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UK airlines under fire for jubilee and summer getaway chaos

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British airports have seen scores of flight cancellations and delays for passengers
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Britain’s airports are coming under fire for failing to prepare for this week’s jubilee getaway and the busy summer season, as passengers face long delays and cancelled flights.

“The UK’s airports are in crisis because thousands of jobs have been slashed,” Sharon Graham, head of the country’s biggest trade union Unite, said on Wednesday.

The airline industry was one of the hardest-hit sectors during the Covid-19 pandemic. Flights were grounded by lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Carriers and airports laid off thousands of employees.

But deputy prime minister Dominic Raab accused airlines of a “lack of preparation” in the run-up to the holiday surge now restrictions have been lifted.

“Throughout the pandemic, the government provided £8 billion ($10 billion, 9.3 billion euros) of support,” he told Sky News television. 

“There’s been some tweaks to the regulation to make it easier for the airline industry to hire. 

“I don’t think the airline operators have done the recruitment that they should have done, and taken the advice that the transport secretary gave them.” 

Thursday and Friday are public holidays in Britain as part of four days of celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.

Airlines for Europe, which represents EU airlines, predicted the problem would continue “for a good chunk of the summer season”.

– ‘Carnage’ –

In response, the industry organisation representing UK-registered carriers, Airlines UK, said the sector was still emerging from “the worst crisis in the history of aviation”.

“Airlines were grounded for almost two years as a result of one of the most restrictive travel regimes in the world and with this in mind, the sector has had only a matter of weeks to recover and prepare for one of the busiest summers we’ve seen in many years. 

“Despite this, and without the ability to know when restrictions would be completely removed or predict how much flying would be possible over the summer, the vast majority of the many tens of thousands of UK-departing flights a week will be operating as scheduled.”

The group called for a collaborative effort between airports, airlines and the government to ensure flights take off.

Manchester Airport in northwest England has seen increasing numbers of disgruntled travellers complaining about long waits to go through security or to collect their luggage.

Some missed their flights altogether, if they were not cancelled.

One passenger posted a photo on Twitter at about 4:00 am (0300 GMT) on Wednesday showing a queue stretching out of the terminal.

“Carnage once again this morning (4am) at @manairport T1… I haven’t even made it in the building this time around!” the post read.

The airport responded: “We are aware of challenges being faced by a number of airlines and handling agents, which is leading to delays at check-in and baggage reclaim for some passengers,” the airport responded.

– Challenging –

Susannah Streeter, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said mass flight cancellations were expected to increase, further heaping pressure on airlines.

“Pent up demand is colliding with a severe labour crunch for the industry as companies struggle to recruit workers for key ground roles in particular, following mass pandemic lay-offs,” she said.

In Manchester but also at London Heathrow and Gatwick, and elsewhere, there have been hundreds of cancellations this week, affecting companies such as tour operator Tui, British Airways and easyJet.

To make matters worse, low-cost airline easyJet was also hit by computer problems, which forced them to ground some 200 additional flights.

British Airways acknowledged it had been a “challenging period” but it was looking to recruit massively

Schedules have been cut “to provide certainty for our customers”, and passengers were being given “maximum flexibility” to rebook or receive a full refund, it told AFP in a statement.

Unite also warned that Ryanair flights out of London Stansted could face “serious disruption” in the coming months.

Struggling workers were calling for better pay after seeing a 10 percent cut in their wages in 2020, the union added.

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Americans' pandemic-era entrepreneurial streak is holding strong—for now

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An altLINE analysis of Census Bureau data reveals Americans are still starting new businesses at higher rates than in pre-pandemic times.
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Inflation has nothing on the American entrepreneurial spirit, which, judging by the volume of new businesses formed, continues to see potential in the post-pandemic economy.

To better understand the post-COVID-19 outlook for entrepreneurship in the U.S., altLINE analyzed data and reports from the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Census Bureau. The data shows that Americans are on track through July of this year to submit 54% more applications to start new businesses compared to the same period in 2019, before the onset of the pandemic.

