Passengers expecting delays at UK airports over the Easter holidays are taking extra precautions, including arriving early, with some even staying at nearby hotels the day before their flight.
Sallyanne Glynn, 52, decided to stay at a hotel near Heathrow with her family the day before a flight to New York to celebrate her daughter’s 21st birthday, at a cost of £1,000. “It was to make it easier for us,” she said. “I don’t think anyone is back to normal yet. The airport is a huge operation with thousands of employees and you can’t just turn it on and off. »
Airports are expecting a huge surge in passenger numbers as people fly out for the long-awaited Easter holidays after Covid travel restrictions were lifted. Travel agency Tui said demand was “strong” for school vacation getaways. Hays Travel also said it was “very busy” for overseas departures over Easter.
Many airports have taken on more staff to help deal with layoffs during the pandemic and other employees who left during the so-called “big quit” led to shortages. With a tight and competitive job market, airports are struggling to fill vacancies.
Heathrow has deployed additional colleagues to help people get around as quickly and easily as possible, expecting passenger numbers “not seen since early March 2020”.
Manchester Airport, which reopens its second runway next Tuesday, said it was working to put measures in place. A spokesperson said that during the pandemic there had been a reduction of about 25% in the workforce and that he had launched a “bumper” recruitment campaign in January to “fill hundreds of positions in his security operation”. Airport partner organizations such as airlines and ground handlers are also recruiting.
Stansted launched a major recruiting campaign in January. He has teamed up with Tottenham Hotspur football club to hold a job fair at their stadium next Tuesday. A spokesperson advised passengers to allow plenty of time to get to the airport and clear checks and to be aware of any security restrictions before leaving home.
At Heathrow, Terminal 5 passengers complained last week of “quarter-mile” queues at immigration. Environment Minister Richard Benyon, who has been caught up in the delays, called it a “mess”.
A spokesperson for the Home Office, which is responsible for the UK Border Force, said it was ‘clear waiting times could be longer’ as international travel reopens and passenger numbers rise . It said it was working to “ensure passengers have the smoothest possible journey”, including deploying its staff flexibly.
The problems at Heathrow continued when a technical problem with British Airways on Wednesday left passengers affected by long delays, with some cancellations. The airline said the computer outage was resolved by the afternoon. However, there was a knock-on effect, with “a reduction in the schedule” on Thursday, made worse by bad weather.
British Airways said it had offered refunds, hotel accommodation vouchers and refreshments, or to rebook people on alternative flights if needed.
At Gatwick, where the second of two terminals reopened last weekend after 21 months, a spokesperson said there were no staffing issues but added that the terminals “may be busy during the peak periods, such as weekends and Easter holidays”.
DAA International, a subsidiary of the company responsible for Cork and Dublin airports, said it was also working on “the necessary recruitment, training and background checks” to address the problem of long queues and disturbances. But a spokesperson said these processes take several weeks.
Passengers, perhaps unaccustomed to taking flights, have been urged to check their airline’s guidelines and reacquaint themselves with safety rules, including those on carrying liquids in hand luggage.
Meanwhile, a report released this week by industry trade body the Airport Operators Association (AOA) found that “UK airports have lost £10 billion in revenue since the first lockdown in March 2020 and have taken on more than £4 billion in debt”. He added that 2021 was worse than 2020, with UK airports recording ‘the lowest passenger numbers since 1983’.
He called for more help from the UK and devolved governments and a “comprehensive aviation recovery plan”. Airports in Germany, Italy, Ireland and the United States received up to eight times more financial support than UK airports, the trade body said.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the AOA, said that while airports are preparing for the return of more people traveling, “at peak times, passengers may not have the experience they are used to. “.
Unite national officer Oliver Richardson said an overhaul was needed to make the industry more resilient. “The problems facing airline passengers will get worse,” he said. “The model on which the aviation sector operates is broken and unless it becomes more attractive to potential employees, it will not be able to recruit the workforce needed to meet the demand then flights are steadily increasing.”