bring back all of their idle planes and rent aggressively. Air fares are already well above the comfort levels of most travelers, inflation everywhere is raising the cost of living and there is a certain possibility that people may prefer to stay home or vacation locally once the initial euphoria is over.

“Following the peak of the northern hemisphere travel months from June to August, the combination of an accelerated return to school and work and a normal seasonal decline in demand will force air carriers to reduce leisure and work wages, or risk further destroying demand,” said Robert Mann. , president of aviation consulting firm RW Mann & Co. Based in New York.

“Airline margins will deteriorate,” he said, meaning that difficult decisions will have to be made about “how much capacity can realistically be carried, especially in the middle of the week when business travel historically predominates.”

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