EasyJet Removing Seats To Get Through Staff Shortages

Credit: Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images

LONDON—LCC easyJet plans to remove one row of seats from its UK-based fleet of Airbus 319s in an attempt to mitigate staff shortages. 

By cutting the number of seats from 156 to 150, the airline will be able to reduce the number of cabin crew legally required under UK CAA regulations from four to three. This will help it manage ongoing staffing problems by allowing the airline to spread staff around more aircraft, increasing “resilience and flexibility” in its schedules. 

“This is an effective way of operating our fleet while building additional resilience and flexibility into our operation this summer, where we expect to be back to near 2019 levels of flying,” an easyJet spokeswoman said. 

The seat reduction will affect the 57 A319s based in the UK. The 34 Austrian-registered and two Swiss-registered A319s will retain their full seating complement.  

Like many airlines, easyJet has been trying to cope with the sudden increase in passenger numbers as pandemic restrictions are lifted. Many staff were furloughed or made redundant during the pandemic and recruitment to restore staff numbers has been going more slowly than required to keep pace with fast-rising passenger traffic. 

A tight labor market has resulted from a number of factors. One is that Brexit resulted in many European Union-based workers returning to their native countries, resulting in a smaller pool of potential staff, although the easyJet spokeswoman told Aviation Daily that the staffing situation was not primarily Brexit-related. 

A major factor is the time required to obtain security clearance for new or returning staff. While the UK government has come under fire for taking up to 12 weeks to approve applications for security IDs, the spokeswoman said that a major difficulty lay not with government but in the increased amount of time easyJet needed to obtain references from previous employers.  

During the pandemic, many furloughed staff took second jobs, so many more employers have had to be contacted to provide references. Delays in employers providing these references has held up clearance procedures. 

The airline said it is increasing resources for ID processing to help ease this situation. At present, easyJet has around 150 staff trained and ready to fly, but who are awaiting security passes.  

The UK-based LCC―again, like many carriers―also suffered from a spike in COVID-19 illnesses in April. This led to flights being canceled or consolidated, although many were canceled well ahead of their departure dates, giving the airline the opportunity to find replacement flights for passengers. EasyJet said that 70-80% of travelers were offered replacement flights within 24 hours of their original departure time. 

At present, easyJet is canceling around 30 flights a day, around 20 of which touch the UK. The airline is currently operating some 1,600 sectors a day. The airline expects to return to close to its 2019 level of services over summer 2022.  

Alan Dron

Based in London, Alan is Europe & Middle East correspondent at Air Transport World.