United & Delta Won’t Cut South Africa Flights | New Travel Restrictions Throw Wrench in Recovery
United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are the only two US airlines impacted by new travel restrictions to southern Africa.
Both airlines fly non-stop between the US and Johannesburg, South Africa, with United planning to also fly to Cape Town, South Africa starting December 1.
Both say they aren't stopping flights in light of the new US travel restrictions.
"The health and safety of our employees and customers remains our top priority," the statement on Delta's website reads. "Delta will continue to work closely with our government partners to monitor the new COVID-19 variant and any travel restrictions."
United similarly told Insider that it won't cut flights and the airline "remains committed to maintaining a safe and vital link for essential supplies and personnel to transit between the African continent and the United States as feasible." The Newark-Cape Town route launch will also continue as scheduled on December 1, the airline said.
The two airlines, among the largest international carriers in the US, had both flown to South Africa prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and suspended flights to the country in March 2020. Flights only resumed in 2021 well after South Africa reopened its borders to international visitors.
Airline Stocks Tumble | New Covid Variant Spurs Travel Curbs
The U.K. said it would suspend flights from South Africa and surrounding countries because of the new variant.
European Union member nations on Friday agreed to suspend travel from the region.
Airlines and aircraft manufacturers like Boeing have been upbeat about a rebound in travel demand, particularly after the U.S. lifted entry restrictions earlier this month.
South African scientists detected the variant, which contains high numbers of mutations, raising concerns that it could spread quickly.
Health officials cautioned more research is needed, but the new travel restrictions highlight how quickly countries can limit travel as new variants are detected. The fast-spreading delta variant of the virus earlier this year drove down travel demand and prompted some companies to delay employees’ return to the office.
Airlines and aircraft manufacturers like Boeing have been upbeat about a rebound in travel demand, particularly from a recent drop in cases and after the U.S. lifted entry restrictions earlier this month.
American Plans To Keep Reduced Onboard Staffing Levels | “Try To” Still Deliver Service
During the pandemic American Airlines reduced the number of flight attendants working on Boeing 787, Boeing 777, and premium cross country Airbus A321T aircraft.
Now that travel demand has returned, the airline is keeping these lower staffing levels. And the airline is beginning to restore inflight service. The flight attendants union complains it’s difficult to deliver the kind of service passengers expect when first class flight attendants split their duties in other cabins on Boeing 777-300ER planes, and there’s no longer a separate crewmember preparing meals and providing service in first class on the A321T.
A flight attendant asked at a Crew News question and answer session with executives this week when staffing levels would be returned no normal since service levels are coming back? And they were told that the change had nothing to do with Covid or service levels, an executive responded that “we were at a competitive disadvantage with other airlines on similar aircraft” so they reduced staffing “to be competitive.”
CEO Doug Parker chimed in to reiterate the “cost disadvantage, we had more flight attendants for those aircraft types than other airlines, they tend to fly to FAA minimums” and it was pointed out to him “plus one.”
“The answer is we’re going to try to keep doing this with the same standards other airlnes were on those aircraft types. And again it wasn’t because of Covid – well, it probably was because of Covid, we had to save every dollar we could – so it highlight things like these we may not have done it in other times. But nonetheless we’re going to try to do it with this and hopefully we can. If we find the service can’t be delivered of course we’ll make sure we’re doing what we can to deliver the service our customers expect. But other airlines seem to be able to get by with that complement level so we should be able to get by too.”
From Pilots to Ramp Agents | U.S. Airlines Go All Out To Staff Up
From offering premium pay to hefty signing bonuses or poaching workers from other airlines, American carriers are scrambling to ramp up staffing for the holiday season and prevent disruptions that marred air travel this summer.
After reducing headcount by thousands during the depths of the pandemic, the industry is grappling with shortages of pilots, flight attendants and customer service agents.
Critics say the staff crunch is of the airline industry's own making as the deep job cuts last year, despite an infusion of $54 billion in federal aid to help cover payroll expenses, left it ill-equipped to handle the snapback in air travel.
Piedmont Airlines, American's subsidiary, is trying to lure pilots with a $180,000 bonus offer. United Airlines (UAL.O) is offering a $5,000 signing bonus for a ramp agent position in Boston.
Spirit Airlines (SAVE.N) has bumped up wages for its ramp agents by 30%. The ultra-low-cost carrier is offering a one-time graduation bonus of $1,250 and up to $4,500 a year in tuition reimbursement to flight attendants.
The rush to hire in a tight labor market is driving up costs at a time when soaring jet fuel prices and higher airport charges are also squeezing profits.
Industry experts attribute the sluggish recovery to the fading attraction of jobs with passenger airlines.
Wages for some entry-level airline jobs, particularly low-skilled ones, pale in comparison with those in other industries even as the work has become more challenging.
The situation is worse at regional carriers, which operate 43% of the flights of American, United and Delta. These companies provide connectivity to low-density networks, but their pilots and crews are paid far less.
Even at the regional airlines that are subsidiaries of American and Delta, the wage gap is huge.
For example, entry-level flight dispatchers at American earn more than twice the amount made by their counterparts at Piedmont Airlines. There is a similar gap between pay scales at Delta and its regional unit Endeavor Air.
Analysts say the labor crisis was in the making long before COVID-19 hit the industry. They trace its genesis to a wave of bankruptcies and consolidations after the 9/11 attacks, which made carriers too cost-conscious and excessively focused on productivity.
As airlines slimmed down, they became more reliant on employees logging more hours. The Association of Flight Attendants estimates the workload of flight attendants increased by at least 25% after 9/11.
The pandemic-induced plunge in air travel prompted the industry to double down on cost cuts, leaving it with the lowest headcount in more than three decades. Meanwhile, quarantine requirements or illness further depleted its resources.
"COVID was the tipping point," said Henry Harteveldt, founder of travel consultancy Atmosphere Research Group. "It ripped the protective layer of the airline industry and exposed many of its underlying challenges."