The summer of 2022 has seen tales of woe from travelers around the world as understaffed airlines struggle to handle the industry’s explosive demand.
David Young/picture alliance via Getty Images
Insider spoke to six airline workers on the front lines of this summer’s travel chaos.
They described a tense relationship between carriers’ top ranks and frontline employees.
“Management just looks at numbers and makes sure that everything looks proper on paper,” one said.
Airline workers on the front line of this summer’s travel chaos say one of the biggest problems facing the industry right now is a contentious — and at times, nonexistent — relationship between upper management and employees on the ground.
Six airline employees told Insider that, in their view, some top executives are out of touch with the issues facing both staff and passengers at airports around the world. The workers spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press, but their employment has been verified by Insider.
“Most of us working on the ramp want to make sure that the customers get their bags, but sometimes it’s not the same sentiments all around,” an Air Canada ramp worker said, adding that while he and his colleagues are working through lunch to get passengers their luggage, “management just looks at numbers and makes sure that everything looks proper on paper.”
Another supervisor-level ramp worker with five years’ tenure at Air Canada said he’s invited the airline’s top executives to shadow his team for a day so he could walk them through the operational and staffing issues he’s noticed this summer. He said he never received a response.
“We truly care for the passengers and want to make their trips great,” he said. “But it feels like we’re playing tug of war with the company itself and they’re not allowing us to do that.”
“From the higher ups all the way down to our managers, they don’t address our concerns,” he continued, adding that employee morale this summer is the lowest he’s ever seen.
A flight attendant with more than 20 years of service said the chasm between Air Canada’s management and frontline workers first formed during the pandemic when the airline announced it would lay off or furlough 20,000 workers.
One year after the layoffs were announced, the airline’s top executives were given $10 million in COVID-19 bonuses — around the same time the company received a $4.7 billion aid package from the federal government. In response to “public disappointment” that followed reports of the bonuses, Air Canada’s leadership later returned the money and stock awards.
An Air Canada spokesperson said in a written statement that “the global air transport industry is currently challenged due to issues with airports and third-party providers of services including passenger screening, customs and air navigation.”
“We are working hard with these industry partners and government to further stabilize and improve all aspects of the air transport ecosystem. Our employees are professionals who are working hard to take care of our customers,” they said.
Flight delays and cancellations continue to shake passengers’ travel plans.
Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images
Worker discontent with airline management in light of this summer’s flight chaos is not isolated to Air Canada.
An American Airlines pilot told Insider that some of the airline’s employees feel as though they “aren’t really an airline” but “more a part of a stockholders portfolio.”
“Their bonuses are in stock options so, of course, they drive the stock instead of caring about employees or passengers,” he added.
A second pilot at the airline said that while pilots and flight attendants are “married to the airline for their career” due to the industry’s emphasis on seniority, management teams “come and go” and aren’t always as personally invested in the success of the airline. American Airlines did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
“The management-labor relationship always seems contentious,” he said. “They have these golden parachutes and are handsomely rewarded, but yet they’re very difficult to negotiate with.”
Meanwhile, more than 1,200 Delta pilots and staff attended protests at seven airports across the US asking for higher pay and better work-life balance, among other requests. Delta pilots are on track to clock in more overtime hours this summer than 2018 and 2019 combined, Reed Donoghue, a spokesperson for the union who has been a pilot at the airline for six years, told NPR.
Are you an airline worker? Have a story to tell? Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org