As the peak of the holiday travel season arrives, airlines are still facing the same staffing issues that have plagued them all year. The problem began when airlines laid off hundreds of employees and gave early retirements to veteran staff members at the height of the pandemic last year, as air travel plummeted. "Airlines across the board had a lot of their senior people exit," says Aviation Analyst Jay Ratliff. "Then, the demand for travel eventually started to pick up, and the thing no one could predict is very few people were interested in working, or in working for the airlines."
Indeed, airlines have struggled like many other industries to find qualified workers to replenish their ranks. The short-staffing has resulted in some nightmare scenarios in recent months, like Southwest having to cancel nearly 2,000 flights in one weekend. "You now have demand stretching your resources very, very thin...and you have a very thin bench as well," says Ratliff. "And that's why Southwest, American and others had issues this past year, because they simply had depleted a good portion of their workforce."
Ratliff predicts the issue will likely persist well into 2022. "We could see fewer flights offered next year than we saw two years ago (pre-pandemic), because airlines don't have the staffing to pull it off," he tells KTRH.
As for the short-term outlook, we are now in the thick of the holiday travel season. But the results are encouraging so far, with no major travel issues last weekend, despite seeing the largest number of air passengers since the start of the pandemic. "(The airlines) proved the week of Thanksgiving that they can hold it together and make things work as they should, accommodating most passengers without any problem," says Ratliff. "And that certainly to me speaks well for what's going to be taking place over Christmas and New Year's."