With airline staff at a breaking point, passengers can expect more headaches to come

Although this weekend’s issues had been primarily restricted to Southwest, it’s certainly not the one airline struggling to revive workers and flights that had been trimmed in the course of the pandemic. Fixing these issues will likely be costly and time-consuming — and are prone to trigger additional ache for passengers returning to the skies.

Southwest mentioned various points prompted the weekend cancellations, together with unhealthy climate and a short drawback on the Air Traffic Control middle in Jacksonville, Florida. But these hiccups prompted solely minimal disruptions at different airways, and Southwest admitted to its staff Monday that issues cascaded uncontrolled over the weekend as a result of the airline does not have enough staffing.

“We are still not where we want to be with staffing, and in particular with our flight crews,” Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven mentioned in a recorded video to staff. A transcript of the recording was shared with CNN.

“We simply need more staffing cushion for the unexpected in this environment and we are bringing new people onboard every day,” he mentioned.

The airline has roughly 7,000 fewer staff as we speak than it did pre-pandemic. Its most up-to-date headcount, reported to the Transportation Department in August, was 54,500, down from the practically 61,300 staff in August 2019.

When air journey plunged in early 2020, all of the airways provided buyouts and early retirement packages to trim workers. All at the moment are trying to hire new workers, nevertheless it has been a gradual course of. That signifies that these sorts of service disruptions are prone to happen once more.
“Southwest’s problems this weekend are not unique to Southwest. They’ve had them across the industry,” mentioned Capt. Dennis Tajer, an American Airlines pilot and spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association. “American had its share of problems this summer time. They weren’t capable of join the pilots with the airplanes.”

Worries about vacation journey

Tajer mentioned the union is especially involved with how the airways will deal with the surge in passengers in the course of the Thanksgiving and December vacation intervals.

“We want that flying to get done, but we don’t want tickets sold that can’t be fulfilled,” he mentioned. “Are they biting off more they can they chew?”

And it isn’t simply the pilots unions complaining that members are at a breaking level resulting from brief staffs and unsure schedules. Unions for flight attendants, mechanics and different staff are additionally upset about working situations. Flight attendants joined pilots in complaining concerning the lack of resort rooms. And their unions say they’re stretched skinny and in some circumstances quitting their jobs as a result of alarming number of incidents involving unruly passengers.

Those issues will not be fastened any time quickly, predicted Philip Baggaley, chief credit score analyst for airways at Standard & Poor’s

“The airlines are trying to navigate a difficult period. They reduced staffing quite a bit during the pandemic. Now they’re ramping back up while the demand situation is somewhat uncertain,” Baggaley mentioned. “It’s certainly not a problem unique to Southwest. It’s a little bit like the supply chain problems that have been publicized elsewhere.”

Pilots at each American Airlines and Southwest had been already planning informational picket traces at main airports later this yr to focus on their grievances about how their airways are working. The picket traces, which don’t signify a strike or different job motion, are scheduled for every of the following three weeks at American.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association filed a suit against the airline in August, arguing that it’s violating phrases of its labor contract. The union issued a press release Monday blaming this weekend’s issues on administration.

“What was a minor temporary event for other carriers devastated Southwest Airlines because our operation has become brittle and subject to massive failures under the slightest pressure,” mentioned Casey Murray, president of SAPA. “Our pilots are tired and frustrated because our operation is running on empty due to a lack of support from the company.”

Southwest insists it’s doing what it could possibly to help its staff and to accommodate tens of hundreds of passengers who had been affected by the meltdown. That contains slicing again on its schedule of flights to make sure it has the workers it wants.

The airline has “already made significant reductions from our previously published November and December schedules,” Van de Ven mentioned, “and if we think we need to do more, we will.”

But Murray advised CNN that extra hiring and extra canceled flights should not the reply.

Southwest Airlines cancellations: What are airline passengers entitled to?

“We don’t want the company canceling flights. We don’t want the company hiring more people to fill in an inefficient scheduling process,” he mentioned. “Until the company corrects some of these issues with how they schedule and reroute pilots and flight attendants, we’re going to continue to see these issues next week and over the holidays. That’s what we want to see avoided.”

Murray denied rumors from over the weekend that the workers scarcity was attributable to some type of “sick-out” by Southwest pilots sad with operations or the airline’s just lately introduced mandate that each one staff should be vaccinated in opposition to Covid.

“Our sick rates are right in line to where they were this summer,” Murray mentioned, and the variety of pilots signing up for flights is as excessive because it has ever been, he added.

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