Lessons to be learned

We have all read and I am sure that a lot of us have already experienced, the absolute chaos that major European airports face during the last few months. Big delays, long queues, flight cancellations, have created an explosive mix with tensions rising high, verbal abuses and, occasionally, violent behaviors. Surely not the best way to start your long waited, well-deserved vacations!!

People’s strong desire for their first restrictions-free summer vacations created a “tsunami” of vacationers that have fled all summer destinations reaching pre-Covid levels of travelling. But was this so unexpected? How is it possible that large, experienced organizations such as Heathrow, Gatwick, Schiphol Airports (just to name a few) were taken by surprise?

Out of professional curiosity I started researching to find out the causes of this situation. Going through quite a lot of articles and analyses, one common reason kept coming up. “The lack of ground handling staff”! Really? Is THIS the main reason behind all this hustle? Is it really the lack of people that load the suitcases on the airplane one of the main causes? How is this possible? These are unskilled employees that perform a job that demands no expertise whatsoever! The final hit came when I came across a YouTube video of a TUI airplane co-pilot who came out of his cockpit to help with the loading of the suitcases (

The first thought that came up was: How difficult is it to hire unskilled staff with no required expertise? The answer appeared immediately in one of the articles. Yes, they are unskilled employees at the base level of the “production line”, however they need the highest possible security clearance since they have full access to the runways and get on board. According to the article, issuing security clearance could take as much as 4-5 months and for immigrants even more! WOW didn’t they know? Was it the first time that they hired this kind of employees? Surely not!

The first lesson that all Organizations could learn is that they must know their “production/service line” and detect what are the possible obstacles to a smooth operation, especially during peak periods. As it’s been proven by this case, the criticality of a job role has nothing to do with its level of seniority or expertise. Knowing well your “production/service line” allows you to design and prepare Plan B or C or D.

The second lesson to be learned is that extreme situations are so common that can be seen as the new normal! To handle this situation an organization needs to continuously observe the economic and social environment and have in place the necessary tools and processes that will improve their agility and adaptability. This should be an ongoing process with re- evaluation check points. It should involve the whole organization.

The third and final lesson is that all extreme situations imitate the motion of a pendulum. The empty airports and grounded airplanes in 2020 were one end of the motion’s spectrum of the Covid “pendulum”. The 2022 vacationers’ number is the other end. It is true that no one can calculate the frequency accurately, however the only thing we should know is that it will reach the opposite end. So be prepared to handle it!

Article written by Nikos Floros, CFR Global Executive Search Greece

Photo source: Freeimages


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