Staff Shortages Force Australia’s Qantas Airways to Ask Executives to Work as Baggage Handlers

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 30: Qantas Airways Airbus A330-200 prepares to take off at Los Angeles international Airport on July 30, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Australia’s Qantas Airways recently asked some of its executives and managers to volunteer to work as baggage handlers over the next three months to help Qantas alleviate severe staff shortages in its checked baggage department, the BBC reported on Monday after reviewing an official memo from the company.

Qantas’ chief operating officer Colin Hughes shared a copy of the memo with the BBC on Monday. The note said Qantas was looking for at least 100 volunteers to transport baggage at Australia’s two busiest international airports in Sydney and Melbourne over the next 90 days.

“The managers and executives were asked to work in the baggage handling roles for three or five days a week, in shifts of either four or six hours a day,” the BBC reported on August 8.

“The note went on to say that applicants need to be able to move suitcases weighing as much as 32kg [71 lbs] each,” the British broadcaster relayed.

“We’ve been clear that our operational performance has not been meeting our customers’ expectations or the standards that we expect of ourselves — and that we’ve been pulling out all stops to improve our performance,” a Qantas spokesperson told the BBC on Monday.

Qantas is one of several international airline companies negatively impacted by a checked baggage crisis in recent months. Many airlines reduced their staff numbers during the height of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, which caused movement restrictions worldwide. Global travel restrictions have eased in recent months, however, in response to lower Chinese coronavirus caseloads worldwide coupled with a general consensus to live with the virus. The shift opened the door to increased international air travel this summer. Many airlines have struggled to accommodate the sudden spikes in summer travel volume, meaning checked baggage departments at most companies remain woefully understaffed.

“In Australia, the leading airline, Qantas, is reportedly losing one in 10 bags at the regional hub in Sydney,” the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper observed on July 20. “It is suffering from a shortage of baggage handlers after it outsourced about 1,700 jobs during the pandemic in a decision later found to have been unlawful.”

“Claims for stranded luggage have jumped 30% on 2019, according to insurer Mapfre SA, and amid high rates of delayed arrivals certain airports are reportedly seeing a tenfold increase in the amount of luggage arriving on the wrong flights,” the Guardian noted at the time. “Elsewhere, some global luggage shipping services are claiming to have seen demand almost triple month-on-month as travelers opt not to check their bags.”

“Last week, Delta Air Lines flew a plane filled with 1,000 pieces of stranded luggage — and zero passengers — from London’s Heathrow Airport to Detroit to expedite movement of delayed bags,” CNBC reported on July 19.

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