Holidays on the brink of a nervous breakdown: towards the summer of air travel excitement?

The situation at airports could be chaotic this summer.

The situation at airports could be chaotic this summer.

©STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

Panic at the airport

The massive influx of travelers and the lack of staff at airports and within airlines can lead to chaotic situation for summer holidays.

Atlantico: After the Covid-19 pandemic season, many travelers from around the world will use the plane this summer of 2022. However, some events in the air sector could ruin the holidays of many travelers … With fears of strikes, staff shortages, and rising fares and rising demand, should we expect the chaotic situation at international airports this summer?

Paul Chiambaretto: The air transport situation is really unique as we are emerging from two unprecedented years of crisis for the sector. Covid will have -60% worldwide traffic in 2020, the biggest shock since World War II. At the worst of the crisis, in France, we are between -95 and -99% of traffic. Currently, the recovery is very strong. In France, we were between 85 and 90% of equivalent activity in 2019. Some airlines, especially low -cost ones, even exceeded their levels in 2019. The irony is that all airlines and airports did not bet in such a quick recovery. The consensus in the aviation sector is a return to normal for 2023 or even 2024. Especially since the Covid waves, until last spring, pushed the sector to be cautious about recruitment. Unless it all starts again, faster than expected for the summer season, and airlines like airports are having trouble remobilizing their staff or recruiting people given short-term jobs. or leave these sectors during the crisis. The complexity is that even if they can be returned, it takes weeks or months for them to reach the quality and safety standards of these companies. Preparing for summer is a process that should be expected in December or January, this time it is done. And it didn’t, because we were in the middle of a new wave of Covid. As a result, we returned to almost 90% activity, with fewer staff, which threatened to create bottlenecks. Recruitment campaigns have been in place for weeks or months, but it is not that easy to recruit, especially for positions that require skills that can also be deployed in other sectors.

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Is there a lack of staff everywhere?

There is a lack of it everywhere, but not for the same reasons. On airlines, there will be a shortage of flight personnel because there are many voluntary departure plans, such as with Air France, or breaches of contract, with low -cost companies. So there is a shortage of staff, replacing them is complicated and takes time, if only they could be brought up to company standards. At airports, activities are often outsourced: baggage check-in, security, etc. These subcontractors have difficult working conditions for wages that are not necessarily very attractive. During Covid, these personnel realized that they could have possibilities in other sectors, with less difficult working conditions (no need to get up at 3 am to accommodate the flight from 5 am). to the airport for example). The challenge therefore is to be able to recruit. But perhaps that requires thinking about the salaries and benefits that come with it. This will create bottlenecks throughout the chain. This is observed in France and abroad. In Amsterdam, endless queues were observed, simply due to lack of staff. However, the flows are not uncommon, they are only at the 2019 level.

What are the concrete consequences for users?

It’s very long queues, connections that can be missed, flights that can be delayed or canceled. But whoever said the theft was suppressed is saying that with equal demand there is less supply, which could possibly lead to rising prices. This will affect consumers at all levels. It will most likely settle after the summer. Except that even though there is a desire to attract employees, there is still a certain reluctance that persists. 2021 has been a very beautiful summer, but it has quickly cooled with the Omicron wave.

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We are already seeing price increases compared to last year. This is particularly driven by the trend of the journey of revenge. After missing travel for months, we “get revenge” by flying, which partly explains this price increase.

A few weeks before the summer season begins, is there a way for the airline industry to find short-term solutions? Can staff be hired or reassigned?

Short -term solutions, and those criticized by the unions, would make the work of crews already in place more time consuming. Room for maneuvering is limited, as there are legal limits to avoid putting passengers at risk. More importantly, the main risk is crew fatigue which can pose risks for some passengers. This is being attacked by unions, who don’t want recovery to create bad habits for companies.

Does this explain the strike notices we’re talking about right now?

Slightly, but it’s also a good time for rebalancing bargaining power. Once the sector has improved, this is a good time to re-discuss your salary and working conditions.

To what extent will the strikes add to the complexity of the situation?

The airline industry doesn’t like uncertainty. This is a great engine oil that works at the right time. So any generator of uncertainty or delay can have effects that are very complex to manage and very costly for all operators.

How can travelers adapt to avoid panic and long queues this summer? Should you wait and postpone your vacation to August?

The situation is not exactly the same from one airport to another. We have the impression that the problems are greater in large airports, at least in large cities. Leaving from the province’s second town is probably a solution to have less of a problem than if we were to leave Paris, Brussels, or London. If not, you should go to the airport earlier and make time for connections. But in reality, these are actions that remain marginal.

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