The US airline industry has been unionized and this has helped labor as we will see below. Airlines have been proponents of automation from the earliest days of IT.  But there are limits to automation and. combined with Unions, make airline labor sticky.

As the model demonstrates even though airlines were able to automate over the past few years as IT became ever more compelling, they could not acquire sufficient labor flexibility to withstand the pandemic.  Perhaps, the pandemic was such a shock that nobody was immune. Either way, notice as data for October 2021 has been added, employees/flight has turned from its meteoric rise in 2020. 

On page two you can see the table with actual numbers. Notice over the years how the industry improved its labor/flight ratio. Even then industry-wide, it still takes about 75-90 people to handle a flight. The industry is coming back to that historic ratio. 

However, the pandemic has enables the industry to adjust its business model. With cutbacks in schedule and moving the traffic with larger aircraft, there are economic efficiencies. That should be able to lower the labor/flight ratio.  But this is unlikely as recent sickouts show because the industry operates at such sensitive labor ratios, it is best not to be too tight with the labor pool.  Airlines operate in an easily shocked environment and need people who can step in to cover.  These people are typically skilled and not easily replaced.  It helps these are the same people who are unionized.  These are the industry’s most sticky employees. You can’t get a flight out without them.  Meanwhile, automation keeps coming for office-bound white-collar labor, who are not unionized.

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Addison Schonland
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Co-Founder AirInsight. My previous life includes stints at Shell South Africa, CIC Research, and PA Consulting. Got bitten by the aviation bug and ended up an Avgeek. Then the data bug got me, making me a curious Avgeek seeking data-driven logic. Also, I appreciate conversations with smart people from whom I learn so much. Summary: I am very fortunate to work with and converse with great people.

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