A chaotic summer to be expected at European airports

When Karim Djeffal, a commercial stopover agent with more than twenty years of experience, had the opportunity to leave Air France in May 2021, at the time of the pandemic, he did not think twice. He wanted to take advantage of the voluntary departure plan to become a professional coach.

“Air transport is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In terms of work-life balance, it’s complicated. I have a family, I have a son, at some point given, I wanted to take advantage of it,” he told Reuters. Like him, millions of professionals were thanked or left the trades of their own free will during the Covid-19 pandemic to turn to better paid ones, with easier working conditions.

But with a stronger than expected recovery, the sector is short of staff and struggling to recruit, dismissed predicting major disruptions during the summer, like the long queues at Amsterdam and London airports presented during the weekends of Ascension and Pentecost.

“It’s going to be chaos,” warns Nicolas Pereira, secretary general of the local CGT-Roissy union. According to a Reuters count, some 7,000 jobs are now available across Europe. Country for experts of the air world, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

There is a lack of around 15% of staff in stopover assistance and 20% in security to operate properly this summer in French airports, warns Raphaël Caccia, secretary general of the federal air union CFDT. Nearly 4,000 positions are notably to be filled in Paris airports, according to the ADP Group (Airports of Paris) citing figures from Paris CDG Alliance.

Twenty percent of positions are still looking for takers at German airports, according to the airport association ADV. The situation is such that the industry wants to hire Turkish personnel to avoid having to cancel flights and ask the government to allow approval processes.

At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the number of employees before and after the pandemic fell from 68,000 to 58,000. The group has decided to offer an additional 5.25 euros per hour to security, cleaning and assistance employees during the summer to attract candidates. But tempting offers do not solve the problem, since it takes several weeks to obtain approval to work in airports, according to experts and unions.

This summer, which was supposed to allow a return to normal after two years of almost complete shutdown during the pandemic, could in fact sign the end of a model based on large volumes and low costs.

Cancellations galore

Labor shortages and numerous strikes have already increased major disruptions in London, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome and Frankfurt during the spring. And several companies have decided to cancel flights this summer.

Lufthansa has thus cut 900 domestic and European flights to Frankfurt and Munich during the weekends of July, or 5% of its flight capacity. EasyJet is also cutting several hundred flights to Berlin in June, July and August, the equivalent of 12 flights a day. Schiphol airport in Amsterdam will also limit reception to 70,000 passengers per day during the summer.

As industry representatives prepare to gather for a summit in Qatar this week, the question of who is in charge of this coffee between airports, airlines and governments, will be on everyone’s lips.

“Everyone blames each other, but everyone has a share of responsibility for not anticipating the recovery badly,” James Halstead, a partner at the consulting firm Aviation Strategy, told Reuters. Many workers have left for more promising sectors, such as logistics, and no longer wish to return, or have taken early retirement.

“These workers, in security or baggage management, clearly have other alternatives now and can change jobs,” says Rico Luman, senior economist at ING in the Netherlands.

“These are no longer attractive jobs,” adds Raphaël Caccia. In addition to a salary often close to the minimum wage for newcomers, you have to accept working with staggered hours and plan sometimes very long journey times to get to the airports, he underlines.

Many unions across Europe have announced strikes ahead of the summer to demand better working conditions and a substantial pay rise. In Paris airports, the next walkout is expected on July 2, the start of the long summer holidays.

Marie Marivel, security operator in passenger inspection for 17 years at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle, earns nearly 2,100 euros net per month. A salary that she considers very insufficient, knowing that she pays rent of 900 euros. “I don’t go on vacation. I pay attention to all the expenses,” she says.

A breathless system

According to her, a hundred people are missing in her company to function properly at Roissy. Her employer also offers 180 euros to employees who decide to postpone their vacation after September 15 and 150 euros to those who offer candidates for employment, she said.

“We are asked to work overtime but many of us refuse because we are exhausted,” adds the 56-year-old operator, when taking a break after a morning where passengers had to wait an hour before to be able to pass the safety devices.

These long queues contribute to an increase in the aggressiveness of passengers, she continues. The ADP group anticipates longer waiting times during major summer departures. But the management says it is “generally confident”.

“We did a lot of forums in May, where we recruited several hundred employees for security. So, I think that for this summer, it will be acceptable,” said its CEO, Augustin de Romanet on BFM Business on Thursday. . For analysts of the sector, it is necessary to rethink the model.

“We are coming out of a long period of cost cutting. With the ever-increasing presence of low-cost airlines, it was necessary to cut costs as much as possible to keep fares low. But this is now having an impact on the performance of airports”, explains Rico Luman. “The era of ‘low cost’ with ever cheaper tickets is over,” he continues.

A former employee, who left during the pandemic, goes in the same direction. “I personally think that very low-cost flights (…), I don’t see how we can continue like this,” the former British Airways flight crew member told Reuters.

He too benefited from a starting plan. In total, the global aviation sector has lost 2.3 million jobs during the pandemic, according to the profession, including 600,000 in Europe.

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