A multitude of international and domestic airlines are struggling to keep up with recent travel demands as they cope with staff shortages, leading to thousands of delayed and canceled flights.
North America and Europe have been struggling to keep up with air travel demands. This week, German carrier Lufthansa canceled nearly all of their flights due to staff shortages and a one-day walkout performed by its ground staff, leaving nearly 130,000 travelers without a means of getting to their destination.
Two of the largest European travel hubs, London’s Heathrow Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, cut down their maximum passenger capacity and demanded that airlines cut flights, angering both travelers and airline managers. Carriers in the US have also canceled and delayed tens of thousands of flights this summer season due to staff shortages and weather issues.
Many pilots and staff for major airlines have complained about fatigue and working long hours to cope with the shortages. Many airline staff and pilots were recently interviewed anonymously for NBC to discuss the recent chaos of the industry. One pilot for easyJet, a European low-cost carrier, stated that “from a passenger point of view, it’s an absolute nightmare.”
“Leading into the summer, it was absolute carnage because airlines didn’t know what they were doing. All they wanted to do was try and fly as much as humanly possible, almost as if the pandemic never happened, but they forgot they’d cut all of their resources.”
“The ensuing imbalance has made our life an absolute mess, both cabin crew and pilots. A shortage of ground staff since the Covid pandemic layoffs — those who handle baggage, check-in, security and more — has created a domino effect that’s throwing a wrench into flying schedules,” the pilot stated.
In a statement, easyJet said that the “health and well-being of employees is our highest priority, we take our responsibilities as an employer very seriously and employ our people on local contracts on competitive terms and in line with local legislation.”
The industry overall is dealing with a lack of resources for retraining and training new staff. That combined with the fact that former staff members are not wanting to return due to poor pay and long hours, is causing airlines to struggle immensely.
“They’ve told us pilots we are on pay cuts until at least 2030 — except all the managers are back on full pay plus pay rises for inflation,” a pilot for British Airways said.
“Various governments with their restrictions and no support for the aviation sector as well as airport companies are in large part to blame for the current chaos. Some airlines took advantage of the situation to cut salaries, make new contracts and lay people off, and now that things are back to normal they can’t cope,” the pilot added. One pilot for Emirates Airlines stated that the airline companies tried to implement too many short-term solutions during the pandemic, which travelers and staff are now feeling the impact of.
“The airlines were happy to try and depress wages for lots of people in the industry for years, on the assumption that nobody had anywhere else to go. And now that people are exercising their right to go somewhere else, they are shocked, which is incredible. I’m shocked that they’re shocked.”
Most importantly, the overworking of pilots and airline managers are creating safety issues. “The legal maximum limit for a pilot’s flying time is 900 hours per year. But for many airlines, that wasn’t seen as the absolute maximum, it was seen as the target to try and make everybody’s workload as efficient as possible,” the easyJet pilot said.
“The big worry with us is that we’ve got a fairly toxic culture, an inordinate amount of work. That all adds up to potentially reducing the safety margin. And that’s a big concern,” the Emirates pilot stated.
A spokesperson for Emirates Airline spoke to the media as well about the safety concerns rising around the world when it comes to air travel: “We’d never compromise on safety at Emirates, and there are strict regulatory requirements for rest and flying hours which we adhere to for our operating crew. Our safety record, in the air and on ground, is one of the best in the industry. We continue to recruit and retain our flying crew with competitive packages, career progression, and other generous benefits.”
In response to many airline spokesperson statements, one BA pilot said the industry’s corporate leadership is full of “crony capitalists. It’s become a rat race to the bottom. No respect for the skilled workforce now. They just want the cheapest labor to produce their own big bonuses and keep shareholders happy.”
The International Air Transport Association responded to multiple complaints and criticisms: “The airline industry is ramping up resources as quickly as possible to safely and efficiently meet the needs of travelers.” It acknowledged that “there is no doubt that these are tough times for the industry’s workers, particularly where they are in short supply.”
“Securing additional resources where deficiencies exist is among the top priorities of industry management teams around the world. And in the meantime, we ask for the patience of travelers,” the association concluded.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.