Skeleton Crew: Airlines Understaffed as Travel Surges

After the pandemic gutted travel for a year, the airline industry is getting plenty of customers back. Now it just needs more employees. Despite receiving some $52 billion in federal relief funds, airlines remain understaffed, as passengers grow more frustrated. Aviation Analyst Jay Ratliff says all of the layoffs and early retirements last year left the industry unprepared for the quick rebound in business. "Coming into the summer travel season, as we're seeing more and more people fly, the airlines have a very thin bench," he tells KTRH. "And what they're finding is many times they simply don't have the number of employees they need to handle the flight operations they have scheduled."

Ratliff reports some recent flight cancellations blamed on the weather were actually due to staffing issues. Airlines are now calling back furloughed employees and looking to hire more, but they're finding a tough labor market. "The airlines are going through pretty much the same thing that every other business is going through, and that is the inability to find enough qualified people," he says.

While airlines are putting out the Help Wanted sign, they aren't sweetening the pot with higher wages or bonuses to attract people. Ratliff explains this is by design. "They're not going to raise wages, because they think if things revert back to normal in a few months, then they're stuck paying higher wages forever...and airlines are cheap, they're not gonna do it," he says.

"They're hoping they can make it through the summer, and so far they're doing okay," Ratliff continues. "But unfortunately passengers are bearing the brunt, with a lot of late and canceled flights."

Photo: Bloomberg

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