Young woman heading toward her departure gate at the airport and wearing a mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (photo via iStock/Getty Images E+/Pyrosky)
As the bustling scene at airports across the nation this summer has proven, Americans are making up for lost time when it comes to their vacation plans, business trips and destination events that were thwarted by the pandemic. Every day now, over 2 million nationwide travelers are passing through airport security, whereas that number was under 100,000 two years ago.
Airlines for America (A4A), an industry organization that represents top U.S. airlines, released an update yesterday detailing the ways in which it is working to solve the aviation sector’s current challenges, and restore commercial air service to pre-pandemic capacity and efficiency. “We are doing that in two ways – we are listening to you and we are making changes in how we operate to serve the traveling public to the best of our ability,” wrote A4A.
Ahead of the busy summer season, with widespread flight disruptions already proving to be an ongoing issue this spring, A4A passenger airlines strategically trimmed down their summer schedules by 16 percent. Due to a lack of adequate staffing sufficient to accommodate the sudden comeback of consumers to the skies, it was important to keep from spreading their workforces too thin and causing even more operational difficulties.
“Airlines have quickly learned that pre-pandemic staffing models do not work in a post-pandemic world.” A4A wrote. It said that carriers, “are adjusting to new employment realities, recognizing that there will be a higher number of employee callouts due to Covid cases and less employees willing to work overtime.”
Busy airport terminal. (photo via iStock/Getty Images E+/Terraxplorer)
Launching Hiring Campaigns
To contend with such staffing issues, U.S. airlines have initiated aggressive employment hiring campaigns to fill positions all around the country and A4A reports that they’ve been highly effective. As of June 1, its member airlines were staffed with 10 percent more pilots per 1,000 block hours than in June 2019. And, as of May, their full-time employee workforces were just 1.8 percent shy of pre-pandemic levels.
“U.S. airlines are committed to deepen recruitment efforts to secure a pipeline of new employees to support the industry over the coming years,” the trade group affirmed. Along those lines, passenger carriers have recently established new pilot academies, enhanced their recruitment initiatives and launched programs to help address financial barriers.
Commercial aircraft cabin with rows of seats down the aisle. (Photo via Diy13 / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Updating Travel Policies
from ticket purchase to touchdown. With the onset of the pandemic, carriers realized that they would need to adjust their customer service efforts, and eventually altered their travel policies to offer consumers greater flexibility. Such, policy updates included the elimination of change fees on domestic flights and extending expiration dates for travel credits. And, while obtaining ticket refunds was notoriously a hassle for some, U.S. airlines have issued $21 billion in cash refunds since COVID-19 hit and air travel (at least in the early days) practically halted. “A4A member carriers comply with federal regulations regarding passenger refunds,” the organization affirmed.
Electronic boarding pass and passport control in the airport. (Photo via iStock/Getty Images Plus/Alina Rosanova)
Improving Passenger Communications
Airlines are also investing heavily in and accelerating improvement in passenger communications, with mobile apps becoming the most effective and efficient conduit for carriers to update travelers in near real-time, or for customers to make changes to their plans. With the accelerated development and adoption of new touchless and mobile functions during the pandemic, passengers are increasingly relying on technology in order to check-in, get updates, board their flights and access other information.
“Carriers are responding to these consumer preferences by significantly enhancing and expanding mobile capabilities to include gate information, flight status, baggage tracking, automatic rebooking and more,” wrote A4A.
An airplane flies over a field of flowers. (photo via iStock / Getty Images Plus / jpgfactory)
Increasing Collaboration with FAA
U.S. airlines are also increasingly coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to tackle a host of shared operational challenges, such as staffing shortfalls at the carrier and government levels, and the increasing number of inclement weather events that have been plaguing air travel.
In summation, A4A said, “The learning curve to our nation’s “new normal” is steep, and U.S. airlines are adapting and implementing long-term solutions as quickly as possible to ensure smooth operations. We acknowledge that our work is not done, which is exactly why we will continue listening to our customers and acting to show our commitment to safety, service and you.”
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