Staff shortages are being felt across all industries, but in few is the impact as deeply and widely felt as the lack of staff available for airlines and airports, with flights grounded and hours-long queues continuing to pile misery on an industry that is coming out of the worst ever period in its existence.
Alan Arrigo, chairperson of The Malta Chamber’s tourism section, warns that every cancelled flight has a significant impact on Malta, which welcomes over 95 per cent of its tourist arrivals through the airport.
He also points out that travellers would do well to consider purchasing travel insurance at this delicate time.
With temperatures soaring all over Europe, the number of people looking for summer getaways has come close to pre-pandemic highs, but the air industry still seems to have been caught unawares at the pent-up demand.
Cancellations have proven to be common, while one airline took drastic action by ripping up some of its airplanes’ seats to reduce the minimum number of staff required to man them.
Mr Arrigo believes a lack of foresight had a big role to play: “The industry was surely expecting there to be significant pent-up demand, but I think the full extent of it was surprising to everyone.
He says that air links around the continent were broadly similar to those of 2019, with Malta’s 75 per cent of prior connections actually being an outlier.
“So the schedules are congested – airlines did plan for more capacity. You would think that, having planned for that, they would also have hired and trained enough staff to deal with the expected demand.”
Mr Arrigo explains that, now, it is not just a matter of ramping up hiring. “The air travel industry has a lot of security requirements. You cannot just hire someone and have them loading luggage the next day. Safety accreditation takes time.”
Unions across Europe have also reacted strongly to the issues facing the industry, with staff layoffs and salary cuts during the pandemic leaving little goodwill in place.
Strikes are being planned in airports and airlines across the continent.
Ryanair crew unhappy with working conditions and pay are planning a coordinated strike on 24th, 25th and 26th June in Spain, Portugal, and Belgium, with Italian workers joining on the 24th and French ones on the 25th and 26th.
Spanish easyJet workers are meanwhile striking on three alternate July weekends, starting from 1st July, and 97 per cent of British Airways’ (BA) unionised staff have backed industrial action, although no date has yet been set. Thousands of BA staff were dismissed during the pandemic.
Scandinavian Airlines pilots could also begin industrial action later in June, while ground crew at the Paris airports Charles de Gaulle and Orly are expected to walk out on 2nd July.
Travellers are encouraged to look at the situation wherever they plan to visit this summer, with no end seemingly in sight to the disruptions.
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