November 28, 2022

A Starbucks location that was closed for lunch at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

A labor shortage at Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport got so great last month that one of its top managers sent a message to stores and restaurants: Don’t steal each other’s employees.

“As you know, we are facing one of the greatest hiring challenges in DFW airport history,” wrote Ken Buchanan, executive vice president of revenue management and customer experience, in a May 27th CNBC-audited letter to concessionaires. “As we prepare for a busy summer, please continue to practice the high standards of DFW Airport in ceasing operations and refrain from recruiting employees from other DFW operations.”

“Poaching,” he added to clarify.

After more than a year of lockdown from the coronavirus pandemic, travelers storming out of their homes on vacation have faced long security lines, hours of waiting at airlines, and fewer options at the airport for everything from coffee to fried chicken sandwiches due to staff shortages .

$ 1,000 hire bonuses

The Transportation Security Administration is offering a $ 1,000 hiring bonus as part of its effort to add 6,000 screeners by the end of September. So far, around 4,000 employees have been hired, said a TSA spokeswoman. Austin, Texas airports; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Charlotte, North Carolina, have urged travelers to arrive up to three hours early in the past few weeks due to long security lines.

Some airlines that received $ 54 billion in federal payrolls to keep them from laying off workers are now looking to hire people to occupy reservation phone lines and other parts of the business. The airlines urged employees to take temporary vacation or grocery shopping during the pandemic to cut costs. American recently cut its schedule by 1% for the first half of July due to an indication of a staff shortage.

U.S. recreational and hospitality jobs rose 292,000 last month, accounting for more than half of the May employment gains, according to the Department of Labor’s monthly report. Almost two thirds of the sector’s employment growth came from catering and drinking establishments.

The national trend that has challenged managers in filling these types of jobs is even more acute in many airports.

Potential workers willing to undergo a state security check, which can take more than two weeks and wander to the airport to roll burgers or sell magazines, get expensive – if they can be found at all.

Sudden recovery

“Airports, even in normal times, have tremendous difficulty getting people to come to the airport to work,” said Earl Heffintrayer, senior airport analyst at Moody’s Investors Service.

Some concessionaires said the need for childcare or improved unemployment benefits may have deterred some potential workers from taking a job.

The strong recovery after a year of struggling with a slump in demand has created a scramble for workers.

Employers “save a lot” [of jobs last year] and suddenly they want to hire a lot. Many employers are trying to hire at the same time, “said Ioana Marinescu, assistant professor of public policy at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the impact of economic controls during the pandemic. “The labor pool is roughly constant. while the number of employers trying to hire new employees continues to grow. “

She said unemployment benefits make candidates better at job opportunities.

Federal aid

The recovery in the travel industry has accelerated since the widespread adoption of Covid-19 vaccines this spring. The TSA airport screenings have recovered to about 80% from 2019 levels.

Twenty billion dollars in federal aid to US airports in three national coronavirus aid packages since March 2020 are alleviating the blow of the labor shortage, Moody’s Heffintrayer said. That includes $ 8 billion in airport grants that the Federal Aviation Administration announced last week – of which $ 800 million went towards rental facilities for airport retailers and food and beverage operators.

Airports Council International estimates that US airports will have $ 40 billion in revenue by March 2022 due to the pandemic.

“There is definitely still money on the table,” said Heffintrayer.

Terminal food and beverage concessions as well as retail stores contributed approximately 7% to nearly $ 25 billion of U.S. commercial airports in 2019 before the pandemic.

In early June, 187 of the 227 active concessions at Dallas Airport reopened, including 83% of food and beverage locations, 82% of retail and 81% of services, said DFW spokesman Bill Begley.

Bonuses and higher wages

Gilbert Aranza, CEO of Star Concessions, which operates or co-operates more than 50 food, beverage and retail businesses at DFW and Dallas Love Field, said he wanted the airport to include anti-recruitment rules in leases. He said the idea was inspired by the NFL’s anti-tampering rules, which prohibit rival teams from wooing a player who is under contract with another club.

Star Concessions operates several restaurants and concessions on a new row of four gates at DFW but said it has been unable to recruit enough staff. A senior manager said he was bringing food to customers from the kitchen. A cook at one of his other restaurants who refused to give her name said she was approached by a manager at another restaurant to ask if she could buy $ 1 an hour more or $ 16 would attend. Aranza’s restaurant complied with the proposed increase.

At the end of May, Star Concessions organized a job fair with four employees at a nearby airport hotel. Nine candidates have appeared. The company is currently offering a $ 400 referral bonus to employees and $ 200 to employees who work 35 hours or more per week, said Mollie Standridge, vice president of Star Concessions.

Companies often resort to bonuses on wage increases. Once “you raise wages, it’s harder to bring them back down,” Marinescu said. But some employers raise wages to attract workers.

Star Concessions has increased the hourly wages for tipped employees in its concessions from $ 12 to $ 14 to $ 14 to $ 17 an hour, Standridge said.

Chefs very much in demand

OTG Management, which operates airport terminal restaurants in Newark, New Jersey, Houston and other major hubs, is offering a $ 750 signing bonus, said CEO Rick Blatstein. Chefs are the most sought after and receive a $ 1,000 bonus, while new managers receive a $ 3,000 bonus.

The company, which, like other concessionaires, laid off workers at the beginning of the pandemic, was missing around 1,000 employees earlier this month. It doesn’t prevent locations from opening, but OTG is forced to limit menu items, Blatstein said.

A job fair for airport concession workers near DFW International.

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

Star Concessions contracted 75 employees who received badges from the airport; 34 showed up on their first day, Standridge said.

She said that every morning she prayed that enough employees would show up to open her shops.

“I call it the staff prayer,” she said.

A labor shortage can lead to longer waiting times for food that passengers often do not have.

Customers typically need “15 minutes from butt to butt” in airport bars and up to 22 minutes in restaurants, she said. Travelers don’t come to the airport to “eat at Maggiano,” referring to the Italian-American restaurant chain, Standridge said.

The problem isn’t limited to DFW.

‘Treading water’

“We’re stepping on the water,” said Les Gunderson, chief operating officer and employee of the Montana Gift Corral for more than two decades, which operates 11 gift shops and four restaurants in Bozeman, Montana, and Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, selling everything from paintings to thermos flasks to carry claw-shaped salad servers.

Gunderson said the company has started sending flyers to nearby cities announcing $ 2,000 in rewards for workers. Staff shortages after many college students left town during the pandemic.

“We’re hiring more high school students than ever before,” she said.

Gunderson said she had difficulty reaching 160 employees but had to be at 200. Before the coronavirus, she said she had 165.

Bozeman was a tourist hotspot during the pandemic as travelers flocked to outdoor destinations where physical distancing was possible.

A concession booth at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

The airport had 130,942 passengers last month, almost 18% more than in May 2019. Bozeman airport spokesman Brian Sprenger said airport officials expect passenger numbers this month to increase 35% to 40% from two years ago will rise.

In Orlando, Florida, Yovannie Rodriguez, chief administrative officer of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said the airport is holding job fairs to ensure concessions are open when tourists return to the popular destination after the theme parks reopen.

“We want there to be a peak time and we want to make sure that passengers have something available,” she said. “You are here to enjoy yourself and we want to meet the expectations of the passengers.”