In a bid to maximize profits, airlines have laid off thousands of workers and holidaymakers are now paying the price for their greed, writes Terina Hine
This‘Know which the hell is worse: sticking around for the platinum pantomime or trying to escape for a mid-game break. The royal indulgence is obviously painful to see and impossible to avoid, but the chaos of the journey as families try to flee is a nightmare.
We have scenes of families sleeping on airport floors, waiting in eight-hour queues, only to find their flights canceled; passengers disembarked from planes or were transported across the country and eventually returned home.
Almost 300 departures from major UK airports have been canceled since May 25. EasyJet canceled 31 flights from Gatwick on Tuesday; British Airways is canceling dozens every passing day. Tui has announced it will be canceling six flights from Manchester each day by the end of June.
People stranded at airports are unable to find staff to call for help. Those who arrive find themselves waiting hours for luggage. For months, the queues at passport control have been extreme. The disruption affects the whole country: passengers at Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow, Bristol, Manchester and Heathrow are all suffering. And now we’re told the delays and disruptions are set to continue through the summer.
The pressure continues to mount as the four-day Jubilee weekend coincides with the mid-term school holidays. There are nearly 19,000 flights due to leave the UK this week, thousands of tickets sold, flights booked for weeks or even months, vacations planned and eagerly awaited. Yet the industry has clearly failed to plan or prepare. This is the first holiday period in over two years without Covid restrictions, who would have guessed it could be busy?
And so the blame game sets in. Huge staff shortages are responsible for huge delays. But who is responsible for these shortages? The government blames the airline industry for not anticipating demand, the airlines blame the airports for not providing enough ground staff, the airports blame the government.
The government insists it has asked the industry to prepare for this surge in travel, with airlines countering that the government has taken no responsibility and could ease some of the pain by tackling the backlog of personnel security checks. They also blame the lack of industry-specific assistance during the pandemic.
But it doesn’t‘don’t stop there. Passengers have been accused of arriving too early (unsurprisingly, given the queues) and causing further traffic jams. And apparently thousands of people are recklessly cashing in their Covid cancellation vouchers resulting in more seats. But really it was as predictable as rain on a holiday Monday.
Of course, better scheduling, less overbooking of seats, and speeding up new staff security screening procedures would have helped. But none of this would solve the real problem: an exploitative industry that has relied too long on low wages and poor working conditions to make exorbitant profits.
In the interest of profit, airlines, airports and baggage handling companies have laid off tens of thousands of employees during the pandemic, and now they are struggling to fill the vacancies they created. Those who were once employed chose not to return after the pandemic, finding better pay and conditions elsewhere.
During the pandemic, jobs have been cut ruthlessly – firing and rehiring the order of the day. Sharon Graham, Unite General Secretary, said: “When airline operators and other aviation players cut jobs to boost profits, we warned that this corporate greed would cause chaos in the industry.
And the greed continues. Passengers do not receive the compensation to which they are entitled, or are not offered alternative routes or adequate accommodation. And as easyJet grounded a flight from Gatwick to Cologne, Ryanair responded by selling seats in Cologne for just £225 for the one-hour journey. A nice little source of income for millionaire Michael O’Leary.
Notably, when the RMT announced its strong strike mandate last week, Transport Minister Grant Shapps’ response was that the government is seeking to impose legislation that would make strikes illegal without maintaining a ‘minimum service’ . No such requirement is imposed on airlines that fail to provide the basic services for which they are paid due to their own greed-driven myopia. As they did during the pandemic when airline jobs were cut, the Tories have just sat back and let the airlines off the hook – their aim is instead to attack workers who dare to defend oneself.
But the workers are organizing. British Airways faces the possibility of a pay strike in July. Check-in and ground attendants have had their pay reduced by 10% during the pandemic, and so far BA has refused to reverse this enforced pay cut, while BA managers have seen their level of pre-pandemic pay restored. If the strike continues, it will involve around half of Heathrow’s customer service team. Perhaps this week’s chaos will be a wake-up call for British Airways management.
What we are witnessing is the consequence of an aviation industry that refuses to pay decent wages but makes billions in profits. An industry where one management imposes mass layoffs, implements layoff and rehire policies, pays wages too low to live on, and offers such poor working conditions that experienced workers refuse to return. With chaos on their side, workers can finally demand change and expect to win.
Before you leave…
Counterfire is growing rapidly as a website and an organization. We are trying to organize a vibrant extra-parliamentary left in all parts of the country to help build resistance to the government and its billionaire backers. If you like what you read and want to help, join us or just contact us by email [email protected] It is time!