Ahead of the busiest weekend for international travel for two years, the chief executive of Manchester airport, Charlie Cornish, has apologized to passengers for the “queues and congestion they’ve experienced in recent weeks”.
Manchester, the third-busiest airport in the UK after Heathrow and Gatwick, has seen extremely long waits for security over the past months, with some passengers missing flights and other departures being delayed while waiting for people caught up in the congestion.
“I apologize to anyone who has been affected by the disruption,” writes Mr Cornish in an online letter.
“We are committed to getting customers away on their trips, especially as we know many have waited such a long time to get back to traveling internationally.
“Having endured the worst crisis in our 84-year history, I can assure you that there is no one more pleased to see passengers back in our terminals than we are.” He explains: “We had to cut costs just to survive – it was as simple as that. We reduced expenditure wherever we could, and as a last resort we had to offer colleagues the option of voluntary redundancy because of the uncertainty about when international travel would resume.”
Mr Cornish says the “stunning” recovery in international travel means the airport is currently inadequately staffed.
“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.
“Practically, staff shortages mean that we cannot open all the security lanes we need and at times, this results in longer queues than we want to see. 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.”
“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 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.”
More staff are being recruited, and management “with the right level of security clearance” are being used to support the operation.
The chief executive’s announcement coincides with his counterpart at the Civil Aviation Authority, Richard Moriarty, writing to the UK’s airport demanding that “any staff related disruption that you are experiencing is short-lived”.
Mr Moriarty writes: “After the stress and constraints of the last two years, millions of UK consumers are looking forward to getting away and I am sure that you share our vision for hassle-free, accessible air travel for 2022 and beyond.”
British Airways and easyJet have so far canceled a total of 100 flights for Friday, affecting around 15,000 passengers.