Airline cost-cutting blamed for current staff shortages

Airports and ground handlers have blamed airline cost-cutting for staff recruitment difficulties causing delays at airports, with aviation bodies in Europe warning of disruption throughout the summer and beyond.

Check-in queues spilled out of terminal buildings at Birmingham airport on Monday as passengers were ordered to wait outside.

Media outlets reported lengthy queues at Bristol and Manchester, and British Airways acknowledged cancelling more than 16,000 flights over the summer season.

MoreAgents express concern over ongoing airport woes

Manchester airport apologises for security queue chaos

But a leading aviation source confirmed: “Some countries in Europe have even worse problems than we do. The staff shortages are worse. We’ve seen terrible scenes at Amsterdam Schiphol and other airports recently.”

European airports association ACI Europe and the Airport Services Association (ASA) representing ground handlers last week warned the delays will continue, blaming low wages and shift work enforced by airline cost-cutting.

A survey of Europe’s airports found two-thirds expect flight delays to increase and more than one-third forecast disruption would continue beyond the summer.

However, the problems at Birmingham were exacerbated by “people hearing of really bad queues at airports and turning up at check-in hours before their flight”, according to the aviation source, who added: “Two-thirds of passengers at Birmingham left in the early morning peak. There were just too many people in the terminal.

“There are continuing staff challenges, particularly in ground handling, which looks to be the weak spot this summer. Airports are offering double-digit pay rises, but ground handlers can’t increase wages because they are under such cost pressure from the airlines.

“UK airports are confident security will be OK this summer, but they don’t control check-in and baggage handling. Those are down to the ground handlers and the ground-handling situation is unclear. Airports fear they’re going to have to step in.”

In a joint statement, ACI Europe and the ASA blamed the “increase in delays and cancellations and degraded passenger experience” on “depleted resources” and “the impossibility of scaling up staffing”.

They argued: “Security and ground-handling jobs have for many years stood at the lower end of pay scales and involve shifts of seven days a week [creating] a clear handicap in attracting people”. The pair blamed “years of liberalisation” that produced “a downward spiral [with] low wages and compromised service quality”.

The UK aviation source agreed with that assessment, saying: “The ground-handling market needs to be reformed. Years of liberalisation have seen ground handling squeezed right down by the airlines. There is no margin for them.”

BA confirmed it had cancelled 16,700 flight sectors, 10% of the services it was due to operate between March and October, insisting all cancellations were “pre-planned” and customers notified. It is understood 75% involve short-haul flights on routes with multiple frequencies.

A BA spokesperson said: “The past few weeks have been challenging for the entire industry. We’ve reduced our schedule to help provide certainty for customers and are giving them maximum flexibility to rebook with us or another airline as close to their original departure time as possible, or to receive a full refund.”

MoreAgents express concern over ongoing airport woes

Manchester airport apologises for security queue chaos

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