Dublin Airport cannot guarantee no repeat of scenes - Ryan

DAA says it will check CCTV while processing refund claims for missed flights

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan has said Dublin Airport “cannot guarantee” there will not be a repeat of scenes from last weekend that led to some 1,400 people missing flights after lengthy queues.

“That’s what I heard from the Dublin Airport Authority today, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have the obligation to do absolutely everything to avoid it,” he said, adding that he believed they would cope.

The message from Government, he said, was that “it cannot continue”. Mr Ryan told reporters on his way into cabinet it was unacceptable that someone would queue for two or three hours and then miss a flight. “The airport has to manage its operations so it doesn’t occur”.

He said there was also discussion on differentiating lanes within the airport, for example between those who had to check in and those who were already checked in.

READ MORE

Mr Ryan said the airport “let themselves down and the country down”, adding that there were now 1,400 instances of people who were not able to get their flights “and everyone else waiting for hours”.

He said four issues were discussed: changes to the airport and queueing patterns, and how resources could be mobilised so that security lanes were open to avoid queues. He said the government also raised how the issue will be managed during summer, and how compensation will be paid out.

He said airport operator DAA was “upfront” in recognising that the main problem was the right staffing resources were not in place, rather than a lack of clarity over the amount of people who were expected to turn up at the airport.

Earlier Daa was told to publish a plan for the bank holiday weekend within the next 24 hours, following talks with Ministers on Tuesday morning.

Also on Tuesday the airport said it will be checking CCTV footage from last Sunday when processing refund claims from passengers who missed flights as a result of long queues. The DAA has received more than 300 refund applications since Sunday but expects that figure to increase.

A second set of meetings between DAA executives and Mr Ryan, alongside Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton, took place on Tuesday.

Since then, the political system has sought reassurances that similar scenes will not recur over the June Bank Holiday weekend.

In a joint statement, Mr Ryan and Ms Naughton said they received an update on the airport’s plan to improve queue management, “maximise the availability of staffing resources” and increase the number of security lanes at peak times. They were also given an update on how DAA intends to compensate passengers who missed flights.

The statement outlined that DAA is “currently finalising operational arrangements”.

“Ministers have asked that DAA clearly communicate their plan, within the next 24 hours, to deliver a satisfactory experience for passengers departing from the airport this bank holiday weekend. Ministers emphasised the importance of restoring passenger confidence in Dublin Airport.”

A statement from DAA said its plan would be communicated in the next 24 hours.

Regarding processing refunds for those who missed flights, a spokesman explained checking CCTV footage is a standard procedure to ensure those who claim to have missed flights were in fact in the terminal.

With the big number of would-be passengers having failed to board aircraft on time, large numbers of refund applications are anticipated but customer service staff are still processing emails.

Appealing for patience, Graeme McQueen, the airport authority’s media relations manager, said applications would be dealt with “as quickly as we possibly can. It will take time though because we are dealing with a high volume”.

“I would hope we are talking weeks at the most but we are still dealing with a large volume of correspondence. There will be a communication flow with passengers as well to make sure they know what’s happening.”

Those awaiting refunds can also include out of pocket expenses associated with travel, including hotel stays once supported by receipts returned to the Authority as part of special forms.

Those who claim to have missed their flights as a result of airport mismanagement will have their application cross-checked with security footage although, Mr McQueen, said this could prove more difficult on Sunday due to the high level of people in the terminals.

DAA staff specifically request consent from passengers seeking a refund to identify them in CCTV footage, and ask for details of positioning and clothing, or anything that might make them easier to identify. If a person does not give consent for this, Mr McQueen said, then CCTV footage is not assessed.

The Government message is the DAA needs to do “whatever it takes” to ensure long queues at Dublin Airport are addressed, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath told the Dail during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil on Tuesday .

Mr McGrath said scenes at the airport over the weekend were “completely unacceptable” and that passengers should not have had to “endure an experience like that”.

