Passengers wait ‘up to six hours’ at baggage reclaim due to airport staff shortages

An airport baggage handler has said that passengers face up to six hours to receive their luggage – and they have warned that it will only get worse this summer.

The anonymous staff member, who has been working in their role for more than a decade, said that the chaos is the worst they’ve ever seen.

Speaking to The Times, the worker said that pilots have been helping to unload plans while others are said to be regularly breaking down in tears due to severe staff shortages.

But it is expected to get worse when the schools break up for the summer holiday.

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The trade association of the world’s airlines has urged the Government to fast-track new workers through security clearance, in bid to get more staff in quickly, the Mirror reports.

Thousands of passengers have had flights canceled in recent weeks or have missed taking off while waiting in nightmare queues for check-in and security clearance, while undelivered and unclaimed luggage has been piling up around the country’s airports.

According to one baggage handler writing in The Times, understaffing is the root cause of the chaos – yet security clearances for new workers are still taking up to six months to process.

The anonymous worker said: “I have been a baggage handler for more than a decade and this is the worst disruption I have ever seen.

“Before this year, I had never seen pilots helping to load and unload suitcases. In recent weeks, I have seen captains and first officers mucking in. At other airports, I hear it is now commonplace.”

Staffing issues are now the worst they’ve ever seen, with even experienced workers reduced to “emotional wrecks.”

The situation is expected to get worse over the summer

“Passengers are waiting up to six hours for their bags. The other day I saw a cleaner driving the luggage trolley on the tarmac, unescorted, because there were not enough baggage handlers to do it.

“And if people think the delays are bad now, it is nothing compared to what is going to happen when children break up from school at the end of July and beginning of August.”

The writer revealed their airport has only two-thirds of the baggage handlers required, and added: “We are so short staffed that colleagues are taking safety risks just to get the bags on board and get the plans away.

“We use conveyor belts to get the bags on and off the planes, but sometimes there are not enough workers to bring them to the tarmac.

“Some baggage handlers have become so frustrated that they are no longer waiting for the belt and are hoisting each other into the hold and throwing bags from ground level up to the plane. They could break their necks if they fell.”

Last week, a disabled passenger fell to his death at Gatwick Airport after he disembarked a plane without a helper and plunged down an escalator.

The baggage handler added: “The workers who escort disabled passengers on and off plans are really struggling.

“There might be 30 passengers requiring assistance but only three or four people to help them. It can take up to three hours to get everyone off and through arrivals.”

They added: “I am looking to get out because this is only going to get worse.

“The perception of baggage handlers is that we only load and offload bags from the plane, but we are trained to do a lot more. It is a dangerous job. We drive the airport tugs, which help the plane reverse out of parking spaces, and we put the chocks in front of the wheels to stop the plane accidentally rolling forwards.

“We are the people who drop off the jet bridge to connect the plane to the terminal. It is not unusual now to see several aircraft left waiting for an hour for the jet bridge to arrive, with the passengers stuck on board.”

They added that airlines need to pay their employees more if they want to avoid a mass exodus from the industry – and have revealed some handy tips for travelers to keep in mind to help everything go smoothly.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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