Manchester Airport bosses have admitted huge queues at Manchester Airport are likely to continue into April as they struggle with staffing. A surge in international travel has left the airport unable to cope with the amount of passengers coming through the hub.
Travellers have faced huge delays at check-in, security, passport control and even at baggage reclaim. There is now a huge recruitment drive in the works to fix the staffing crisis, where the airport even hopes to ‘work with universities’ to find temporary staff.
Managing director of Manchester Airport, Karen Smart, issued an apology to customers who experienced disruption over the past weeks. She said: “We want to be clear with our customers that getting back to full strength is going to take time and there will unfortunately be periods over the next few weeks when it will take longer to get through the airport than it should.”
According to the MEN, one passenger has described the queues as ‘carnage’. Aside from the customers, staff are also struggling under the workload. Some have contacted the Manchester Evening News complaining of ‘exhaustion’ amid a heavy workload and diminishing team spirit.
One employee said: “It’s very under-staffed at the moment, things are diabolical. The entire work environment is shocking. A lot of people were furloughed and made redundant.
“All the companies in the airport just got rid of far too many staff, everyone panicked during the pandemic. Now everything is picking up again, we can’t just get the staff back.
“There’s a lot of staff threatening to leave and a lot that have already left. We’ve just lost loads of staff – had many hand in notices in the last two weeks.”
Earlier this month, it emerged firefighters had been asked to help on the baggage conveyors, while on Friday, a letter was sent to employees asking that they volunteer help out to manage queues. Up to now, bosses at Manchester Airports Group (MAG) have largely focused their responses to these stories on the easing of restrictions and ‘unexpected’ demand, as well as a large number of bags being rejected at Security.
However, a new statement accepts there are also recruitment and staffing issues. It says: “The airport is experiencing staff shortages, as it seeks to meet rapidly increasing demand for international travel following the lifting of testing and quarantine requirements in mid-February.”
It warns that they are ‘expecting there to be longer security queues than usual for several weeks’.
It states that the ‘ramping-up’ of operations following the removal of restrictions last month is creating challenges not only for airport-managed sections like Security – where there are ‘hundreds’ of vacancies – but also for those run by outside agencies. These include Check-in, Baggage Reclaim and Immigration checks at the border.
Following a pandemic which savaged the travel industry and led to more than 2,000 redundancies at Manchester Airport alone, bosses are struggling to employ and train staff fast enough to cope with the huge demand. Passenger numbers have doubled over the last two months, with 60,000 now travelling through the terminals every day.
The airport has begun a major recruitment drive to fill hundreds of roles in its security operation. Other firms, including airlines and ground handlers are on mission to recruit too.
But they are competing with other employers in what hub bosses describe as ‘one of the tightest labour markets in recent memory’. Adding to the challenge is the time it takes to train new staff, particularly for roles in jobs like Security, which is why queues are expected to continue for ‘several weeks’.
There are currently 400 recruits undergoing the training and security clearance process and the situation is ‘expected to improve’ through April as the workforce is bolstered. In the meantime, the airport is holding a jobs fair in Wythenshawe on Thursday, looking to recruit ‘temporary’ staff from universities and ‘developing ways’ for the existing workforce to support operations.
Karen Smart, managing director of Manchester Airport, said: “We want to apologise to all our customers who have experienced disruption over the last couple of weeks. We recognise passengers are really looking forward to getting away, and long queues are clearly not what they want to see when travelling through our airport.”
She said Covid-19 had been the ‘biggest crisis’ the industry had faced. She added: “We had to dramatically scale back our operations, with no certainty for a long time about when things would start to get back to normal.
“We want to be clear with our customers that getting back to full strength is going to take time and there will unfortunately be periods over the next few weeks when it will take longer to get through the airport than it should.”
Lifting of Restrictions
Industry experts say that the Government’s decision on January 5 to scrap the requirement for pre-departure tests created a surge in bookings. Then, on February 11, the requirement for in-bound full-vaccinated passengers to take a test on arrival was also removed. By March 18, all remaining restrictions were lifted, regardless of vaccination status.
Ms Smart added: “It is great that travel restrictions have now been lifted and the speed of the recovery we are seeing is encouraging. But it also presents big challenges for us and how we run the airport.
“When travel was heavily restricted during the pandemic, we were forced to reduce our staff numbers because passenger volumes were so low. Many colleagues also chose to take up other roles elsewhere given the situation we were faced with at the time.
“With so much uncertainty surrounding how long travel restrictions would remain in place, it has been difficult to plan ahead and know not just when the recovery would start, but also how quickly demand would return.”
She said passenger numbers had more than doubled in the last two months and will continue to grow in the run-up to summer, adding: “The extensive security checks and training for new security officers mean we’ve not been able to keep pace with the rapid growth in demand – but we are interviewing hundreds of candidates every week and new colleagues are coming into the operation every day.
“Unfortunately, that means that over the next few weeks there will be times when we will not be able to deliver the standard of service that we always aim to provide for our customers. We know our partners are facing similar challenges, which means there may also be disruption to services they provide – such as check-in, baggage handling, and immigration checks at the Border – but we are committed to working as one team to keep the operation going.”
What passengers can do
Bosses say that many passengers have not travelled since before the pandemic and are ‘less familiar’ with the rules of what can be taken through security – leading to more manual searches and longer queues.
The airport asks that passengers arrive at the earliest time their airline allows them to check in, and to ensure they are aware of any road or rail disruption that could impact their travel plans. It also urged passengers to remind themselves of the rules on what is and isn’t allowed in hand baggage to help speed up security processing and reduce queues.
Ms Smart said: “We want to give customers the best possible experience when they travel through Manchester, and know people are excited to be flying again after such a long time. I want to reassure people that we are working hard to get back to where we need to be, and while queues may be longer than people are used to at times, customers can definitely help us by arriving in good time and ensuring they know exactly what they can and can’t take through security. I would like to thank all our colleagues for their dedication during this period of recovery.”