Airlines continue staff recalls as concerns over Delta variant grow

Airlines continue to recall staff as the number of travelers keeps going up across the country, despite growing concerns about a spike in COVID-19 cases among the unvaccinated.

A record number of people passed through airport TSA checkpoints Sunday, totaling some 2.2 million. 

Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie says the upward trend shows no sign of slowing down.

"We're quickly matching the volume of travelers flying. It’s pretty much matching what we saw pre-pandemic," Saglie said.

That summer surge is prompting Fort Worth-based American Airlines to recall all flight attendants currently on extended voluntary leave.

"We never expected demand to come back this quickly. I think the airlines were caught a bit off guard," said Paul Hartshorn Jr., Association of Professional Flight Attendants spokesperson.

Hartshorn says about two-thirds of the 3,300 flight attendants will have to complete some level of FAA mandated re-training, which takes a few days.

"So I think that's one of the reasons American Airlines announced it as early as possible, for the November, December return dates," he said.

American also plans to hire 800 new flight attendants next year.

"It’s incredible, isn't it? We're happy to see new faces, to have everyone return to a job,"

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is offering flight attendants overtime pay to try and keep up with soaring travel demand.

Both North Texas carriers were forced to cancel or delay dozens of flights in June and over the Fourth of July holiday weekend due to a pilot shortage.

SMU economist Mike Davis says these are signs of an economic recovery, but warns a rise in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant -- and high number of unvaccinated Americans -- could lead to more turbulent times ahead.

"It's never too good to be too optimistic about the airlines because too many things can go wrong," Davis said. "We could be, not maybe back to where we were a year ago, but we could get back into pandemic mode."

Hartshorn said he's also concerned about the delta variant and what it could do to the economic recovery. The FAA does have a mask mandate in place for passengers through September 13 and the agency could decide to extend it.


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