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JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes said in an interview this week that one way to solve the staff shortage problem plaguing airlines this spring and summer is to hire more workers than you need.
"I now need to over-hire just to keep the number I need," Hayes told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). "With COVID, we lost a lot of experienced people."
Indeed, the pandemic was disastrous on an unprecedented scale for worldwide aviation as the industry virtually came to a halt. At one point in early 2020, airlines were flying at just five percent capacity and still haven't reached the levels of passenger numbers they saw in 2019, the barometer for comparison.
But also, part of the problem was that airlines, especially in the United States, began seeking ways to capitalize further on the $50 billion in government loans and grants it received in 2020 by also trimming staff and offering buyouts and early retirement.
At the time, it seemed like a good financial move to stay ahead of the curve and recoup some of the massive amounts of money lost to the pandemic. Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but airlines found themselves ill-prepared for when the pent-up demand for air travel returned earlier this year. It resulted in massive amounts of delays and cancellations as suddenly carriers were not only without pilots in the midst of a pilot shortage that had been brewing for years but also didn't have enough gate agents, maintenance workers and even baggage handlers.
While 'over-hiring' helps with the number of staff positions, it doesn't necessarily translate to quality.
"Even if you can get the people, they don't have the same experience as someone who was doing that job for 10 or 15 years, so it's going to take longer for them to learn the skills," Hayes said.
In a couple of years, that might be a problem either. JetBlue last month closed a deal to purchase Spirit Airlines, although it still needs regulatory approval and the full weight of the merger isn't likely to happen until 2024.
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Rich Thomaselli has written for TravelPulse since 2014 and has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. His work has...
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