New business applications soared initially at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as brick-and-mortar businesses were forced to close their doors in compliance with local social distancing mandates. Stores saw business plummet and many were never able to reopen their doors, even as public health restrictions eased. The seismic shift in shopping habits spurred many Americans to start new business ventures at rates not seen since before the Great Recession, when the U.S. consumer took a hit from one of the deepest recessions on record.

As the current economic situation puzzles economists who debate whether a recession may be in the future, the continuing creation of businesses could mitigate some of the pain of a slowing economy.

Studies have suggested that the growth of the smallest businesses can help an economy’s resilience. Young, tiny companies, sometimes called “microbusinesses,” reduce local unemployment rates in their communities and have been related to rising household incomes, according to GoDaddy’s July 2021 Venture Forward Report.


A line chart depicting business formation applications submitted every month from 2019-2023. The trend line spikes in 2020, comes down slightly and then continues growing slowly in 2023.

altLINE

COVID-19 recession provides shot in the arm

Advancements in technology made it easier for business owners to set up and run online storefronts and services. Leading up to 2020, ecommerce platforms integrating new technology for enhanced shopper experiences provided a critical foundation for the spike in new businesses. As Americans stayed at home during the height of the pandemic, they shopped online for everything from personal care to groceries. Ecommerce sales nearly doubled in 2020, jumping by 43% to a whopping $815 billion in annual retail sales. Thousands in stimulus checks also did their part to keep Americans afloat—and spending. On top of those factors, interest rates for loans to buoy new companies and purchase real estate were at historic lows.

In the first year of the new business surge, retailers in the fashion space made up the lion’s share of new small businesses, according to the GoDaddy Venture Forward Report.

Today, those new business owners face a much more expensive economy. Costs for labor, gas, clothing, food, and other critical inputs for businesses have risen considerably since 2020.

Business owner using mobile app on smartphone checking a parcel box.

Ground Picture // Shutterstock

New business class faces considerable headwinds

The typical new business faces its most difficult time in its first years of operation. Historically, 4 in 5 new businesses make it beyond their first year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. But the odds of survival dwindle in each subsequent year of operation. Based on trends, just 1 in 2 businesses created in 2020 will likely survive beyond 2025.

The entrepreneurs looking to survive now face mounting headwinds in the face of rising interest rates, which has made borrowing money more expensive for both consumers and small business owners.

For small businesses seeking venture funding, seed-stage venture capital has stagnated as the venture capitalist ranks have grown wary of investing in early-stage companies. For those seeking loans, the cost of borrowing money today is at its highest since 2001, when the tech bubble burst, throwing the U.S. into recession.

Story editing by Ashleigh Graf. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.

This story originally appeared on altLINE and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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Robots are starting to deliver takeout orders. Are they here to stay?

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Task Group analyzed the state of autonomous delivery systems, both nationally and internationally, to see how far along this technology has come.  
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In a March 2023 Deloitte survey, 47% of Americans said they would order from a restaurant that delivers food with a drone or an autonomous vehicle. That’s up 3 percentage points from the company’s 2021 survey about restaurant trends.

In that first survey, researchers noted there was “massive uncertainty in the industry, and many worried that restaurant patronage might never recover” from the COVID-19 pandemic. It found that two-thirds of consumers believed they would not immediately return to their pre-pandemic restaurant habits.

In 2023, most restaurant customer behavior is back to normal—though some changes have blended into the industry’s practices. Task Group analyzed the state of autonomous delivery systems, both nationally and internationally, to measure the progress of this technology post-pandemic.

As with other industries, technology has helped maximize efficiency and improve customer satisfaction. Business owners learned new service methods, marketing strategies, and technical terminology. Food delivery skyrocketed during lockdowns, making greater strides in restaurant efficiency and, in some cases, profits. Many restaurant owners connected apps that allowed customers to order without talking to a human to state-of-the-art delivery systems that don’t require a driver.

Restaurants and transportation companies in North America and Europe are experimenting with new automated delivery techniques that can reduce their costs as long as they do not compromise customer satisfaction. And consumers are ready—but how soon will it become standard practice?


Food delivery robots on pathway.

Julija Sh // Shutterstock

What are drones and sidewalk delivery vehicles?

