Airlines, airports face staff shortage, struggles to recovery

Thousands of vacationers have had their Easter holidays disrupted or cancelled as pandemic restrictions in Europe are loosened. Airlines and airports do not have the employees to fulfil the increased demand.

High COVID-19 rates in the United Kingdom have resulted in personnel absenteeism for airlines and airports that were already struggling to find workers after the pandemic.

EasyJet (EZJ.L), a low-cost carrier, said it had to cancel roughly 60 UK flights on Tuesday and planned to cancel a similar number in the coming days. Over 200 flights were cancelled over the weekend, with another 62 on Monday.

According to Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, getting through a bad mix of labour shortages, COVID illness, and a backlog in granting security passes for airport and airline workers may take at least two or three months.

“It’s strange that, post-pandemic, the urge to get people booking again is producing more onerous transportation challenges than COVID itself,” he added.

EasyJet said it was bringing on more standby personnel, but it had to cancel certain flights on routes where it flies often so passengers could rebook.

British Airways refused to give a number for cancellations.

On Wednesday, the carrier had yet another IT outage. A representative stated on Tuesday that the number of flights cancelled due to employee sickness in recent days was in the single digits.

However, he said, delays in government-mandated background checks for new employees were slowing the ramp-up of flights into the summer, and the company had already cut its projected increase in services by around 20 flights per day until the end of May.

Both on the ground and in the air, staffing shortages are a problem.

On Tuesday, queues snaked out of one terminal at Manchester Airport, Britain’s third busiest after London’s Heathrow and Gatwick, as travellers complained of hours spent waiting at the baggage carousel.

The airport has expressed regret for the inconvenience.

“Security lines may be longer than usual at times as we continue to recover from the pandemic and passenger numbers climb,” it stated on Twitter.

The Airport Operators Association in the United Kingdom stated that its members were boosting employees as rapidly as feasible.

However, a tight labour market, delays in security checks for new and returning employees, and Covid-related absenteeism may put some airports under stress.

“This could result in lengthier lines during peak travel hours,” it warned.

As it rebuilds its system and recruits and trains new security officers, Dublin Airport cautioned customers that long lines were expected to persist for weeks.

Ryanair (RYA.I), Europe’s largest low-cost carrier, which said last month that passenger numbers had surpassed pre-pandemic levels, has asked the Irish government to use the army to deal with the delays, fearing the impact on the crucial Easter holiday period.

Passengers have also been warned of Easter delays by Fraport, Germany’s largest airport operator.

According to a representative for the company, which has facilities in nine countries and the main airport in Frankfurt, it plans to hire 1,000 people this year. It hired roughly 300 people in January and March.

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