When Staff Shortages Force Executives to Work on the Front Lines

August 23, 2022

If you have traveled by air over the last few months, particularly if your trip was international in nature, you have likely experienced some challenges, delays, cancellations, and even some lost baggage. The myriad tales of airline and airport chaos have been all over the national and global media in recent days. While summer air travel is always fraught with uncertainty, usually due to weather related issues, in summer of 2022, the root causes of travel troubles are more numerous, and in some ways even less avoidable than bad weather. 

In many cases, summer air travel woes are “people” issues, not Mother Nature issues. Deep and persistent staffing shortages have hit both major and smaller airlines in the US and globally. It might be trained pilots, overworked flight attendants, COVID outbreaks among airport staff, and as we have seen, especially in Europe, acute understaffing of baggage handlers. In fact, the baggage handling issues have been so severe, some airports (Schipol in Amsterdam to name one), have from time to time ceased allowing passengers to check in any bags at all. And images of massive piles of unprocessed and unclaimed luggage in places in London and Dublin have been widely circulated on the Internet. Long story short, it isn’t easy to be a traveler this summer, and certainly not easy to arrive at your destination on time and with all your baggage. 

Australian airline Qantas has been subject to many of the same challenges as their global counterparts. And this week they announced that in order to try and remediate at least some of the travelers’ woes this summer, they are dispatching teams of airline executives to work as baggage handlers, to supplement the front-line staff, and try to get more bags processed, loaded and unloaded on planes, and delivered back to their owners.   

According to reports on the Points Guy travel blog, Qantas has asked managers and executives to work in baggage handling roles for three or five days a week, in shifts of either four or six hours a day. Qantas’ head of operations sent out a plea for at least 100 volunteers from its head office to work at Sydney and Melbourne airports to perform jobs like loading and unloading bags, as well as driving vehicles to move luggage around airports.  

Qantas’ leaders noted that only those in good physical shape should apply; volunteers must be able to lift bags weighing as much as 70 pounds each. It’s unclear how long Qantas expects these managers and executives to work in baggage handling capacity, but until staffing levels improve throughout the airlines and airport’s operations, it seems likely that traveler’s baggage woes will continue.  

Cynics might remark that executives are never missed all that much if they are understaffed. But when understaffing issues hit front-line workers, that’s when the organization struggles to actually serve customers. With this move, Qantas will at least temporarily try to redress their understaffing challenges on the tip of the customer experience. Time will tell if it is enough to solve these problems.

To listen to the audio version of this post on The Workplace Minute, please visit hrhappyhour.net.

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