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Qantas bosses asked to work as baggage handlers amid shortages

A Qantas aircraft at Sydney Airport on November 09, 2021 in Sydney, Australia.
Top executives and managers at Qantas were contacted about volunteering at Melbourne and Sydney airports. Photo: Getty (James D. Morgan via Getty Images)

Senior staff at Australian airline Qantas (QAN.AX) have been asked to work as baggage handlers for three months to tackle staff shortages amid ongoing global disruption to travel.

Top executives and managers at Qantas were contacted about volunteering at Melbourne and Sydney airports to carry out tasks including handling luggage and driving vehicles, as the travel chaos that has already plagued Europe appeared to spread.

The flag carrier's chief operating officer, Colin Hughes, has written to managers asking for 100 people to leave their offices and step in.

In an email to managers, Hughes wrote: "The high levels of winter flu and a COVID spike across the community, coupled with the ongoing tight labour market, make resourcing a challenge across our industry.

"There is no expectation that you will opt into this role on top of your full-time position."

Those contacted were asked to load and unload luggage, drive vehicles that carry bags between planes and terminals, and to work for three or five days a week doing shifts of four or six hours a day.

Applicants must be able to move suitcases weighing as much as 32 kg.

The airline sacked more than 1,600 luggage handlers during the coronavirus pandemic. In June, Qantas cancelled more than 8% of flights cancelled amid the crisis.

The request comes as the aviation sector grapples with widespread staff shortages as airlines and airports struggle to cope with a sharp rebound in demand for travel.

Last week, British Airways, owned by International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG.L), announced it would suspend short haul ticket sales from Heathrow up to and including 8 August.

Britain's flag carries said the decision was due to the passenger cap introduced by Heathrow airport last month.

Read more: British Airways suspends short haul ticket sales from Heathrow

A Qantas spokesperson, said: "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.

"As we have done in the past during busy periods, around 200 head office staff have helped at airports during peak travel periods since Easter.

"While we manage the impacts of a record flu season and ongoing COVID cases coupled with the tightest labour market in decades, we’re continuing that contingency planning across our airport operations for the next three months."

Meanwhile, the boss of JetBlue (JBLU) has said the US budget airline is having to over-hire workers in an effort to to overcome an exodus from the industry.

Robin Hayes told the BBC: "I now need to over-hire just to keep the number I need. With COVID, we lost a lot of experienced people."

Watch: Airline refunds: What are your rights as a consumer?