You’d be forgiven for thinking that the pandemic is over as mask mandates are repealed, restrictions lifted and demand for foreign travel bounces back to the kind of levels last seen in 2019.
Lufthansa reports that its flights from Frankfurt over the Easter period are almost completely sold out, while airlines and airports across Europe and the United States are expecting a hugely busy few weeks as families scramble for a long-awaited holiday.
But while many of us might be over the pandemic, it isn’t quite done with us. And it’s hitting the airline industry particularly hard just at the point that passenger numbers are already putting the industry under strain.
Many airlines have already found themselves lacking enough staff and unable to hire back quickly enough after shrinking their workforces during the pandemic. Now, staffing levels are being depleted even further by rising sickness levels.
Over the weekend, low-cost airline easyJet cancelled more than 200 flights as Covid swept through its cabin crew workgroup. The airline says it is rostering additional standby crew to staff flights when crew call in sick at the last minute but 62 flights scheduled to depart on Monday have already been proactively cancelled.
A spokesperson for the Luton-based airline noted that its current cancellations are just a small proportion of the more than 1,600 flights scheduled on Monday.
“As a result of the current high rates of Covid infections across Europe, like all businesses easyJet is experiencing higher than usual levels of employee sickness,” a spokesperson explained.
“We have taken action to mitigate this through the rostering of additional standby crew this weekend, however, with the current levels of sickness we have also decided to make some cancellations in advance which were focused on consolidating flights where we have multiple frequencies so customers have more options to rebook their travel, often on the same day.”
British Airways is also suffering staffing shortages which is having a big impact on its schedules. Between Wednesda and Friday last week, the carrier cancelled nearly 400 flights and more than 700 were delayed by more than an hour.
Some of BA’s woes are down to its antiquated IT infrastructure, as well as delays in recruiting baggage handlers and ground staff. An operation operating at its limit has been stretched even further by a spike in staff sickness levels.
A similar story is being played out in the United States, where storms in Florida and the mid-west the past week have heaped additional pressure on a system plagued by understaffing and high sickness levels.
While some airlines are suffering worse than others, the entire industry isn’t facing challenges. Passengers are advised to pack plenty of patience along with their bikinis and speedos this Easter.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.