Quick thinking is an important quality in a pilot. When the pandemic hit, Etihad Airways Senior First Officer Maurits Robert van Gelder had to demonstrate it outside the cockpit.
Due to plummeting demand during Covid-19, airlines around the world had to adopt significant cost-saving measures, including redundancies. Etihad was no different. After finding out that he was among those being laid off, Mr van Gelder, a Dutch national, looked for ways to keep himself in Abu Dhabi, because he still had “full faith” in being re-employed when the sector recovered. But a stint in real estate and personal training left him unsatisfied. Eighteen months later, Mr van Gelder was able to return to the job he loved, after Etihad began rehiring staff due to rebounding demand. After a tough year and a half it was a remarkably quick return to the skies, indicative of what the airlines' chief executive, Tony Douglas, expects to be "impressive" results in the first half of 2022.
That increase in activity is being mirrored across the global aviation sector. The International Air Transport Association reported in March that total demand for air travel in January 2022 was up by more than 80 per cent from January 2021.
But for many companies it is proving too much too soon. Yesterday, key UK carriers British Airways and EasyJet cancelled at least 150 flights from two of the country's biggest airports, a major threat to the upcoming holiday season. Hours-long queues are common as high demand and a lack of airport staff put a strain on operations. Similar scenes are taking place in Brussels, Dublin and Amsterdam.
And even for those who do manage to go on holiday this year, around the globe employers in the hospitality sector are warning of crippling shortages. In April, the US Travel Association has said that out of 1.6 million jobs yet to recover in the country's economy, a "staggering" 1.5 million were in hospitality and leisure.
There are many reasons for global labour shortages, few with a simple fix. It is quicker to lay off a worker than hire one, and many people working in the sectors worst affected by the pandemic have switched careers. There is even talk of a "Great Resignation", the trend of US workers leaving jobs in record numbers since spring 2021. This is in large part thought to be caused by people realising the viability of more enjoyable flexible working arrangements.
There are still many clamouring to get back to their old jobs. Mr van Gelder told The National: “When I got back in the cockpit, I felt this instant comfort. It’s like putting on your favourite suit." In time, more workers across the economy will be donning their old suits and uniforms once again, but it might take longer than expected, and if companies do not give them incentive as Etihad is doing, they might be coming back in far smaller numbers.