Airlines getting innovative about ground staff shortages


I was intrigued to read about new approaches by airlines to dealing with ground staff shortages at airports.

Citing “baggage issues” at European airports in particular, [Delta Air Lines] said it recently sent one of its aircraft to Europe to repatriate luggage that had gone missing.

That came after Icelandic national broadcasting service RUV reported that Icelandair has been flying two baggage handlers on its Amsterdam Schiphol services amid staffing shortages at the Dutch hub. It is considering doing the same on other routes, RUV quoted Icelandair’s director of communications and sustainability, Asdis Petursdottir, as saying..

. . .

It is certainly the case that the industry still needs solutions to its operational challenges, with moves to cap summer capacity continuing this week … London Heathrow airport announced a capacity cap for the peak summer travel season and requested that its airline customers stop selling tickets for the period, citing the challenges posed by the “legacy of Covid”.

That drew a strong response from Emirates Airline, which on Thursday described the move as “unreasonable and unacceptable” and vowed to continue its full schedule of Heathrow services. 

Its comments were along similar lines to those made at the end of last week by Jet2 executive chair Philip Meeson, who said “most” of the airline’s 10 base airports in the UK – which do not include Heathrow – have been “poorly resourced”, while ground-handlers had shown an “inexcusable” inability to cope and demonstrated “often atrocious” customer service.

There’s more at the link.

Europe has particularly bad air travel problems right now, but the USA has more than enough of its own.  There are many factors causing the problem, starting with airlines having laid off many of their experienced staff during the collapse in air travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Thereafter, governments rushed to subsidize the unemployed, making it more lucrative for lower-paid workers (like ground baggage handlers) to remain on unemployment benefits rather than return to work.  Add to that the “work-from-home” approach adopted by many companies during the pandemic, which many workers actually preferred, being able to be around their families and away from the stress of commuting and the pressures of being under constant supervision.  Finally, with the threat of COVID-19 receding, many more people are traveling, placing great pressure on airlines and systems that had contracted their operations and no longer have enough staff to quickly or easily expand them.  We’ve seen the results in thousands of cancelled flights, delays, and lost baggage.

One can therefore understand Delta (and other airlines) flying staff to destinations experiencing particular problems, to try to help sort them out before they become unmanageable.  The only problem I can foresee is, how do the staff get back to their homes?  We already see pilots and cabin staff forced to overnight elsewhere because there aren’t enough flights to the right cities to get them home on time.  What about ground staff?  Will they, too, have to be accommodated by the airlines, at considerable expense?  Will they put up with the disruption to their family time?  It’s never been part of their job description before, and I’m not sure they’ll be willing to accept it now.

All in all, I’m glad I don’t have to fly anywhere for the foreseeable future.  At least, using a vehicle, I don’t have anyone else to blame if my baggage doesn’t arrive at my destination at the same time I do!

How about you, readers?  How many of you fly frequently?  Any horror stories (or good ones) to share with us?  Let us know in Comments.



  1. It will only get worse… People will refuse the 'TAD' trips because they know they will get screwed one way or the other. Same for the baggage issues, lowest paid employees, lousy medical, 'a dime a dozen' mentality from the airlines. Why should the employees put up with that??? Or care about the bags?

    1. NFO, you of all people ….
      They should care because of work ethic.
      They should 'put up' with it because of the perks of the job.

      Of course that is for each to decide for themselves.

      But to allow that they shouldn't care because of low pay or unsatisfactory work conditions is to approve that its all about the money. (A satisfactory wage tends to make concerns of unsatisfactory work conditions disappear.)

  2. Airlines, and airport concession companies, have been flying workers and even supplies between airports for years, particularly when ground access has been disrupted. I assume they find the costs reasonable compared to lost revenue or delays.

    Of course, this can easily backfire – don't forget the problems a couple of years ago when United tried to kick people off a plane so workers could travel to another airport and ended up paying LOTS in settlements.

  3. My wife has been dealing with this the past 3 weeks. They only found her bag today.

    Carry on only if you can.

  4. My cousin is married to a retired airline pilot. Years ago he shared that passenger luggage is not 'lost', it gets bumped for revenue-generating freight traffic.

    Sounds like more of the same here.

  5. Gave up on air travel a while ago and certainly would not fully with the vaxxed cockpit and myocarditis issues from it. Ran across an article in the past year showing data from the site that records pilot illness and it was way up from pre vax.

