Watching luggage pile up in airports and delayed passengers pack terminals for months, Australia’s largest airline, Qantas, has come up with a solution to the travel disruptions. It has asked executives to leave office suites to help haul luggage.
According to a memo written by CEO Colin Hughes, the airline needs 100 volunteers to work shifts of up to three months at the main airports in Sydney and Melbourne, to address a labor shortage that contributed to 8.1% of domestic flights being canceled in June.
Going from “pushing paper” to pushing suitcases, which could weigh up to 70 pounds each, will hopefully ease the airline’s temporary logistical woes. But the unintended consequence might be more long-lasting: putting management in the shoes of workers.
I have worked at the Monitor for 20 years, mostly as an international correspondent in Mexico City, Paris, and now Toronto. The relationship with “Boston,” as we writers here call the editors, is mostly harmonious. But frustrations sometimes mount. It can sound something like this: “Editor, I stayed up all night to finish this article that you said you needed right away, and two days later no one has even read it!”
Over the holidays this past year, I was asked to fill in on the international editing desk to manage some of our own staffing shortages. On my first day, I didn’t have time for lunch. I was quickly humbled by how many moving parts there are and how much goes into the production of our paper beyond my individual labor. I suddenly understood why, when I file a story, it’s not always read right away or has to wait to be published. Marveling at it still as I take on more editing duties, I have mentioned a “job swap” to our managing editor, as an exercise in understanding others and our collective daily efforts.
My experience at the Monitor applies to the most polarized issues of our day. Support for immigration is always highest among those who have immigrants as neighbors. Even the hardest views against abortion can be malleable when a family member or close friend finds herself in need.
In this case, Qantas surely has its eye on the company’s bottom line. But the airline may just be providing staff the ultimate training in empathy.