(CNN) — British flight attendant Kris Major has worked in aviation for over two decades. He’s seen the industry suffer and recover in the wake of 9/11, SARS and foot and mouth disease.
Now, Major’s on the front line of what he reckons is the worst aviation crisis yet: the 2022 summer of travel chaos. Major, who serves as chair of the European Transport Workers Federation’s Joint Aircrew Committee, representing European flight attendants and pilots, says flight crew are struggling.
As global travelers return to the skies in droves after a pandemic-enforced pause, airlines and airports across the world are grappling to match supply with demand.
The result is flights canceled left right and center, luggage mislaid, and travelers losing confidence in the aviation industry as a whole. In Major’s view, it’s “absolutely shambolic.”
His words are echoed by flight attendants across the globe.
“The lack of staff, delays, cancellations, no baggage — I think it’s a very difficult situation for everybody,” Germany-based Lufthansa flight attendant Daniel Kassa Mbuambi tells CNN Travel.
“There’s some kind of breakdown happening that I believe should be preventable,” is how US flight attendant Allie Malis puts it.
Front line in the skies
When aviation ground to a halt in the early days of the pandemic, most airlines and airports either furloughed or laid off many ground and air workers. Many carriers operated a skeleton staff for the best part of the last two years.
Now, travel demand is back, and the industry is struggling to catch up and rehire. For the flight attendants still on the books, it’s a “very hard situation,” says Lufthansa’s Kassa Mbuambi, who is also chairman of German flight attendant union UFO.
Crew say this strain means occasionally operating a flight with minimum staff on board, as Kassa Mbuambi describes, or air crew sleeping at airports, as Allie Malis recounts.
Malis, who is also the government affairs representative at the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, a union representing American Airlines air crew, also describes “uncomfortable” situations where crew, delayed on incoming flights, find themselves sprinting through the airport to make their next job.
“Sometimes the passengers are cheering that you’re arriving because it means their plane’s going to go, or even that they’re upset — they think it’s your fault that the flight has been delayed when you can’t work two flights at once, although I’m sure the airlines wish we could,” she says.
The flight attendants say situations like these, along with unpredictable schedules, wreak havoc on crew mental and physical well-being.
“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,” says British flight attendant Major.
Flight cancellations have become commonplace in the US this summer. Pictured here: travelers walk past American Airlines airplanes at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in July.