Thousands of passengers have had to queue outside terminals at birmingham and Manchester airports, and dozens have missed flights, in chaotic scenes underlining the aviation industry’s struggle to return to normal pre-pandemic service.
The staff shortages that led to congested terminals at Easter and widespread flight cancellations have persisted, with Birmingham deciding to move passengers outside to disentangle check-ins from security lines.
Passengers described the experience as “manic” and “absolute chaos” on social media. One at Manchesterwho described himself as a regular flyer, tweeted he had “never seen it this bad” as lines of people stretched outside the airport buildings in the early morning.
Airports and carriers have blamed staff shortages for the long tails faced by passengers around the country in recent weeks. Many lost staff during the pandemic, some through redundancy, but also as employees left to take up other jobs elsewhere.
Most have been in the process of rehiring thousands of staff, with demand for travel soaring after the lifting of Covid travel restrictions in the UK. But the rush to recruit has been accompanied by lengthy waits for security clearance, and staff absence amid high rates of coronavirus has worsened matters.
The queues at airports have contributed to airline decisions to cut flights from their schedules – although they both are also struggling with staff shortages, from the combination of the Omicron variant spreading through their bases and the length of time for approving new recruits.
British Airways has canceled about 10% of its flights a day until the end of October. A spokesperson said: “While we ramp up our operation, we’re also building more resilience into our flying programme. One of the ways we’re doing this is by reducing our schedule ahead of time to give our customers certainty and options wherever possible.”
EasyJet said it hoped not to cancel more flights after the end of May, but added that it was physically removing seats from about 50 of its A319 planes to allow them to operate with three rather than four cabin crew when staff shortages hit.
Birmingham airport (BHX) said its queues were “long, but managed and moving”. It said it had decided to run those for security outside the terminal buildings to avoid crossing over with people waiting for check-in. About 15,000 passengers were due to depart on Monday, half of them in the peak early morning hours.
It added: “Of the 7,500 customers booked to fly out of BHX in today’s dawn peak, 99.7% successfully caught their flights. Anyone who missed was rebooked.”
The airport apologised, and appealed to passengers to be prepared to pass security to minimize delays: “Our message to departing customers is: help us help you keep queues moving by removing any liquids, gels, pastes and electrical items from your bags before our security x-ray scanners.”
It laid off nearly half of its employees during the pandemic when travel restrictions hit its business. The airport began looking for new staff back in November and said it expected more security officers to be ready to start work soon.
Manchester airport said it was continuing to experience longer than usual security queues at times, including on Monday morning, but was constantly bringing in new staff to tackle the problem. It said most passengers were passing security in 30-40 minutes, although queues could be more than double that.
The airport has advised passengers to arrive three hours before their flight’s departure time, but not to come earlier to avoid adding to the congestion in the terminals.