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Executives defend industry as airlines cancel flights around world

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Air travel is roaring back, but not without some significant hiccups.

Particularly in North America and Europe, travelers have described chaos at airports, with scores of flights canceled or delayed, luggage lost and wait times to board planes exceeding 4 hours. That is partly the results of labor shortages from the pandemic, as layoffs have put pressure on airports and airlines facing a surge of summer passengers desperate to travel.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, talking to CNBC’s Dan Murphy in regards to the sector’s recovery, said that after nearly two years of dramatically reduced activity, it may take a while to get the system up and running easily again.

“Your complete industry all over the place is experiencing this, and we’re seeing a few of it in Australia,” Joyce said on the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) 78th Annual General Meeting in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday.

It’s “not as bad as you are seeing in Europe or within the North American market,” the CEO said. “We saw during Easter long queues at airports; nothing like you have seen in London, Manchester and Dublin and other places around Europe.”

“And I feel it does take some time. The system is rusty, all the pieces was closed down for 2 years,” he added. “It’ll take awhile to get that system humming again. It’s an enormous complicated business, there’s a variety of moving parts involved in it.”

IATA Director General Willie Walsh, in a separate interview from Doha, said airport chaos and delays are “isolated” and never every airport is experiencing problems.

Nevertheless, he added that the airline industry is not yet “out of the woods” in the case of recovery.

“Yes we would like to do higher, and yes we’ll do higher. But I’d strongly urge consumers taking a look at the chance to fly to reflect on the undeniable fact that this is not happening all over the place,” Walsh said. “And within the vast, overwhelming majority of cases flights are operating on schedule, without disruption, with none problems on the airport, and I feel you possibly can look ahead to having fun with the experience of flying again.” 

Those comments got here as hundreds more flights were canceled within the U.S. over the weekend and the prior Friday, which was to this point the busiest air travel day for the country this 12 months, based on the Transport Security Administration. By Friday afternoon, airlines had canceled greater than 1,000 flights, after already canceling 1,700 on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

On Saturday, some 6,300 flights into, from and inside the U.S. were delayed and greater than 800 were canceled, NBC News reported, citing flight tracking site FlightAware.

‘Demand is huge’

Still, for Qantas, Australia’s flagship carrier, the domestic comeback appears to be firing on all cylinders.

“It’s really good — in Australia, the domestic market, we’re seeing massive growth in demand, with demand for leisure over 120%, the company market and the SME markets back to 90% of pre-Covid levels, and so we now have nearly full capability restored within the domestic market,” Joyce said.

International flight recovery is “a bit bit slower,” he said, at about 50% of pre-Covid levels. But he expects that by Christmas, international business can be at 85% of pre-Covid levels and that by “March next 12 months we’ll get to 100%.”

“But demand is huge,” he added. “We’re having more demand internationally than, in some cases, we have seen before Covid, with less capability, which is allowing us to get better fuels costs, get yields up.”

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