Airlines and ground handlers at Dublin Airport are dealing with about 4,200 mislaid or missing bags, politicians heard on Tuesday.
Mislaid baggage is an increasing frustration for air travellers as the industry grapples with surging post-Covid traffic.
Sky Handling Partner, confirmed on Tuesday that the company had 2,897 passengers’ bags at Dublin, while Aer Lingus said it was dealing with 1,200 items across its European and North American networks.
Meanwhile, another Dublin Airport ground handler, Swissport, said it had 100 bags, for a total of 4,197 between the three businesses.
Darren Moloney, Sky Handling’s managing director, told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport that the bags mostly arrived from hubs including Toronto in Canada, Amsterdam, Paris and others, where airlines and handlers face acute labour shortages.
Also, the company maintains that airlines sometimes “choose which flights not to load” to short circuit delays, so bags are arriving in Dublin after their owners have landed.
Consequently, luggage is building up at a faster rate than the company can redirect it to passengers. “It’s like climbing a sand dune,” one of its staff told the committee.
According to Mr Moloney, Dublin Airport owner daa has given Sky Handling secure premises where it can hold and sort the bags for delivery. The public has access to this, which speeds up the process of returning baggage to owners.
Both Sky Handling and Swissport highlighted problems hiring staff to replace the “knowledgeable and experienced workers” who left the industry during the pandemic, when tough Government restrictions severely limited flying.
Mr Moloney told the committee his business wrote to the Department of Transport and An Garda Síochána in March warning about the difficulties that extra security background checks, required by Government for aviation workers since January, were creating in recruiting staff.
He rejected Senator Gerard Craughwell’s accusation that air travel companies laid off too many workers during the pandemic. “It was very hard for us to give certainty to our staff, so individuals made the decision that they would exit the business,” Mr Moloney said.
Aer Lingus is dealing with about 1,200 misplaced bags, according to chief executive, Lynne Embleton. She said about 60 per cent of missed luggage transfers from other airlines. “In some cases we have never seen or touched those bags,” she said.
Ms Embleton said the problem arose most frequently with flights from hubs including London Heathrow, Amsterdam and Paris, while it was a risk mainly for connecting passengers, rather than those just flying point-to-point.
Peter O’Neill, Aer Lingus chief operating officer, confirmed that the company was leasing aircraft and crew from other carriers to help cut cancellations.
Sickness and limits imposed at overseas airports prompted the airline to cancel 23 of a total of 8,353 flights in June. Heathrow recently capped passengers at 100,000 a day, forcing Aer Lingus to drop services to and from there.
Responding to Senator Jerry Buttimer, who raised the case of a family whose flight to Faro in Portugal had been cancelled on Saturday, Ms Embleton acknowledged that the scale of disruption meant that customer care and contact was not as good as the airline would like.
Aer Lingus is reaccommodating passengers on the same day where possible. Customers are also entitled to refunds.
Meanwhile, Dublin Airport calculates that the bill for compensating 1,400 passengers who missed flights as a result of security delays on May 29th could reach €1 million. It is close to finalising settlements with 75 per cent of them, according to general manager Vincent Harrison.
He told the committee that the airport was handling 100,000 passengers a day, with 95 per cent of them through security in less than 45 minutes. Mr Harrison said that should remain the case through the August bank holiday weekend.