December 6, 2021

Recently, the busy travel period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day kicked off. But the airline industry is facing a big issue – labor problems.

We’ve all heard about American Airlines and Southwest Airlines cancelling thousands of flights. They’ve blamed it on weather and other issues. But the truth is these airlines offered retirement packages and extended leaves of absence for employees when the pandemic struck. Then when demand returned, they struggled to bring back enough employees.

So, now there’s a shortage of ground workers, mechanics, pilots, bag handlers, and crew. The companies can’t hire enough people to manage flights. Being short-staffed combined with bad weather makes it difficult for the planes to have a full crew to take off. Cancellations are the result.

While it’s impossible to predict the future, it’s clear the airlines were too aggressive in their respective approaches to labor and demand in the beginning of the pandemic. And now with wages increasing, it’s becoming more difficult to retain workers. All over the place, workers are moving for bigger paydays.

The exodus has even affected pilots. Thousands of pilots decided to retire or were laid off when COVID-19 struck, and now there’s a shortage. When trying to bring pilots back, many have stayed put. The fact that it takes up to two years for a company to train a pilot makes matters worse.

Concerns about the long-term stability of the industry, and thus their jobs, has many airline workers unsure. For instance, there’s not a lot of business travel because the pandemic proved the viability of video conferencing. There are also the issues of unruly passengers and safety fears.

What does it mean for travelers? Arrive early and have a backup plan.

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