- Some airport workers told Insider they felt the pressure this summer amid the travel chaos.
- One trash-truck driver said she had to fill in as a cabin cleaner because of the staff shortage.
- A cleaner at Logan airport said airlines sometimes ask his team to clean a plane in 10 minutes.
Airport staff working behind the scenes say the travel chaos this summer has put them under pressure to work harder and fill in for other jobs.
After letting workers go during the COVID-19 pandemic, the airline industry has struggled to handle the strong travel demand with a depleted workforce. The situation has left passengers stranded, forced crews to time out, and led to many flight delays and cancellations.
It’s also taken a toll on airport workers across the US. Truck drivers, wheelchair helpers, and cleaners in airports have all said the disruption this summer has been the worst it’s ever been.
Lashonda Barber, a trash-trucker driver who works for ground services company Jetstream at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, told Insider that she takes heavy garbage bags off at least 30 aircraft — sometimes more — every day. Flight delays mean planes arrive at similar times, forcing employees like Barber to work back-to-back.
Barber said she has to remove around nine trash bags from planes with the help of another employee in 10 to 15 minutes. Her team has halved in size this summer to three workers after two quit and one was promoted, she said.
Due to staffing issues, Barber is occasionally asked to step in as a cabin cleaner after she’s removed trash from the plane. She said the airline gives her on average just seven minutes to clean the seats and toilets, check compartments, and dispose of garbage.
“That’s not enough time to actually clean what they want you to clean,” she said, referring to the airlines.
This summer has been the worst because there aren’t enough staff to do the job, Barber said. On top of this, she believes being paid $18.50 an hour isn’t sufficient. She joined the Airport Workers United union, which represents 35,000 airport workers at 22 US airports, to demand pay raises.
A representative from the union confirmed to Insider the wages of the workers who were interviewed and said it was about what someone in that role would be paid.
Frantz Genisca is a cabin cleaner at Boston Logan International Airport in Massachusetts who works for aviation services company Swissport and is paid $18 an hour — around $4 above the state’s minimum wage of $14.25 an hour.
He told Insider it can take at least 30 minutes to clean a plane, but airlines have asked his team to finish the job in 10 minutes, which wasn’t enough time to clean the whole aircraft properly.
“The airplanes have been arriving with a lot of trash and are often very, very dirty,” Genisca said.
He added that he once left some trash on the plane because he didn’t have enough time, but got into trouble for it.
The labor shortage this summer has posed issues for his team. When the planes arrive at the same time, there’s a lot more work to do and one person ends up doing a job that four people should be doing, he said.
Staffing issues have also been evident at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport in Texas, according to Larry Allen, a wheelchair agent for a Delta Air Lines contractor. He told Insider many older airport workers retired during the pandemic.
At 69 years old, he earns $10 an hour with tips by pushing people in wheelchairs around the airport — from the gate all the way to the plane. The minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 an hour. Allen said he makes around 10 trips in a working day.
Allen said the hardest thing about the job is pushing 250- to 300-pound people up a steep hill. He hustles for the tips by putting on a smile and being nice, he said.
“Minimum that they give you is $5, and if you do a really excellent job, you might make more, you might get $20,” Allen said. “It’s still not enough.”
A Delta spokesperson told Insider the airline has a “strong track record” of offering compensation and benefits to staff. Delta requires its vendors to also provide “fair and competitive compensation and maintain a proper working environment”.
Jetstream and Swissport didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.