Main WikiMiles News A race to the bottom: Fears of future travel chaos loom as pilots consider leaving their jobs due to poor pay

A race to the bottom: Fears of future travel chaos loom as pilots consider leaving their jobs due to poor pay

05 May 2023

Canceled flights… 

Long lines… 

Lost or misplaced luggage… 

Staff walkouts… 

The chaos engulfing many major airports in North America and Europe in recent months hasn’t abated much, and various news and media outlets continue to report on thousands of angry travelers and cases of missing suitcases.

In January 2023, Lufthansa canceled nearly all its flights in Frankfurt and Munich due to a one-day walkout by its ground staff who were on strike for better pay. London’s Heathrow Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport also slashed their passenger capacity, angering both travelers and airline managers.

Carriers in the U.S. have also canceled and delayed countless flights because of staffing shortages and weather issues. 

With all these scenarios, airlines are laying the blame on airports and governments. According to Neil Sorahan, CFO of Ryanair, airports “had one job to do.”

However, many of those working in the industry say airlines are also partly responsible for staff shortages, and the situation is becoming dire enough that it could threaten safety. 

Many Pilots Are Considering Leaving Their Profession 

There are fears that future travel disruption could soon become a reality as pilots consider leaving their profession due to poor pay. 

According to research published by aviation recruitment firm Goose, 53% of world pilots haven’t had a pay increase in over five years. A third said they actually sustained a pay cut of over 20%.

Commenting on the survey, a spokesperson for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the results reflect “the enormous disruptions of the past few years that have heavily impacted the aviation workforce.”

The survey also highlighted that salaries could play a huge role in a lack of retention, as over two thirds of respondents believe people will leave the profession due to poor pay.

Several pilots flying for major airlines also described fatigue due to long hours, opportunism, and a desire to cut costs as part of a toxic “race to the bottom” culture pervading the industry and worsening the messy situation that travelers are facing today.

All these airline staff spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the press.   

In a statement, easyJet said the health and well-being of its employees is of highest priority, stressing that “we take our responsibilities as an employer very seriously and employ our people on local contracts on competitive terms and in line with local legislation.”

The travel industry is now facing various challenges: not having enough resources for retraining, former staff not wanting to return, and poor pay that has largely remained suppressed since pandemic-era cuts, despite significantly improved revenue for airlines. 

All this stress for airline staff comes on top of the often ignored issue of pilot fatigue.

The legal maximum limit for a pilot’s flying time is 900 hours per year. However, for many airlines, the number wasn’t seen as the absolute maximum, rather, as the target to try and make everybody’s workload as efficient as possible.

That’s one of the big worries for pilots—that they’ve got a fairly toxic culture and an inordinate amount of work, both of which add up to potentially reducing the safety margin of airlines. 

In response to these complaints, a spokesperson for Emirates Airline said: 

“We’d never compromise on safety at Emirates, and there are strict regulatory requirements for rest and flying hours which we adhere to for our operating crew. Our safety record, in the air and on ground, is one of the best in the industry. We continue to recruit and retain our flying crew with competitive packages, career progression, and other generous benefits.” 

While airports and airlines are now recruiting and offering better pay, the required training programs and security clearance processors are still severely cut back and overwhelmed.  

According to Goose’s chief executive Mark Charman, pilots understood that cuts were needed during the pandemic but now, they want better conditions, especially as airline revenues have been improving.

Charman added: 

“If the respondents are right about the future, this is not going to be a war for pilot talent for long, but an out-and-out pilot shortage crisis.” 

This could lead to a repetition of the travel chaos witnessed in the summer of 2022 not only in the U.K., but also throughout Europe and the U.S. 

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