The operational challenges that dramatically affected the US airline industry over the summer appear to be receding as carriers bring back staff, leading to a smoother airport experience, according to Rosemary Vassiliadis, director of Routes World 2022 host Las Vegas Harry Reid International Airport (LAS).
Speaking to Routes, Vassiliadis said passengers blamed airports just as much as airlines for the flight delays, cancellations and overcrowded facilities that characterized US airports during the 2022 summer.
“It does reflect on the airport and the city, especially if you are a destination city like we are,” she explained.
“If there's a shortage in wheelchair pushers, no one really cares if it is an airline’s responsibility or that this is an FAA-mandated service. It's, ‘Oh my gosh, at Las Vegas I couldn't get a wheelchair pusher.’ It's not just the flight crews—of course, pilots and flight attendants are very important—but all the ancillary services such as wheelchair pushers, such as the caterers, such as maintenance workers and baggage handlers” that contributed to the operational complications at US airports, she said.
But these problems have faded at LAS, and Vassiliadis pointed to close cooperation with airlines for returning operations to a more normal status.
“It really feels that the airlines have adjusted their schedules to make sure there is enough staffing,” she said. “It is something that we have worked on very closely with our airlines here … It's working closely with each and every one of them and with TSA to make sure the checkpoints are properly staffed during our peak times. Coordinating with the airlines, we also work closely with our concessionaires to make sure they’re open at the right times. We want to make sure that they're open at the times that we know passengers are going to be at gates. So, it is a lot of communication.”
The airport has growing operational flexibility with concessionaires because their staffing levels are also rising and more locations are reopened and returning to pre-pandemic business hours.
“They're all open now, but as we were going through the pandemic recovery, if a vendor didn’t have staffing for that location, I'd rather not have them open than to have workers overwhelmed and passengers not having a good experience,” Vassiliadis said, noting that staffing levels were a challenge for some airport vendors over the summer as LAS traffic roared back to record-breaking levels. June and July were the two highest-traffic months in the airport’s history.
Going forward, Vassiliadis is focused on ensuring that staffing levels at the airport are sufficient at all times of the day and night.
The airport’s morning flight bank returned to pre-pandemic form the most quickly, she noted. “But now we have an afternoon bank that is just as healthy as it was in 2019. And then a lot of the ultra-low-cost carriers are looking at that graveyard bank: 9-10 p.m. to about 1-2 a.m. They’re coming in from the east coast really late at night and that has grown.”
The lightest period is in the early evening (around 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.), but Vassiliadis said there is evident growth in that bank as well.
Busy periods throughout the day and night “gives us challenges with staffing because now we have to have high levels of staffing throughout the day, not just in the morning,” she said, adding that “lots of communication” with airlines and airport vendors is the key to keeping staffing levels appropriate to time periods.