Still Recovering: US Airline Jobs Remain Below Pre-Pandemic Levels – Simple Flying

The aviation industry slashed jobs in early 2020 and two years later, not all jobs are back.
Two years after the COVID-19 pandemic and the recovery of the aviation industry seems to be full steam ahead. From the comeback of aircraft types that were thought to be gone forever, the resumption and addition of international routes to the removal of mask-mandates onboard the aircraft – the aviation industry is undoubtedly almost back to normal. Except for one significant obstacle, staffing issues. Particularly in the airline industry, which is still taking a long time to replace lost jobs at the onset of the pandemic.
Fears of contracting the virus and stay-at-home orders caused a dramatic fall in passenger demand. Flights were empty, and in response, the airline industry had to slash thousands of full-time and even part-time jobs for cargo and passenger airlines.
Even though recovery is in full swing for other aspects of the airline industry in terms of fleet, routes, and passenger demand, airlines are still struggling to fill out gaps of lost jobs. In December 2021, US cargo and passenger airlines managed to add over 20,000 jobs, yet employment remained 2.9% below pre-pandemic levels. And in January 2022, the number of jobs added grew much smaller to just over 3,400, causing unemployment to stay at 2.3% below pre-pandemic levels.
In terms of passenger airlines, American Airlines took the lead by adding more than 1,300 employees, and Southwest Airlines followed closely at 1,132 employees. On the other hand, there was only a slight increase of just 368 employees in January, with FedEx taking the lead for cargo carriers.
Even though the numbers seem to be on an improving trend consecutively, a significant deficit of pilots still exists. Commercial pilot certificate holders continued to increase from 2015 to 2020 when the pandemic slowed things down. With aviation academies opening up more slots and as airlines are actively hiring, there were approximately 17% fewer active commercial pilot certificates in 2021 than in 2009.
It probably doesn't help that hiring a pilot is not as simple as it seems, considering the vigorous months of required training that requires both money and time. Adding in that flight crews can only work a specific set of hours, airlines need an adequate operable crew at hand and reasonable amounts of replacement crews to account for bad weather that could lead to delays.
The lack of commercial pilots has undoubtedly led to a supple-chain issue, although the demand is robust. Airlines have had to carry out mass cancellations in the past couple of months. Just yesterday, there were close to 220 flight cancellations within the US. That number has jumped to just over 230 flight cancellations today.
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After two years of stagnation, the incoming summer schedule will probably be the busiest one. Flight cancellations being a rising trend, paired with the trimming of flight schedules just before the busy travel period, is already causing quite the headache for passengers.
Supposedly, flight cancellations are a more common problem across smaller, low-cost carriers such as JetBlue and Spirit Airlines – in which the former airline had canceled more flights from April 8th to April 17th than any other airline.
Bigger carriers such as American Airlines are confident about being slightly more reliable, as the airline's newest Chief Executive Officer, Robert Isom, made it clear that he was thinking of the passengers:
"People really need to feel like they have control of their itineraries and we give them control by making sure they get to where they want to go on time. I just can’t be any more blunt about it than that. Other airlines are really struggling.”
Unfortunately, problems with reliability are only part of the headache, as airlines have had to raise their airfare prices due to a lack of operable human resources and rising fuel costs. Domestic round trips through April now cost an average of $330 and are likely to increase slightly more through May to an estimated $360.
For airlines and passengers alike, everyone's undoubtedly hoping for smooth weather conditions this summer to allow flights to take-off instead of being kept on the runway.
Source: NBC News
Journalist – Charlotte is currently pursuing a full-time undergraduate degree majoring in Aviation Business Administration and minoring in Air Traffic Management. Charlotte previously wrote for AirlineGeeks. Based in Singapore.


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