Airlines were totally unprepared when travel came roaring back

Airline and airport executives spent the past two years trying to convince everyone it’s safe to fly during a pandemic, touting reduced touch points and hospital-grade filters. Little did they know how overwhelmed they’d be once travel came roaring back.

From Sydney, where passengers are waiting for hours to check in, to chaotic scenes in India and Europe, where Deutsche Lufthansa AG is canceling hundreds of flights, the aviation industry does not have nearly enough people to run operations smoothly, even as post- summer demand for travel is still unclear.

As countries reopen borders and COVID-19 curbs fall away, travel has sprung back with such voracity that it resulted in an unprecedented labor crunch, made worse by the pandemic-induced layoffs of hundreds of thousands of workers, from pilots to cabin crew and ground -action staff. Many are in no mood to come back but even if they were, scaling up at such a pace is a risk for airlines and airports, with spiraling inflation and economic pressures putting a question mark over how sustainable the current demand really is.

“All airports and airlines are short staffed at the moment,” said Geoff Culbert, chief executive officer of Sydney Airport, where almost half the 33,000-strong workforce lost their jobs during COVID-19. The aerodrome is furiously trying to rebuild, but “we’re not as attractive a place to work as before,” he said. “There’s still an element of concern around job security.”

Having lost their jobs because of the pandemic, many aviation-sector employees have moved on to other, less volatile careers and wooing them back is proving tough. Singapore’s Changi Airport is looking for 6,600 workers, from security to catering staff. One outfit, Certis Group, is offering a S $ 25,000 ($ 18,000) sign-on bonus, about 10 times the basic monthly salary, for an auxiliary police officer role that would help with traffic and crowd control.

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