Charlie Cornish, CEO of airport operator Manchester Airports Group (MAG), has issued a statement apologizing for the considerable delays experienced by passengers at Manchester Airport in the UK in recent weeks due to staff shortages.
“I cannot apologize enough for the disruption people have faced,” Cornish said.
The shortage resulted in passengers sometimes spending between three and seven hours at the airport queueing for passenger processing, according to media reports, with many missing their flights.
Karen Smart, managing director of Manchester Airport, stepped down after eight years at the airport in response to the outcry. However, Manchester Airport isn’t alone, with delays and cancellations also occurring at London Heathrow, Dublin and other major airports in the UK and Ireland.
Manchester Airport stated that it expects most passengers to get through in less than 30-40 minutes, with the potential over the coming months for this to increase between 60 and 90 minutes. The airport attributed the issue to a sudden and “huge pent-up demand for travel” after the restrictions during the pandemic, and said it had been operating in “survival mode” for most of the past two years, with little income and large fixed costs. To cut costs, the airport reduced expenditure wherever possible and offered staff the option of “voluntary redundancy”.
In response to the staff shortage, Manchester Airport will be recruiting and training officers, having already interviewed more than 4,000 people over the last two months. Approximately 200 people are currently going through the security checks that are needed before they can start training and around 250 new security staff are to start in the operation in May 2022.
Alongside this recruitment drive, the airport is working with trade unions and staff to make more staff available, and is redeploying staff from other departments with the right level of clearance into the security area. The airport also intends to provide more real-time information to customers both online and in its terminals.
In a public statement responding to the issue, Cornish said, “No other sector has suffered as badly as the UK aviation industry. We consistently said that we needed clarity on when travel restrictions would be removed, partly so that we could work out the right time to begin recruiting again. As recently as January, with the Omicron variant spreading rapidly, tight travel restrictions remained in place and our passenger volumes were just a third of what they were pre-pandemic. Since February, we have seen a stunning recovery in international travel. Demand has returned dramatically to more than 70% of pre-Covid levels in a matter of weeks, after travel rules were eventually relaxed last month.
“But I want to be clear about the challenges associated with getting our operations back to what they were before Covid-19 in such a short space of time – and I also want to be clear about what people can expect in the next month or two as we tackle these challenges. 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 labor market around the airport has meant we have just not been able to hire people quickly enough to establish a full-strength team.
“I also want to be clear that a huge amount of work is going into improving the situation in the short term. Our focus for the next four weeks is on delivering a more predictable and reliable level of service for passengers. We are taking forward these measures with the overall objective of enabling airlines to continue to operate their full schedule of services in the weeks ahead. The alternative in the short-term would be to cap capacity and for airlines to cancel flights, as other airports and airlines are doing.
“But this would cause enormous disruption to holidays, business trips and long-awaited visits to see friends and family. We do not think cancellations are what our customers want to see. While we know they don’t want long queues either, we are committed to operating all flights safely and know that the steps we are taking will improve service levels week by week. None of us want to disrupt the travel plans that our customers have made, some of which have been disrupted several times already because of the pandemic.
“Together, we are committed to getting people away on their holidays and trips abroad with the best possible airport experience. In the short term, we know this could fall short of what customers expect, but I can assure people that we will be working hard to get passengers through the airport as quickly as we can over the coming weeks.”