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A toxic culture and race to underneath: Pilots start on why flights is in chaos

The chaos engulfing many major airports in THE UNITED STATES and Europe since summer began hasn’t abated much, and news outlets and social media marketing users continue steadily to report on hordes of impatient travelers and mountains of misplaced suitcases.

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Canceled flights. Long lines. Staff walkouts. Missing luggage.

Problem? The chaos engulfing many major airports in THE UNITED STATES and Europe since summer hasn’t abated much, and news outlets and social media marketing users continue steadily to report on hordes of impatient travelers and mountains of misplaced suitcases.

Just this week, German carrier Lufthansa canceled almost all its flights in Frankfurt and Munich, stranding some 130,000 travelers because of one-day walkout by its ground staff who have been on strike for better pay.

London’s Heathrow Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport two of the biggest travel hubs in Europe slashed their passenger capacity and demanded that airlines cut flights in and out of these airports, which angered both travelers and airline managers.

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

Airlines are vocally laying the blame on airports and governments. On Monday, the principle financial officer of low-cost European carrier Ryanair, Neil Sorahan, complained that airports “had one job to accomplish.”

Uncollected suitcases at Heathrow Airport. The U.K.’s biggest airport has told airlines to avoid selling summer tickets.

Paul Ellis | Afp | Getty Images

But a lot of those working in the say airlines are partly in charge of staff shortages aswell, and the problem is now dire enough that it might threaten safety.

CNBC spoke to many pilots flying for major airlines, most of whom described fatigue because of extended hours and what they said was opportunism and a need to cut costs within a toxic “race to underneath” culture pervading the and worsening the messy situation that travelers are facing today.

All of the airline staff spoke anonymously since they weren’t authorized to talk with the press.

‘Absolute carnage’

“From the passenger perspective, it’s a complete nightmare,” a pilot for European low-cost carrier easyJet told CNBC.

“Leading in to the summer, it had been absolute carnage because airlines didn’t know very well what these were doing. They didn’t have an effective plan set up. All they knew they wished to do was try to fly just as much as humanly possible almost as though the pandemic had never happened,” the pilot said.

“However they forgot that they’d cut all their resources.”

The ensuing imbalance has “made our life a complete mess, both cabin crew and pilots,” the pilot added, explaining what sort of shortage of ground staff because the pandemic layoffs those that handle baggage, check-in, security and much more has generated a domino effect that’s throwing a wrench into flying schedules.

A toxic soup … the airports and the airlines share the same degree of blame.

In a statement, easyJet said that medical and wellbeing of employees is “our highest priority,” stressing that “we take our responsibilities being an employer very seriously and employ our people on local contracts on competitive terms and consistent with local legislation.”

The is currently hobbled by way of a mix of factors: devoid of enough resources for retraining, former staff not attempting to return, and poor pay which has largely remained suppressed since pandemic-era cuts, despite significantly improved revenue for airlines.

“They’ve told us pilots we have been on pay cuts until at the very least 2030 except all of the managers are back on full pay plus pay rises for inflation,” a pilot for British Airways said.

“Various governments making use of their restrictions no support for the aviation sector” in addition to airport companies come in large part to be blamed for the existing chaos, the pilot said, adding that “some airlines took benefit of the problem to cut salaries, make new contracts and lay people off, and today that things are back again to normal they can not cope.”

Even though many airports and airlines are actually recruiting and offering better pay, the mandatory training programs and security clearance processors may also be severely scale back and overwhelmed, further hobbling the sector.

‘They are shocked, that is incredible’

British Airways ground staff were set to strike in August on the proven fact that their full pay had still not been reinstated something especially stinging at the same time once the CEO of BA’s parent company, IAG, was presented with a 250,000 ($303,000) gross living allowance for the entire year.

But this week, the airline and workers’ union decided on an income increase to call off the planned strike, while some staff say it’s still not just a full go back to their pre-pandemic pay.

Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In a statement, British Airways said, “The final two years have already been devastating for the whole aviation industry. We took action to restructure our business to survive also to save jobs.”

The business also said “almost all redundancies during this time period period were voluntary.”

“We’re completely centered on building resilience into our operation to provide customers the certainty they deserve,” the airline said.

IAG CEO Luis Gallego, whose company owns BA, forfeited his 900,000 bonus in 2021 and took voluntary salary reductions in 2020 and 2021, and didn’t receive his 2020 bonus.

They just want the least expensive labor to create their very own big bonuses and keep shareholders happy.

One pilot flying for Dubai’s flagship Emirates Airline said a short-term mindset that took employees for granted had for a long time been laying the groundwork for today’s situation.

The airlines “were pleased to try to depress wages for many people in the market for a long time, on the assumption that nobody had somewhere else to go,” the pilot said. “And today that folks are exercising their to go someplace else, they’re shocked, that is incredible. I’m shocked that they are shocked.”

A safety risk?

All of this stress for airline staff occurs the surface of the often ignored problem of pilot fatigue, all of the pilots interviewed by CNBC said.

The legal maximum limit for a pilot’s flying time is 900 hours each year. But also for many airlines, “that wasn’t viewed as the absolute maximum, it had been seen as the mark to make everybody’s workload as efficient as you possibly can,” the easyJet pilot said.

“That is the big worry around is that we have a reasonably toxic culture, an inordinate quantity of work,” the Emirates pilot echoed. “That results in potentially reducing the safety margin. And that is a large concern.”

All of this has been coupled with low pay and less attractive contracts, the pilots say, a lot of that have been rewritten once the pandemic turned flights on its head.

“A toxic soup of most of these, the airports and the airlines share the same degree of blame. It has been a race to underneath for a long time,” the Emirates pilot said. “They’re only likely to ever try to pay less than they can escape with paying.”

Emirates Airline didn’t answer a CNBC obtain comment.

‘Race to the bottom’

“Crony capitalists. Corporate jungle to underneath. No respect for skilled workforce now,” the BA pilot said of the industry’s corporate leadership. “They just want the least expensive labor to create their very own big bonuses and keep shareholders happy.”

The International Air Transport Association said in reaction to these criticisms that “the airline industry is ramping up resources as fast as possible to safely and efficiently meet up with the needs of travelers.” It acknowledged that “there is absolutely no doubt these are a down economy for the industry’s workers, particularly where they’re an issue.”

The trade group has issued recommendations “to attract and retain talent in the bottom handling sector,” and said in a statement that “securing additional resources where deficiencies exist is one of the top priorities of industry management teams all over the world.”

“And for the time being,” it added, “the patience of travelers.”

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