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Baggage handlers drive a ground support vehicle around Qantas aircraft in Sydney. Driving the vehicles that take bags to planes and between terminals is one of the tasks the airline’s executives are being asked to cover. Photo: AFP

Australia’s Qantas asks top execs to become baggage handlers for 3 months amid labour crunch

  • Australia’s national airline is looking for at least 100 volunteers from head office to load and unload luggage at Sydney and Melbourne airports
  • The need for Qantas to put executives on the job for months underscores the depth of the aviation industry’s labour shortage as global travel rebounds
Australia’s Qantas Airways Ltd. needs executives from head office to leave their jobs for three months and haul luggage full-time to address a stubborn labour shortage that is disrupting flights.

The airline is looking for at least 100 volunteers to carry out shift work at Sydney and Melbourne airports, Chief Operating Officer Colin Hughes wrote in a note to managers that was shared by Qantas on Monday. Tasks include loading and unloading luggage, as well as driving the vehicles that take bags to planes and between terminals.

Applicants must be able to move suitcases weighing as much as 32kg (71 pounds), according to the memo.

Qantas baggage handlers, seated, at Sydney International Airport. Photo: AFP

The need for Qantas to put executives on the job for months underscores the depth of the labour shortage during the global travel rebound. Australia’s national airline cancelled 8.1 per cent of scheduled domestic services in June, making it the country’s least reliable carrier.

“To be clear, there is no expectation that you will opt into this role on top of your full-time position,’ Hughes told managers. “It’s our singular company focus to support our teams to get our operation back to where it should be.”

The Australian newspaper had reported the three-month programme earlier.

Qantas in June appealed for employees at its Sydney-based headquarters, and its Melbourne-based low-cost subsidiary Jetstar, to help overworked ground handling staff.

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“We need your help,” an internal email sent by Jestar’s airport operations note at the time said, calling the operation during the peak July holiday period the “Airports Peak Contingency Plan”.

A similar appeal by Qantas for help during the Easter holiday period drummed up about 200 head-office volunteers, according to a representative at the airline. Air passenger traffic in Australia is almost back to pre- Covid levels, according to the industry regulator.

Around the world, from the US to Europe and Australia, there’s been mayhem as a stronger-than-expected recovery in passenger traffic overwhelms airlines and airports.

After laying off thousands of pilots, flight crew, ground handlers and other staff during the pandemic, the aviation industry now can’t hire fast enough as families and friends reunite.