  6. I fly twice a month from South FL to the Northeast. I don't bring a checked bag, but a small carry-on and a laptop bag, usually. Covid actually improved the on-time record of my flights, as going in and out of NY area comes with delays about 40% of the time because of congestion. Now with all the cancelled flights it's back to awful again.
    As I grew up only about 6 miles (but 20 by land) from Logan Airport in Boston, plenty of friends and neighbors spent time working as a 'thrower' in the baggage handling units at the airport. Lots of my fellow lobstermen spent Jan-April doing this one year, but 100% had lost time incidents from injury, which is pretty tough in a job that pays more than a grocery store cashier, but less than any semi-skilled job.
    To Rick's point, without calling BS, I may myself have a character flaw. It's been about 20 years since I've done unskilled hard labor because I wouldn't have food to eat otherwise, but I have worked in occupational settings where the discovery of on-the-job injury gets you fired because you're a liability. Being a baggage thrower is one of these jobs. Having a good work ethic means feeding your family by doing what you are contracted to do to the best of your ability, but pride in that situation is stupid. There is no pride in doing manual labor while injured and suffering unduly for the benefit of someone who views you and the work you do with benign neglect or outright contempt… and that is the condition that baggage throwers face. To that end, it's probably more accurate to say that they aren't cared for well enough to take pride in their job, rather than saying they aren't paid enough. This is evidenced by the manning crisis now popping up.

  7. When we were working, my wife and I were never more than a week away from either having been on a plane or going to be on a plane. We retired in 2012, took a month long trip to NZ, and haven't set foot in an airport since. We haven't even had a cold over the past 10 years and don't miss the air travel at all.

  8. My oldest brother is a pilot for Delta. At this point, after the craziness of the past three years, he's just happy to be back doing what he loves – flying. Oh, he grouses about stupid passengers, but he'll put up with stupid in order to get in a cockpit and get paid for his passion.
    From what I understand, he often flies to Airport B from Airport A in order to pilot a flight outgoing to Destination C. He usually gets paid for his time, including non-cockpit transportation time. At least at Delta, they also pay hotel fees if personnel get stuck somewhere, and if they are asked to work overtime, they get double, or even triple pay (depends how desperate they are). I'm pretty sure that's been standard the whole time he's worked with them, about four years now.

  9. Compared to the past, I'm not flying frequently — but I've ended up with about 30,000 miles so far this year.

    And all the horror stories are likely true — there have been massive numbers of flight cancellations compared with the past, far more flight delays than usual, and much fuller flights (which has the side effect of that when your flight is cancelled, then there are a lot fewer empty seats to put you in to get you to your destination).

    A lot of it is recovery from the COVID shutdowns. Airlines furloughed a lot of staff — and it's harder to rehire them when staying home is still subsidized. And, for people like pilots, once you lose currency, it takes time before you can start flying again. And even ground staff take time to get back into place. And the FAA laid off air traffic controllers, and they also can't just restart when hired.

    If you're flying someplace, be prepared to deal with this. If possible, limit yourself to carry-on luggage, so you're able to switch immediately if you need a different routing. Study your flights, and think about what to do if there's a delay, so you have a plan ready. Try for non-stops, so that a delay doesn't mean you miss a connection.

    And there are long waits to try to speak with an airline person on the phone (at busy times, I've had to wait for an hour or more to get a human to talk to).

    A minor thing to keep in mind, if you can throw some money at solving a problem, is that if you miss a connection at a hub for the major airline you're flying, then there might be an airline club there for your airline, and they frequently sell day passes for about $50 or so. And the airline clubs have better people (and shorter lines) whose job it is to solve issues for people in the club. When a plane with a few hundred people is cancelled, or late enough so that lots of people miss a connection, the airline desk may have hundreds of people trying to get rebooked — the club may well have tens, not hundreds. Not all clubs sell day passes (they're also overbooked, since many haven't reopened) — but it might be a worthwhile investment, depending on how ugly the situation is.

    Airline status helps — but understanding the system goes a long way to being able to deal with the mess, and is probably a lot more important than the lower level status with the airlines (high level does help more — but, in order to get that, you've probably flown enough to understand the system, and how to make it work).

    Flying was not fun pre-COVID. It's gotten much worse.

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