- Some airport workers told Insider they’ve felt the pressure amid the travel chaos this summer.
- A garbage truck driver said she had to fill in as a cabin cleaner due to staff shortages.
- A cleaner at Logan Airport said airlines sometimes ask his team to clean a plane in 10 minutes.
Airport workers who work behind the scenes say the travel chaos this summer has pressured them to work harder and take on other jobs.
After laying off workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the airline industry has struggled to cope with strong travel demand with an exhausted workforce. The situation has stranded passengers, forced crews to take time off, and led to many flight delays and cancellations.
It has also affected airport workers in the US. Truck drivers, wheelchair users and airport cleaners have all said this summer’s disruption was the worst on record.
Lashonda Barber, a garbage truck driver who works for ground handling company Jetstream at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, told Insider that she removes heavy bags of garbage from at least 30 planes — sometimes more — every day. Flight delays mean planes arrive at similar times, forcing employees like Barber to work back-to-back.
Barber said she had to remove about nine garbage bags from airplanes in 10 to 15 minutes with the help of another employee. Her team halved to three workers this summer after two were quit and one was promoted, she said.
Due to staffing issues, Barber is occasionally asked to fill in as a cabin cleaner after removing the trash from the plane. She said the airline gives her just seven minutes on average to clean the seats and toilets, check compartments and dispose of rubbish.
“That’s not enough time to actually clean what you’re supposed to clean,” she said, referring to the airlines.
This summer has been the worst because there aren’t enough staff to do the work, Barber said. She also believes that an hourly wage of $18.50 is not enough. She joined the Airport Workers United union, which represents 35,000 airport workers at 22 US airports, to demand wage increases.
A union representative confirmed to Insider the wages of the workers interviewed and said it was about what someone in that position would make.
Frantz Genisca is a cabin cleaner at Boston Logan International Airport in Massachusetts, works for the airline Swissport and is paid $18 an hour – about $4 above the state minimum wage of $14.25 an hour.
He told Insiders it can take at least 30 minutes to clean a plane, but airlines asked his team to do the job in 10 minutes, which wasn’t enough time to properly clean the entire plane.
“The planes have arrived with a lot of garbage and often very, very dirty,” Genisca said.
He added that he once left some litter on the plane because he didn’t have enough time but got in trouble for it.
The labor shortage this summer has posed problems for his team. When the planes arrive at the same time, there’s a lot more work to be done, and one person ends up doing a job that four people should be doing, he said.
Staffing issues have also arisen at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport in Texas, according to Larry Allen, a wheelchair agent for a Delta Air Lines contractor. He told Insiders that many older airport workers have retired during the pandemic.
At 69, he makes $10 an hour in tips pushing wheelchair users through the airport from the gate to the plane. The minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 an hour. Allen said he makes about 10 trips in a workday.
Allen said the hardest part of the job was pushing 250- to 300-pound people up a steep hill. He rushes the tip by putting on a smile and being nice, he said.
“The minimum they give you is $5, and if you do a really great job, you might make more, you might get $20,” Allen said. “It’s still not enough.”
A Delta spokesman told Insider the airline has a “strong track record” of providing compensation and benefits to employees. Delta also requires its suppliers to “provide fair and competitive compensation and maintain a decent work environment.”
Jetstream and Swissport did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.