Brits are facing a summer of airport chaos amid chronic staffing shortages and IT glitches.Shocking scenes from around the country in recent weeks hav
Brits are facing a summer of airport chaos amid chronic staffing shortages and IT glitches.
Shocking scenes from around the country in recent weeks have shown holidaymakers stuck in huge queues with some forced to sleep on the floor of airports amid long delays.
Industry chiefs have pointed the finger at mass layoffs during the pandemic which saw staff let go because of the collapse in demand for travel during the various lockdowns.
Airlines are now struggling to rehire workers previously let go, leading to a shortage of security staff, ground handlers and check-in staff.
Industry sources say staffing levels are around 80 to 90 per cent of where they need to be for the peak summer season at larger airports and about 70 per cent at smaller ones.
Some workers have also decided to quit the industry and not return following the pandemic, it has been suggested.
Another issue has been the vetting of new staff, with background checks taking several weeks.
Unions and aviation chiefs say the security check backlog could be approaching 20,000 applications.
A busy terminal 2 heathrow airport as passengers continue to face lengthy delays during the half term period
Passengers at Stansted Airport sleeping at the airport overnight due to flight cancelations and excessive delays during the half term weekend
Meanwhile, Julian Knight, chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, called for an investigation into claims airlines are selling more tickets than they can service.
Rory Boland, the travel editor of consumer group Which? said that the government must intervene to make sure airlines stop selling flights ‘they can’t actually provide’.
He told The Times: ‘We’re already seeing very long queues, widespread chaos at airports, huge stress for people planning to get away, and we haven’t hit the peak yet.
‘Airports and airlines have known this recovery was coming for a period of time now. We’re continuing to see things get worse, not better.’
But airport bosses says queues have been exacerbated by passengers turning up earlier than normal from the early hours.
Paul Charles, of travel consultancy The PC Agency, previously said that Covid travel restrictions led to a ‘destruction of talent through job losses’.
Kully Sandhu, managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network, said: ‘In my opinion, it could be up to 12 months before we see staffing at airports back to pre-pandemic levels. Recruitment for people at airports takes longer than roles elsewhere because of necessary, additional security and background checks.
‘Routine recruitment campaigns ground to halt during the pandemic and have been slow to start again as international travel has had a number of restrictions on it until recently. That means the recruitment pipeline was cut off and needs to be re-established.
‘Aviation has lost its appeal, not only for returners but also for people who have never worked in an airport environment before.’
Airlines are now asking travellers to arrive earlier for their flights – contributing to the long queues seen at airports.
Meanwhile, some experts have discussed the long delays in vetting new recruits, adding to the chaos.
The Unite union said there are ‘chronic staff shortages across the board’, and that ‘current pay and conditions in the industry are so poor that workers are voting with their feet’, adding: ‘It can only be resolved by offering higher wages and better working conditions for staff.’
Union officials added that many airport staff are being asked to work extra hours, and ‘relying on staff overtime to run the business can’t be a long-term solution’.
Experts said that airlines ‘are simply unable to cope with that demand due to a lack of resources’ and warned that the ‘nightmare’ disruption could last all year.
BA has axed hundreds of flights up on some routes to the US and the Far East until September, affecting thousands of travellers after it had already cancelled more than 1,000 flights in little more than three weeks.
Gatwick: Tired travellers lay on the carousel at the West Sussex airport as they wait for their bags to arrive in chaotic scenes
Manchester: Row after row of uncollected luggage at the north-west airport that has suffered problems for weeks
Bristol: Passengers have been queuing through the night as they try to get through airports that are lacking staff to cope
Bristol: There were lines snaking around the terminal at 3.30am today
Industry experts have also pointed the finger at security checks for issues with staff numbers, with vetting for new staff taking up to twice as long as the 14 weeks it is supposed to. They also believe that loss of thousands of experienced staff who were laid off during the pandemic has had an impact, with many not returning after finding jobs elsewhere.
‘Covid travel restrictions have brought about a destruction of talent through job losses,’ Mr Charles said.
He also told the Telegraph: ‘In the short-term you have got Covid [absence] which is becoming less of an issue, but in the longer term, there are still complications over recruiting enough staff.
‘BA is only recruiting staff who already have security passes. The airline’s planners obviously believe there is a maximum number of people they feel they will recruit, therefore it has to cut back on frequency now based on its expected level of recruitment.
‘It is readjusting in order to give as much notice as it can before it’s inevitable that they have to cancel those flights anyway. It is responding to concerns expressed by their customers and Government ministers about the lack of notice given to consumers.’
George Morgan-Grenville, chief executive of Red Savannah Luxury Travel, added: ‘It is an unfortunate perfect storm and airlines and airports are trying to ramp up again after the pandemic.
‘The travel industry is not an industry that can be turned on and then off again and it was inevitable it was going to take time. My own feeling is I don’t think we are going to see a problem-free summer by any stretch of the imagination. If it is as bad as it has been purported to be, I think you will get a lot of very upset people.’