I’ve always thought it odd when advertising portrays potential customers as ignorant, or at least oblivious to the obvious. Similarly, businesses which blame their patrons for their problems.
An executive of an unnamed airline in an unnamed Southern Hemisphere country recently attributed exceedingly slow airport security lines on passengers who “forget they need to take out their laptops (and) take out their aerosols.” An airport manager piled on: “Travellers are inexperienced after two years of not travelling.”
Really? It’s the passengers’ fault? Perhaps the airline industry should initiate ‘Be a Pax, Not a Pox’ training before you’re allowed to buy a ticket.
This same airline also blamed school holidays, as if they weren’t aware of this annual event. As well as an influx of new screening personnel.
Might that also explain the exceedingly slow customer service phone queues at their outsourced call centres? Perhaps people are rusty at using the telephone to resolve complaints?
Airline management, and governments worldwide, handled the pandemic abysmally. In a crisis which called for calm and consistency, the rules for border crossings were chaotic and confusing.
It seems they’re not handling the path to recovery much better. Thousands of flights have been cancelled in recent months, some for weather, of course, but also for IT issues and often because of shortage of trained, healthy crews.
An unnamed pilot for an unnamed Middle East airline claimed he and his colleagues were overworked to the point of exhaustion. “I fell asleep during the descent with 400 passengers on board,” he said, but did not report the incident.
In the US, pilots for one unnamed major carrier walked the picket line to protest scheduling practices. Evan Baach of the Air Line Pilots Association said, “Our pilots are tired and fatigued… We're concerned that the staffing on the pilot side is just inadequate. We’re picking up and working record amounts of overtime, we're working longer days...”
Pilots and cabin crew at another unnamed American airline even posted a brief video online to highlight their frequent schedule-change frustrations and the negative impacts on family life.
Though some choose to deny it, there was a pilot shortage before Covid burst on the global scene – 62% of flight operations leaders cited it as a risk. There’s a pilot shortage now, particularly in US regionals – 83% are finding it challenging to recruit talent. (The ill-advised and unsubstantiated FAA 1500-hour rule continues to haunt.) And there may be “a global gap of 34,000 pilots by 2025,” according to Geoff Murray of analysts OliverWyman.
In the early days of the pandemic, airlines rapidly shed personnel, including early retirement packages for some of their most experienced people, plus furloughs for most. There was an expectation of returning to ‘normal’, initially during the peak-travel summer months in 2020, only to be pummeled by repeated waves of virus variants. Eager to recover lost revenue, airlines aggressively reopened routes to travellers eager to escape after months of lockdown, only to cancel thousands of flights for lack of crews. By the time vaccines kicked in, many former aviation professionals had found other jobs, perhaps less stressful, and opted not to return. “We are depleting the ranks faster than we can get new hires ramped back up,” admitted American CEO Doug Parker.
Don’t blame the pilots.
A flight schedule is a process that cannot be restarted quickly. Even with regulatory waivers. Crews must be requalified, particularly in full-flight simulators, which themselves were mostly mothballed, by instructors who also need to recalibrate.
United and other airlines are attempting to resolve the longer-term pilot pipeline by launching their own flight schools or affiliating with established training providers. But that’s a several-year solution, not weeks or months. “The root of the problem is that it costs over $100,000 and takes five or more years to obtain all the training to become eligible to fly for a major airline,” said United CEO Scott Kirby. There needs to be a broader, industry-wide approach to flight school cost than one-off signing bonuses and a few scholarships.
The ‘pandemic pause’ was a perfect time to re-think and revise the long-outdated system of preparing airline professionals. It didn’t happen. Can it still?