“The message from the Government couldn’t be clearer - the DAA needs to do whatever it takes to make sure that this issue is addressed, and that we do not see those kinds of scenes again, in particular over the forthcoming bank holiday weekend,” Mr McGrath said during Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil on Tuesday.

“That is why ministers [Eamon] Ryan and [Hildegarde] Naughton reinforced to the DAA executives the imperative of getting on top of this, because it’s just not fair.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Government’s failure to plan for the recovery of Ireland’s tourism sector had “come home to roost in a very catastrophic fashion”.

Ms McDonald said the State’s main airport was experiencing “chaos” and was a “nightmare” on Sunday “for those caught up in the mayhem”.

The Dublin Central TD said people waited hours in queues that stretched outside the terminal buildings and received no communication, update or explanation for the delays with more than 1,000 holidaymakers missing their flights.

“This isn’t only about tourism and holidays,” Ms McDonald added. “As a small island nation, we rely heavily on our airports to ensure our connectivity with the rest of the world and we simply cannot afford this chaos.

“Last week’s events at the airport risk damaging Ireland’s international reputation for international business and investment.”

“All of this has its roots in the laying of 1,000 workers by the Dublin Airport Authority during the pandemic and the subsequent lack of workforce planning as international travel reopened.”

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said the issues at Dublin Airport wasn’t just a matter of poor planning but also pointed to a failure of national aviation policy to ensure effective distribution of flights amongst the State’s airports as well as worker’s rights.

“The real concern we have is that we’ve seen Dublin Airport become a low cost airport as the preponderance of low cost airlines has dominated and you’ve seen a race to the bottom as a result,” she said.

While there was a large number of missed flights resulting for chaotic conditions on Sunday, none are anticipated from Monday as a result of queues or staffing issues.

Many of those who did miss their flights were able to avail of free rebooking options for later alternatives, meaning not all passengers will file claims.

Mr McQueen said the airport had previously issued refunds following similar problems earlier this year, if on a smaller scale, and so the process had been tested.

Meanwhile Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has rejected Ryanair’s call for the army to be brought in to manage the queues, saying they “have enough to be doing.”

Mr Coveney said the surge in passenger numbers through the airport after the restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic was “predictable” and that the airport’s operator had known “for months” that more people would be looking to travel abroad again in the wake of the pandemic.

“This is something that the DAA should be able to manage much more effectively than they have to date and we don’t see the army as part of the solution,” he said.

Ryanair chief executive Eddie Wilson on Monday called on the Government to send the army into the airport. He said Defence Forces members were already “security cleared” to be able to carry out these checks.

Addressing the chaotic scenes over the weekend, Mr Coveney told reporters after speaking at a Council of Europe event in Dublin:

“It is really not acceptable for an airport that is as important and strategic as Dublin Airport is to Ireland and how it functions. We are an island; people have to get on and off the island.”

With more than 90,000 passengers in total due on Tuesday, queuing times for security checks at terminal 2 were 50 minutes and 40 minutes at terminal 1 shortly after 7am on Tuesday morning.

Speaking about wait times on Tuesday, Mr McQueen said: “The good start sets us up well for the day ahead and we’ll be seeking to maintain this momentum. Our advice to passengers travelling today remains that they should arrive up to 2.5 hours in advance of a short-haul flight and 3.5 hours before a long-haul flight. If dropping a bag and/or needing to check in at the airport, we’d recommend allowing an additional hour.

Following concern from the Government over delays which caused people to miss flights on Sunday, airlines including Ryanair and Aer Lingus, also expressed concern that their passengers were missing flights due to delays largely attributed to a lack of adequate numbers of personnel on security at the airport.

Ryanair later said the number of people who missed Ryanair flights was in the region of 1,500.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and Minister of State for International Travel Hildegarde Naughton led a wave of criticism of the airport on Monday. The Taoiseach said, “the answer lies within human resource management within the DAA and planning within the organisation”.

Passengers who missed flights at the weekend included elderly people, the vulnerable, including one man who had a seizure, at least one pregnant woman, and families with babies and toddlers. Some 50,000 people were due to pass through the airport on Sunday alone.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times