Poulton holidaymakers caught up in security chaos at Manchester Airport before their flight to Spain
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The pair arrived back from a two-week holiday in Murcia at the end of March.
While they ‘breezed’ through the Spanish check-in, the outward flight on 16th March 2022 wasn’t so straightforward.
They described scenes in Manchester as ‘madness’ and bedlam’, and were shocked by the absence of social distancing and mask wearing in the crowded concourse.
“In Spain it was so easy - but it was just madness here. People were really worried about missing their flights because the security process was taking so long. It’s put us off going back to Manchester Airport. We are going to Italy this summer but we are looking at other airports.”
The Stevens, who live on Cartgate, Preesall, said that they arrived three hours before their flight – earlier than they had been advised. But after they had checked in the problems started.
There weren’t enough staff to cope with the demand, and only one out of two security points was open.
Chrissie said: "The security queue was in the same place as the Ryan Air bag drop, so suddenly someone yelled ‘you’ve got to move to another line’ so we were moved upstairs.”
And they were further delayed because their hand luggage had to be sent for a further check.
Any liquid items - such as toiletries - should be removed from hand-luggage to avoid problems.
“We put our hand luggage in a box and it went on the conveyor belt. I thought I’d removed everything I needed to but I had a tiny hand cream in my bag that I’d missed, and so it had to be checked. But there was no staff to check them, so there were just loads of boxes stuck there not getting checked.”
The couple visit the same holiday apartment in Murcia, and regularly fly from Manchester Airport.
Chrissie likes to arrive early to give them time to look around the shops, but this time was more concerned about getting checked in as soon as possible.
But as more people try to arrive earlier, it causes more problems.
“A lot of people are arriving earlier even though they can’t check-in, and that leads to more people there taking up space and making it harder when you’re ready to check-in.”
Problems with long queues and security delays at Manchester Airport started around 16th March – the date when the Stevens flew out to Murcia. Airport bosses blamed an unusually large number of bags which did not comply with security rules, as well as high passenger numbers.
Problems are expected to last into June, and staff shortages are partly to blame. A recruitment drive has brought in an extra 220 employees, but airport bosses confirmed that they are still not up to full staffing levels.
The new recruits are also currently awaiting security clearance - but the exercise is taking longer than usual.
Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, announced on 6th April 2022, that he would write to the Minister for Security and Borders to ask for vetting to be prioritised for a period to speed up the process for airports in crisis.
Burnham also announced other measures to ease disruption, but he warned the problems cannot be solved ‘overnight’.
He recommended that airport bosses should bring in more temporary staff and make better use of overtime.
He also wants the airport website to provide more real-time information on security queues, and to give the option to check in bags the night before if customers are taking an early flight.
Mr Burnham said: “Manchester has faced particular challenges. Some of the issues being experienced by Manchester Airport are beyond their control.
“However, that is not to say that other things could not have been done differently.
“Firstly while the airport has been making strenuous efforts to recruit, more should have been done earlier.
“Secondly, communications to passengers ahead of and upon arrival should have been better as should the management of the queues.
“However, it is important to acknowledge that some of the pressure arises from the decision Manchester Airport has taken to protect people’s holidays and trips and avoid cancellations as other airports have done.”
Today Manchester Airport has warned passengers to expect queues of up to 90 minutes due to staff shortages.
Charlie Cornish, chief executive of owner Manchester Airports Group, urged departing travellers to arrive three hours before their flight to avoid missing it.
Passengers have faced long delays and chaotic scenes in recent weeks, with queues trailing outside terminals to reach check-in desks and hordes of people waiting to get through security and to pick up luggage.
The airport’s managing director, Karen Smart, resigned on Tuesday.
After cutting thousands of jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, the aviation industry in general is suffering from difficulties recruiting staff and waiting for security checks to be passed on new employees.
There has also been a recent rise in coronavirus-related staff sickness.
Pressure on airlines and airports has increased due to the surge in demand for travel during the Easter school holidays.
Mr Cornish said: “The simple fact is that we don’t currently have the number of staff we need to provide the level of service that our passengers deserve.
“Despite our efforts since last autumn, the tight labour market around the airport has meant we have just not been able to hire people quickly enough to establish a full-strength team.”
Staff shortages mean the airport cannot open all its security lanes, resulting in long queues.
“While we still expect most passengers to get through in less than 30-40 minutes, there will be times over the next few months when waiting times will rise to between 60 and 90 minutes,” Mr Cornish said.
“We understand that people will feel anxious about missing their flights when they see queues of this length.
“So for now, we are advising passengers to arrive at the airport three hours before their flight leaves, to allow enough time to check-in, get through security and reach the departure gate.”
The chief executive said the airport is facing “one of the most challenging employment markets we have seen”, with more than half of the candidates offered jobs finding vacancies elsewhere before the aviation vetting process is completed.
But the airport does expect around 250 new security staff to begin work by early May.
Mr Cornish added that he “cannot apologise enough for the disruption people have faced” and insisted “we will be back to where we need to be soon”.
British Airways and easyJet have recently cancelled a total of more than 100 daily flights, and passengers at Heathrow and Birmingham Airports have also complained of long queues.
Aviation regulator the Civil Aviation Authority has warned airlines that late-notice cancellations and excessive delays are “not just distressing for affected consumers but have the potential to impact confidence levels across the industry”.
In a letter, chief executive Richard Moriarty acknowledged that many carriers are in the process of recruiting large numbers of staff but “it is clear that this has not always happened sufficiently quickly to cope with the increased passenger travel in recent days”.
He wrote: “Given the consequences for passengers of cancelled and disrupted journeys, I encourage you to do all you can to ensure that you have the necessary level of appropriately-trained and cleared staff resources in place.”
He added that it is “very important” that airlines set schedules “on a basis that is deliverable given available staff (including contractors), and has resilience for staff sickness, including from Covid”.
Mr Moriarty also wrote to airports, calling on them to “work closely with airlines” to ensure “disruption is kept to a minimum”.