Amid a travel surge in the US over the 4th of July holiday, Alaska Airlines found itself short-staffed. The airline resorted to asking its office workers to volunteer for shifts moving bags on the ramp at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Vice president handling baggage
Alaska Airlines has spent the last few months reassessing its network as it looks to recover from the global pandemic. But the airline is currently facing some labour issues that could hamper its recovery. The 4th of July weekend always sees a huge number of people on domestic flights in the US.
This year, the airline was just not prepared. According to the Seattle Times, the airline contacted its office workers last week asking for volunteers to work shifts handling luggage. In the memo to employees, the airline reportedly asked for all management executives to sign up for five full shifts working on the frontlines.
And no one is exempt. On the Friday before the 4th of July weekend, Senior Vice President Andy Schneider worked a shift at Seattle’s north terminal starting at 06:30. Schneider was responsible for stacking bags on carts, something she found physically challenging due to her build and height. Although she confirmed that she did enjoy the work, it’s unlikely she’ll be resigning from her current position to take it on full time.
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Recruiting frontline staff
The airline is providing around five hours of computer-based training before staff start their first shift. This is followed by on-the-job training to ensure proper procedures are followed. As a reward for their hard work, employees who complete five shifts will be offered free flight passes.
McGee Air Services, the baggage handling subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, employs approximately 2,100 people. Around 725 people work on the frontline at Sea-Tac. However, the company sees a high turnover of staff. Employees are required to work outside in all weathers doing physically demanding work. The current lack of employees stems from a combination of sudden travel increases over the holiday period and the complications of increased airport operations after the extended quiet period caused by the pandemic.
McGee has been actively recruiting frontline staff since the autumn in anticipation of a shortfall come summer. However, it still doesn’t have enough staff. The temporary use of office staff cannot continue over the coming months. Without ground staff, Alaska may find its recovery efforts falling behind.
Filling the gaps
Some management and office staff say they do not want to volunteer, so shifts are still not being filled. Employees blame low pay for the high staff turnover. Basic pay at McGee is still lower than the Seattle Airport’s current minimum wage. Working in the comfortable warmth of the airport terminal in a shop pays better than working as a baggage handler.
Alaska may be actively looking to recircuit new employees, but it’s unlikely the situation will improve much within the next few weeks. Until gaps are filled, office staff will be asked to pick up the slack. The airline may have had a busy weekend, but unless it can get staff back in the office, it might end up with some management vacancies to fill too.
What do you think of this unusual situation? Would you volunteer if needed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.