After 21 years as a service agent at Air France, Karim Djeffal left his job during the Covid-19 pandemic to start his own job-coaching consultancy.
“If this doesn’t work out, I won’t be going back to the aviation sector,” says the 41-year-old bluntly. “Some shifts started at 4am and others ended at midnight. It could be exhausting.”
Djeffal offers a taste of what airports and airlines across Europe are up against as they race to hire thousands to cope with resurgent demand, dubbed “revenge travel” as people seek to make up for vacations lost during the pandemic.
Airports in Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands have tried offering perks, including pay rises and bonuses for workers who refer a friend.
Leading operators have already flagged thousands of openings across Europe. But the industry says European aviation as a whole has lost 600,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic.
Yet the hiring blitz can’t come fast enough to erase the risk of cancelled flights and long waits for travellers even beyond the summer peak, analysts and industry officials say.
Labour shortages and strikes have already caused disruption in London, Amsterdam, Paris, Rome and Frankfurt this spring. Airlines such as low-cost giant easyJet are cancelling hundreds of summer flights and new strikes are brewing in Belgium, Spain, France and Scandinavia.
The aviation industry says it has lost 2.3 million jobs globally during the pandemic, with ground-handling and security hardest hit.
Many workers are slow to return, lured by the “gig” economy or opting to retire early. “They clearly have alternatives now and can switch jobs,” said senior ING economist Rico Luman.
While he expects travel pressure will ease after the summer, he says shortages may persist as older workers stay away and critically, there are fewer younger workers willing to replace them.