“Unsustainable and shambolic.” That’s how Kris Major, chair of the European Transport Workers Federation’s Joint Aircrew Committee, representing European flight attendants and pilots, recently described the recovery in the travel industry to CNN Travel. He added: “It’s completely unsustainable as a job.”
The summer of 2022 saw travel chaos all over the world. Flights have been canceled. The luggage has gone missing. Passengers have been losing confidence in their travel plans – why book in advance if there is no guarantee that flights will take place anyway?
CNN Travel also talked to Lufthansa employees who spoke of minimum staff numbers being used and crew forced to sleep in airports so they could be deployed for their next shift faster than usual.
Kris Major also said: ”Sickness levels have gone through the roof, fatigue levels have gone through the roof, not because [flight attendants are] rejecting or they’re protesting in any way. It’s just that they can’t cope — they just can’t cope with the constant changes.”
This is not just a European situation. Flight cancellations and delays in the US this year have far exceeded 2019 levels. Reuters reporting on the US problems point directly at a labor shortage. Airlines, and other travel companies, laid off their employees during the pandemic and are still struggling to scale up to offer a full service. It’s now common to look at the travel industry news in the US only to find reports of thousands of flight cancellations in a single day.
Last year, McKinsey advised travel companies to take four specific steps to avoid the chaos we have seen in 2022:
- Build back capacity
- Use innovation to improve the customer journey
- Reimagine your service
- Learn from this crisis
- It’s clear that not all this advice was taken – or it was just impossible to build capacity quickly enough once millions of people left the industry.
But this also presents an opportunity. This climate of uncertainty requires reassurance for customers and knowledgeable team members. When customers seek advice or help, they need to feel that they are being served quickly by people who understand the travel industry. Millions of people left the industry during the pandemic and could be available to offer their expertise from home on a part-time basis or during seasonal surges.
Travel companies need to offer a more reassuring voice to their customers, and this talent pool is out there. Many former employees don’t want to return to full-time, highly pressured roles in the industry. Still, their expertise can be used in a more flexible way by allowing them the opportunity to help customer service teams on a GigCX basis. Offer flexible days, flexible hours, and work from home, so these experienced individuals can help customers during the hours that suit their new lifestyle.
Building a better and more flexible customer service operation is not the only requirement for a recovery in the travel industry, but it does need to be at the core of a response to the crisis. Without this assurance, who knows how many customers will return to book with you in 2023?