The airlines’ unions argue that the summer holiday season could be a three-month continuous delay and flight cancellation as travel demand pushes crowds to levels not since 2019.
The flight attendants and pilots at American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Spirit Airlines began to sharply criticize their bosses for not correcting the operational problems that began last summer and persisted during the winter and spring.
Despite recruitment efforts, labor shortages have meant that airlines do not have the critical staff needed for flights that have already been scheduled for the summer season.
“It will be an absolute circus,” said Arthur Wheaton, director of work studies at Cornell University in New York. “I don’t think they’ll be in anything but absolute constipation from wall to wall.”
Last week, American Airlines pilots sued the company for changes in training practices stemming from a lack of instructors, and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association condemned their company for causing pilot fatigue that threatens safety.
During peak hours, airlines offer bonus rewards to discourage employees from taking days off. JetBlue recently offered flight attendants $ 1,000 in bonuses to complete the full schedule during the spring travel season.
Workers say they are exhausted after a year of pulling for a single rope to make sure airlines operate with short staff.
However, despite years of difficulties with the cancellation, Bank of America analysts Andrew Didora and Jon Hacunda claim that airlines have improved in resolving problems when they occur, and future problems should no longer be as costly as in the past.
“Although difficult in terms of the title, the airlines seem to have learned from past operational problems, with most cancellations receding after three days,” Didora and Hacunda said in a note to the investor. “The impact on costs as such is likely to be less than during the summer / autumn of 2021 and around Omicron.”
The new CEOs at Southwest and American Airlines have said they are focusing on operating a more reliable airline when they get out of a pandemic.
“Together with industry, we are continuing to move back to our pre-pandemic service and staff levels, which will improve our ability to handle unexpected disruptions and minimize the impact on employees and customers,” said Southwest Airlines. spokesman Chris Mainz.
American, Southwest and Spirit are also in the midst of tense negotiations with the unions on new contracts. While airline workers cannot go on strike without federal approval, failure to negotiate a contract has resulted in slower air carriers in the past as disgruntled workers have stopped adding extra shifts.
All this comes at a time when airlines are facing the biggest passenger volume test in more than three years. The increase in demand is the result of declining health restrictions, higher vaccinations and revaccination rates, and sustained demand from passengers who have been postponing flying since the beginning of 2020.
“We have more people buying tickets – 15% more – even though we have less inventory, even if we don’t have international travel, even though we have fewer business trips,” American Airlines President Doug Parker said in a conference call with investors. March 15. “It just says, if nothing else, the demand for travel is really strong.”
Airlines are preparing plans to meet this demand, which unnerves union workers.
Four major US airlines plan summer flights, which are 4 to 20% larger than a year ago. According to Cirium’s Diio scheduling tool, Fort Worth-based American plans to be the largest carrier in the country with more than 550,000 flights from June to August. That’s one-sixth more than the world’s largest carrier, Delta.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is planning the largest increase since 2021, with a 20% increase in flights this summer.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Transport, airlines have improved in many respects compared to previous years. American Airlines introduced early flight sections and a low number of cancellations, which made the airline seem to have overcome reliability problems before the pandemic.
Earlier this month, however, the airline chain faced storms that swept through Central and South Florida, causing hundreds of flight delays, which eventually turned into thousands of canceled flights for American, Southwest, Spirit and JetBlue.
Such disasters have been occurring in the Southwest since 2014, but staff shortages and operational problems have become more frequent over the past year, said Lyn Montgomery, president of Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents 14,600 flight attendants in the Southwest.
“There is extreme frustration that it keeps happening again and again,” Montgomery said. “There is an understanding that it happens occasionally, but it happens regularly.”
Work problems don’t just affect airlines, Cornell’s Wheaton said, but travel is a higher value transaction than eating out.
“People who travel already have hotels, Disneyland tickets and car rentals booked,” Wheaton said. “Airlines are under tremendous pressure to get people to their destinations.”
The biggest breakdowns occurred during difficult travel periods. Southwest and several other carriers were blinded by staff shortages shortly after the New Year, which forced hundreds of cancellations. Another came over Columbus Day weekend, when many schools in the south were letting students out for the fall holidays.
This most recently happened during the first weekend of April in the middle of the spring break.
In any case, the common point was more busy than a normal travel weekend, combined with minor weather or technical problems that would normally cause little disruption to airlines. Instead, staff shortages and strained plans create a cascading failure in which flights across the country are canceled because planes, pilots and flight attendants are out of place.
These types of failures have left flight attendants and pilots without hotel rooms and traffic, which has only exacerbated the problem, as crew members need adequate rest to be able to fly legally. Southwest Airlines pilots have reported a record number of fatigue calls over the past 12 months.
Last week, Spirit Airlines flight attendants protested at DFW International Airport, demanding changes that would help alleviate what they say is a problem with the operation of a low-cost carrier.
“Currently, our biggest concern is operations,” said Don Reno Intreglia, vice president of the Flight Attendants Association at Spirit Airlines. “We have to work it out by summer.”
Leading union airlines have warned that operations may not withstand heavy passenger loads during the summer.
American Airlines responded by bringing four new flight simulators to pilot training and hiring 600 pilots this summer. American also points out that it had some of the best early rates in history during March, even during the big spring break.
“We have taken steps to ensure that we are well prepared to deliver to our customers during the busy summer travel season,” said American Airlines spokeswoman Shannon Gilson. recruitment and entry. As part of the operation, we hired thousands of new team members, including pilots, flight attendants and airport team members. “
The carrier is also bringing in additional staff to take care of problems planning hotel rooms and taxis during troubled periods, Gilson said.
But Eric Ferguson, president of the Allied Pilots Association, says the American is not ready.
“The management was clearly ill-prepared for the recovery of air traffic and sold tickets for flights that the airline may not be able to operate due to a lack of properly qualified pilots, despite recent assurances from the opposite,” Ferguson said.
Some airlines, including Delta, have opted for the opposite approach, with smaller schedules leading to this summer. Delta President Glen Hauenstein said on Monday that “the priority is to operate reliably and the next priority is not to outpace demand.”
However, the Delta Pilots’ Union is also complaining about fatigue and planning problems, the same problems as the Americans, the Southwest and others.
“Delta’s management needs to address our concerns and make significant changes to improve our plans,” the unions shared in twete.