AMSTERDAM/PARIS/DOHA, June 19 (Reuters) – After 21 years as a service agent at Air France (AIRF.PA), Karim Djeffal quit his job during the COVID-19 pandemic to set up his own job-coaching advice.
“If it doesn’t work, I won’t go back to the aviation business,” the 41-year-old says bluntly. “Some shifts started at 4 a.m. and some ended at midnight. It could be exhausting.”
Djeffal offers a taste of what airports and airlines across Europe are facing as they rush to hire thousands of people to cope with the surge in demand, dubbed ‘revenge travel as people seek to make up for lost vacations during the pandemic.
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Airports in Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands have tried to offer benefits, including pay rises and bonuses, to workers who refer a friend.
Major operators have already reported thousands of openings across Europe. read more But the industry says European aviation as a whole has lost 600,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic.
Still, the hiring drive can’t come fast enough to eliminate the risk of canceled flights and long waits for travelers even past the summer peak, analysts and industry officials say.
The summer when air travel was supposed to return to normal after a two-year pandemic vacuum risks becoming the summer when the high-volume, low-cost air travel model collapsed – at least in the integrated market. sprawling Europe.
Labor shortages and strikes have already caused disruption in London, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome and Frankfurt this spring.
Airlines such as low-cost giant easyJet (EZJ.L) are canceling hundreds of flights this summer and more strikes are brewing in Belgium, Spain, France and Scandinavia.
As industry leaders head to a summit in Qatar this week, a major theme will be who bears the blame for the chaos between airlines, airports and governments.
“There’s a lot of slander, but every side is wrong for not dealing with the resurgence in demand,” said James Halstead, managing partner at consultancy Aviation Strategy.
The aviation industry says it has lost 2.3 million jobs worldwide during the pandemic, with ground handling and safety being the hardest hit, according to the Air Transport Action Group which represents the industry.
Many workers are delaying their return, attracted by the “gig” economy or opting for early retirement.
“They clearly have alternatives now and can switch jobs,” said Rico Luman, senior economist at ING.
Although he expects travel pressure to ease after the summer, he says shortages could persist as older workers stay away and, crucially, there are fewer young workers ready. to replace them.
“Even if there is a recession, the labor market will remain tight at least this year,” he said.
One of the main factors slowing hiring is the time it takes for new workers to obtain security clearance, in France up to five months for the most sensitive jobs, according to the CFDT union.
Marie Marivel, 56, works as a security guard screening baggage at CDG for about 2,100 euros ($2,200) a month after tax.
She says the shortages have resulted in overworked staff. The stranded passengers became aggressive. Morale is low.
“We have young people who come and leave after a day,” she said. “They tell us that we earn a cashier’s salary for a job with so much responsibility.”
After many disruptions in May, the situation in France is stabilizing, said Anne Rigail, general manager of the French branch of Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA).
Even so, Paris airports Charles de Gaulle and Orly, where a union called a strike on July 2, still have to fill a total of 4,000 vacancies, according to the operator.
And in the Netherlands, where unemployment is well below 3.3%, vacancies are at record highs and KLM’s Schiphol hub has seen hundreds of canceled flights and long queues.
Schiphol has now granted a summer bonus of 5.25 euros an hour to 15,000 security, baggage handling, transport and cleaning workers – a 50% increase for those on minimum wage.
“It’s of course huge, but it’s still not enough,” said Joost van Doesburg of the FNV union.
“Let’s be honest, the past six weeks hasn’t really been an advertisement for coming to work at the airport.”
Schiphol and Gatwick in London unveiled capacity cap plans over the summer last week, forcing more cancellations as airlines, airports and politicians bicker over the crisis.
Luis Felipe de Oliveira, head of the global airport association ACI, told Reuters that airports were being unfairly blamed and that airlines should do more to deal with queues and rising costs.
Willie Walsh, head of the International Air Transport Association, the global air transport industry group that meets in Qatar, called talk of a disruption in air transport “hysteria”.
Walsh in turn attributes some of the disruption to the actions of “dumb politicians” in places like Britain where frequent COVID policy changes have discouraged hiring.
The June 19-21 IATA meeting should signal relative growth optimism tempered by inflation concerns.
Such gatherings have for years presented the industry as the positive face of globalization, connecting people and goods at ever more competitive rates.
But Europe’s jobs crisis has revealed its vulnerability to a fragile workforce, with the resulting rise in costs likely to push prices up and add pressure for restructuring.
In Germany, for example, employers say many floor workers have joined online retailers such as Amazon (AMZN.O).
“It’s more comfortable to pack a hairdryer or a computer in a box than to lift a 50-pound suitcase crawling through the fuselage of an airplane,” said Thomas Richter, head of the German employers’ association. ground assistance ABL.
Analysts say the labor shortage could drive up costs beyond the summer, but it’s too early to tell whether the industry needs to move away from the pre-pandemic pattern of steadily rising volumes and cost-cutting, which generated new routes and kept fares low.
For some departing employees, however, Europe’s scorching summer signals a wake-up call for passengers and bosses alike.
“I personally think very cheap flights… I just don’t know how they can really keep up,” said a 58-year-old former British Airways cabin crew member who was made redundant.
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Reporting by Toby Sterling, Caroline Pailliez, Farouq Suleiman, Tim Hepher; Additional reporting by Allison Lampert, Klaus Lauer; Written by Toby Sterling, Tim Hepher; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle
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