Airlines are scrambling to hire enough staff to meet a surge in travel demand, but continued cancellations and stories of travel misery show that many carriers are grappling with staff sickness, absenteeism, and higher-than-expected levels of employee turnover, which are upsetting schedules and forcing airlines to rethink their ambitious plans for what they hope will be a summer of recovery.
On the surface, the present worker shortages appear to be very simple to explain: Increasing COVID-19 infection rates have wreaked havoc on several sectors, forcing swaths of workers into isolation for weeks or months at a time.
Because planes can’t fly without pilots and a certain number of cabin personnel, staff sickness is especially serious in the airline business.
At the same time, the industry has failed to rehire personnel quickly enough due to security verification requirements, which take time.
Because of the travel limitations, airlines and other enterprises in the aviation industry had little choice but to reduce worker numbers in order to conserve money in the face of the pandemic. It will take some time to replenish those workforces with new hires.
However, who wants to work in the aviation sector right now? It’s not simply the industry’s inability to hire enough people quickly because of sluggish security checks.
Prospective employees may ask why they would want to work in an industry that is so badly hit by the epidemic that it is willing to lay off personnel.
As we are constantly reminded, the epidemic is far from ended, and a new variation could impose additional restrictions at any time.
Displaced workers have found new employment in the last two years, frequently ones that pay higher and allow them to have a better work-life balance.
Why would these people want to return to an insecure job with low pay that requires them to work weekends, holidays, special events, and at all hours of the day and night?
The ‘allure’ of flying may tempt some to return, but anyone considering joining or returning an airline is likely to seek the advice of current employees who have worked during the pandemic. If they do, don’t expect a five-star review. Flying isn’t exactly glamorous right now.
Many in the aviation business are currently dealing with disruptive passengers, overbooked schedules, frequent delays, and pay that is rapidly slipping behind the cost of living.
Stress and weariness stories are already widespread. As travel demand recovers, the existing situation will only worsen.
Several major airlines in Europe and the United States have private internet message boards that convey the same story.
Workers on both sides of the Atlantic are fatigued and worried, and they frequently have no choice but to call in sick to recover physically and emotionally. Some people never fully heal. Instead, they simply walked away.
Airlines are only now recognizing that the current atmosphere is having a negative impact on current employees. Following employee complaints, JetBlue stated last week that their timetable was “wrapped too tight.”
Following weeks of disruption, the airline is now reducing its schedule and offering employees a $500 bonus if they call in ill through the end of May.
The incentive is a subtle admission that not all flight attendants are calling in sick because they have COVID or another contagious disease that should keep them away from their coworkers and passengers. Some people are simply exhausted or fed up with their jobs and want to take an extra day or week off.
Other airlines are likewise admitting that their own employees are “tired.” That was British Airways boss Sean Doyle’s precise comments in an internal message to colleagues a few weeks ago, after a series of disruptions wreaked havoc on front-line employees who are bearing the brunt of customer dissatisfaction.
British Airways, like many other airlines, is rapidly expanding its workforce. Although BA is paying a £1,000 sign-on bonus for certain in-demand professions, carriers are having difficulty retaining current employees.
A rotating door is forming, which could cause problems throughout the summer.