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Friday, September 22, 2023

Air Travellers Facing Delays and Disruption Because of COVID Staff Sickness

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As mask laws are repealed, limitations are relaxed, and demand for international travel returns to levels last seen in 2019, you’d be forgiven for thinking the pandemic is over.

Lufthansa reports that their Easter flights from Frankfurt are nearly sold out, and airlines and airports across Europe and the United States are bracing for a busy few weeks as families hurry for a long-awaited vacation.

While many of us have recovered from the pandemic, it isn’t yet finished with us. And it’s wreaking havoc on the airline business at a time when passenger numbers are already putting the industry under duress.

Many airlines have already had staffing shortages and have been unable to promptly rehire after reducing their workforces during the pandemic. Staffing levels are now being decreased even further as a result of increased sickness rates.

EasyJet, a low-cost airline, canceled more than 200 flights over the weekend as Covid surged through its cabin staff workgroup. The airline says it will roster more standby employees to staff flights if crew members phone in sick at the last minute, but 62 flights set to depart on Monday have already been canceled proactively.

The Luton-based airline’s latest cancellations are only a small percentage of the more than 1,600 flights booked for Monday, according to a spokesperson.

“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.”

Staffing shortages are also a problem for British Airways, which has a significant influence on its timetables. Last week, the airline canceled roughly 400 flights and delayed more than 700 others by more than an hour between Wednesday and Friday.

Some of BA’s problems stem from its out-of-date IT infrastructure, as well as recruitment delays for baggage handlers and ground workers. A surge in staff sickness levels has pushed an already stretched organization even further.

A similar story is unfolding in the United States, where hurricanes in Florida and the Midwest over the past week have added to the strain on a system already beset by understaffing and high sickness rates.

While some airlines are hurting more than others, the industry as a whole is not experiencing difficulties. This Easter, passengers are advised to bring plenty of patience as well as their bikinis and speedos.

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