Qantas Asks Executives To Be Baggage Handlers Amid Labor Shortage

Qantas Airways, the flag carrier of Australia, has asked senior executives to work as baggage handlers at Sydney and Melbourne airports for three months amid a labor shortage.

The airline’s head of operations is seeking at least 100 volunteers to perform duties including loading and unloading bags and driving luggage carts between terminals. Volunteers must be able to work in four- or six-hour shifts, three or five days a week, and move suitcases weighing as much as 71 pounds, according to a memo to managers.

After Qantas made a similar appeal for help during the Easter holiday period, about 200 head-office employees volunteered to temporarily fill in for overworked ground crews.

In an op-ed entitled “Explaining What’s Happening with Air Travel Right Now,” Andrew David, Qantas’s domestic and international CEO, wrote last month that the company has recently recruited more than 1,000 people, “rostering more people on stand-by, consolidating flights onto bigger aircraft, basing more customer support team members at our airports,” as well as doubling the number of call-center staff.

For the past few months, the kangaroo-emblazoned airline has been Australia’s least reliable carrier. On Sunday, 19% of Qantas flights were delayed and 5% were canceled, according to data from FlightAware.

Yet that was a far better showing than from many airlines in North America. On Sunday, Air Canada and JetBlue delayed 55% and 51% of their flights, respectively. For passengers who flew Allegiant or Southwest, 37% of flights were delayed. And 32% — nearly a third — of United’s flights were late yesterday.

Qantas’s request for ground crew volunteers underlines the severity of the ongoing worldwide labor shortage that has plagued the airline industry.

Last month, the German national carrier, Lufthansa, was forced to chop more than 1,000 flights due to staff strikes. And in an unprecedented move, London’s Heathrow Airport capped the number of passengers and asked airlines to stop selling seats over the summer.

In the United States, the Biden administration has pushed for stronger consumer protections for air passengers when there are flight disruptions. Last week, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg proposed defining when airlines should be required to reimburse passengers as a delay of at least three hours for a domestic flight and at least six hours for an international flight. The prior week, Democratic members of Congress introduced a bill that would require airlines to offer customers a full cash refund within 30 days if their flight is canceled or significantly delayed less than 48 hours before departure.

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