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June 8, 2022

Operational instability of airlines exacerbated by overselling

Staff shortages, lengthy vetting procedures, and high levels of employee sickness have not helped airlines cope with demand.

By Globaldata Travel and Tourism

Airlines across the globe have dramatically reduced their Spring/Summer schedules due to operational instability. Overselling is one of the root causes of this trend as the sector looks to recoup losses from the pandemic as quickly as possible.

Factors such as staff shortages, lengthy vetting procedures, and high levels of employee sickness have not helped airlines cope with sky-high demand for international travel since the turn of Spring. Many airlines betted on employees to return in hordes when travel started to meaningfully resume in 2022, COVID-related sickness not to be an issue, and for demand from travelers to gradually creep back up to pre-pandemic levels over the coming years. These bets have not come in and as a result, airlines such as Delta, Wizz Air, easyJet, and Tui Airways have already, or are set to, reduce their Spring/Summer schedules.

Hiring increased after raft of new flights

It is understandable why airlines rapidly increased their Spring/Summer schedules for 2022. Vaccination programs displayed strong progress in many key markets for travel and tourism, and booking confidence increased in 2021 as a result. When looking specifically at easyJet, it was announced in November 2021 that the airline was adding thousands of extra seats on flights to Greece for the Summer of 2022. However, when looking at easyJet’s hiring trends on GlobalData’s Job Analytics Database, the company was not increasing its number of job postings (active jobs) on career pages, either in the month of November 2021 or in the months leading up to this announcement. However, it is evident in the months leading up to the busy summer period of 2022, easyJet significantly increased its hiring activity, with the number of active jobs increasing by 79.3% when comparing November 2021 with April 2022. This is when airlines started to realize the level of demand that would be present throughout the upcoming summer period.

The lack of hiring activity in the back end of 2021 and then a sudden increase in the months leading up to Summer 2022 suggests that airlines such as easyJet may have been overselling to take advantage of a sudden uptick in demand in 2021. It is the job of these airlines to ensure they scale their operations to ensure they can run additional flights without mass cancellations having to take place due to factors such as staff shortages.

Timely refunds are now extremely important

With many unempathetic travelers asking why these airlines increased their flight schedules if they do not have the capacity to run additional flights, timely refunds need to be ensured to limit reputational damage. Many travelers will still have a sour taste in their mouths due to the hoops they had to jump through to receive refunds during the first bout of cancellations caused by the pandemic.

If airlines are slow to process refunds after sudden cancellations this summer, customers may never return to use their services. Travelers may have given airlines the benefit of the doubt during the peak of the pandemic but overselling to accelerate recovery as travel resumes normality could be a step too far for many.

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