Qantas sent out a desperate plea for unrostered pilots to step up yesterday, following staff shortages and a surge in passenger footfall at Sydney and Melbourne airports.

Urgent bid for crew

Qantas has found itself short of pilots on three international flights and a number of domestic routes scheduled to fly today. Fearing it would have to cancel the flights, the airline sent a desperate message to off-duty pilots yesterday, asking if they could step in to fill the roles, as they were facing “critically short uncrewed flying for tomorrow, April 13″.

Qantas struggle to find staff for international flights
Qantas have struggled to find pilots for international flights | © CNN

The flights in question are Sydney to Johannesburg, Melbourne to Los Angeles, and a flight to London with an unspecified departure point. All of these flights were short of captains and first officers. Additionally, the crew are needed to man Airbus A330s on Australian domestic routes.

Why are Qantas short of pilots?

The start of the Easter Holidays has brought in waves of travellers, which have caught airlines and airports off guard. For the past week, passengers at Sydney and Melbourne airports have been facing long queues and delays, and issues are expected to continue well into the Easter weekend. Airports and airlines are facing a “perfect storm”, having to contend with increased passenger numbers whilst a large proportion of staff are on sick leave. Qantas staff absences running as high as 50%, whilst passengers are reaching 80% that of pre-Covid levels. Sydney airport is facing similar problems, operating with a workforce just over half its standard size.

Queues at Sydney airport, Qantas struggling to find pilots
The Easter holidays have ushered in long waits for passengers at Sydney Airport | Guardian

Under usual circumstances, Qantas would have a reserve line of pilots who could step in when needed. However, Covid related absences have chewed through this list, leaving the airline scrambling for pilots. Many carriers laid-off crew members over the pandemic to stay afloat, but Qantas insist this is not why they are short-staffed. They say those that left were because of the retirement of their Boeing 747 fleet and were not laid off as a cost-saving measure. Additionally, during the pandemic, pilots were retiring at twice the usual rate, contributing to a global pilot shortage.

How are airlines responding?

In response to the passenger issues, Qantas are upping their call centre staff to 750 employees. However, there is a desperate need for staff on all fronts, both on the ground and in the air. Pilots and crew are in short supply, whilst the lack of ground staff is creating a bottleneck at airport terminals. This weekend, passengers were being advised to turn up at least 2 hours early for domestic flights, and Sydney airport has said those without online bookings should seek alternative modes of transport.

“We just can’t get staff,”

Syndey Airport CEO Geoff Culbert said on Tuesday, adding:

“It’s going to be like this for a little while.”

But Australia isn’t the only one who’s been hit. In the UK, Both EasyJet and British Airways have been facing massive flight disruptions over staff absences. In the US, JetBlue has said they’ll be reducing their summer schedule to avoid further delays and cancellations.

What are your thoughts on Qantas crew struggles? Let us know in the comments below!

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