The robots most commonly used in the food delivery industry are aerial drones and wheeled autonomous delivery vehicles that travel along sidewalks to reach customers.

Drones are classified by how they generate lift—with fixed wings, rotors, or a combination—by how they’re used, such as food delivery, and what equipment they have on board, including batteries and cameras.

In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration regulates drone use. The agency requires pilots to be certified—and bans drones within five miles of airports.

For many years, the FAA stood in the way of companies seeking to use drones for deliveries, but in 2019, the agency agreed to allow uncrewed delivery flights beyond the pilot’s line-of-sight by UPS and Wing Aviation, owned and operated by Google’s mothership Alphabet. Since then, the agency has approved drone delivery operations for several companies, including Amazon and Walmart.

According to a study published by the Harvard Kennedy School in 2022, autonomous delivery vehicles are not the future. They’re already here. Self-driving machines about the size of a large cooler are already traveling down our sidewalks and crosswalks to deliver various packages.

Policymakers question how these vehicles will work and interact with people and other vehicles in already congested and chaotic urban environments. The Harvard researchers believe these vehicles “offer the promise of less congestion and greener shipments,” but also “raise concerns about safety and use of road and sidewalk infrastructure.”

While the debate continues, the manufacturers of these robots continue to advance their technology, including using machine learning to improve navigation, efficiency, and safety.

Food delivery drone in flight.

Canva

How far off are drone or sidewalk deliveries?

Estonia-based delivery startup Bolt, working with Starship Technologies, has been trialing sidewalk deliveries in Estonia, the U.K., and the U.S. and plans to formally launch robot deliveries later this year in as many as 500 cities in 45 countries.

Bolt’s main competitor, Uber, signed a deal in 2022 with autonomous vehicle startup Nuro “to test driverless food deliveries” in Mountain View, California, and Houston, Texas. Before the agreement, Uber ran a pilot program for sidewalk delivery in Los Angeles, while Nuro delivered Domino’s pizzas in specific areas of Houston for a year. 

Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn.

This story originally appeared on Task Group and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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AI “superusers” seek education, fun, and productivity with generative AI

A look at two separate studies by Sparktoro and Salesforce on people’s generative AI use.

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Maybe it was through your job. Or simply out of curiosity.

With the rise of generative AI, you’ve probably tried out ChatGPT or a similar tool. But how often are people using these? More interestingly, what motivates them? Both Salesforce and SparkToro sought to find out with two separate studies. 

Here are highlights from each report and how they compare:

Work automation and educational pursuits top priorities for AI users

Both Salesforce and SparkToro can agree on this. SparkToro highlighted professional use of the platform as at an “all-time high,” then ranked categories of interest across over 4,000 ChatGPT prompts with these in the top 5:

  • Programming: 29.14%
  • Education: 23.30%
  • Content: 20.79%
  • Sales and Marketing: 13.47%
  • Personal & Other: 6.73%

Salesforce found that 75% of generative AI users are motivated by streamlined work communications and task automation. The second highest topic of interest? Technically “messing around” (38%), though a close third was learning and education (34%). Both SparkToro and Salesforce posit that education doesn’t just include homework or university coursework—users also use tools like ChatGPT to develop knowledge of other desired educational topics. 

Younger generations more likely to use AI than older ones despite general decline in usage

Salesforce surveyed 4,000 people to find out how they use generative AI and what their demographics are. Turns out, most “superusers” — aka those who use the tool every day — are Millennials or Gen Zers (65%). Plus, 70% of the Gen Z participants surveyed said they use generative AI. 

Still, SparkToro notes an overall decline in generative AI use regardless of age. After studying monthly traffic data on OpenAI provided by Datos, SparkToro found overall traffic fell by nearly 30%. 

Users ask ChatGPT to write, create, and list

These were the top three common words in SparkToro’s assessment in ChatGPT prompts. However, they also share a notable prevalence of the words “game” and “SEO in prompts as well. Other words less commonly used yet enough to come up in the results included judge, SaaS pricing, curriculum, employment, and employer.

Read the SparkToro report here and the Salesforce report here

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