Posted: 29 Sep. 2021 10 min. read

Engaging Frontline Workers in the Airline Sector: Challenges and Imperatives Post-Pandemic

The future of the airline industry

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Designing an elevated workforce experience, centered on human values and enabled by programs and technologies, drives market performance. At Deloitte, we define ‘Workforce Experience’ as the sum of a human’s lived experiences at work and how they feel about their organization and believe there are eight key relationships that influence a worker's experience at an organization. These elements include a worker's relationship with the work they do, the people they work with, the places they work, the technology they use, their connection to the company mission, their sense of belonging, and the growth that delivers value to their career.  In this eminence series, we will explore the three elements that are top of mind for frontline workers based on airline industry trends: the safety of their workplace, fostering connections with the people they work with, and embracing meaning in the work they do.

The airline industry was among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and in many ways, it was the industry’s frontline workers (such as flight attendants, baggage handlers, caterers, gate agents, and pilots) who bore the brunt of the crisis. The pandemic exposed many safety, health, and well-being challenges, all of which made it difficult for these workers to remain engaged, supported, and connected at work. Elevating the workforce experience can help the airline industry’s frontline workers create meaning and connection to their work through meaningful interactions, human-centered design programs, and technologies to address their individual needs.

Overview of current challenges

According to the International Air Transport Association, 2020 was the worst year in aviation history.  Overall traffic declined by 65%, and losses from U.S. carriers alone topped $35 billion.  However, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only threatened airlines’ financial stability; it has also placed in jeopardy the health and well-being of the industry’s frontline workers. Flight crews are reporting “the lowest morale [they’ve] ever seen,”  workers are struggling with unprecedented rates of mental health issues,  and flight attendants and other personnel have expressed concerns surrounding their safety in dealing with unruly passengers and individuals who refuse to comply with mask guidelines  (indeed, the TSA resumed crew member self-defense training amid an increase in passenger incidents on flights).   

As the demand for travel increases, airlines are presented with an opportunity to address the issues facing their frontline workers. By taking a human-centered approach to their workforce experience, these organizations can improve the relationships their workers have with the people with whom they work, the work they do, and the organizations themselves. Moreover, airlines can improve their workers’ well-being and help them feel more connected to their work and to each other. 

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Bob Kaunert

Bob Kaunert

Principal | Deloitte Consulting LLP

Bob is a business driven HR leader within Deloitte’s HR Transformation practice. He brings more than 25 years of experience in HR, workforce management, HR service delivery, global process design, and shared services implementations. Bob also has skills and experience in various HR technologies such as Workday, Oracle/PeopleSoft, SAP/SuccessFactors, and Workforce Management technologies such as Kronos, Workforce Software, and Infor (Workbrain).