By Layli Foroudi
PARIS (Reuters) -A top airline industry official called on Tuesday for calm surrounding recent travel chaos at some airports as people resume flying after the pandemic, blaming the gridlock on temporary delays in getting clearances for new staff.
A snapback in air travel has triggered reports of long queues at some British airports as well as Amsterdam, Dublin and Toronto as airport managers struggle to fill jobs fast enough.
The time needed to get security badges for newly hired staff has risen from three to four weeks in Britain, for example, to as long as three months, Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said.
“The problem is, you can’t start the training until you’ve got the security clearance,” Walsh told a small group of reporters on the sidelines of a conference on ground operations.
“You offer them a job, they accept it, and then you have to go through this period of three months to get security clearance – they’re not gong to hang around. They’ll go and find a job somewhere else.”
The former British Airways and IAG boss said he did not expect the trend to spread to other regions, though he sounded the alarm on growing pilot shortages in the United States.
“I think it needs to be put in perspective; there are issues in some airports, it’s not across the world,” Walsh said.
“I think it reflects the very significant increase in activity we’ve seen. It also reflects the fact that we’re coming off a very low base. So as airlines and airports try to rebuild, it is challenging for some of them … It will get addressed.”
The pandemic led to international travel virtually shutting down as governments around the world curbed entry. However, the easing of curbs and bottled-up travel demand have led to an abrupt upswing in short- and medium-haul trips.
Walsh played down concerns that the pent-up demand could prove to be short-lived as worries about inflation and lower disposable incomes take a toll on future travel spending. Some executives have warned of uncertain demand over the winter.
“Without question, what we’re seeing at the moment is very, very strong demand right across the world. It’s stronger than we had expected,” he said, adding the point at which traffic is expected to recapture 2019 pre-pandemic levels “is moving towards 2023” from original forecasts of 2024.
(Reporting by Layli Foroudi; Writing by Tim Hepher; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and David Holmes)