A fear of flying has infected Ireland: our busiest airport has had its busiest month for three years, and in recent days was simply unable to cope - leading to long queues, cancelled trips and frustrated passengers. Why has this occurred?
1. Too few security staff: All of problems we saw at the weekend were presaged as soon as the summer schedules kicked in at the end of March, when Dublin Airport introduced most of the plans we saw last Sunday, including the advice to arrive two-and-a-half hours before a short flight and three-and-a-half hours before a long-haul flight.
Daily passenger numbers have doubled since then. We can expect close to 100,000 passengers a day to pass through Dublin airport each Friday, Saturday and Sunday between now and end of August. Most of the 350 staff Dublin Airport has recruited for security will not be trained until the end of the month. Having let 248 staff go under redundancy packages during Covid, the airport has few places to turn if there are short-notice staff absences, as happened early on Sunday morning.
If Dublin Airport Authority was an airline it would cancel flights, as both British Airways and Easyjet have done during the current staffing crisis. Instead, it has to muddle on, telling passengers who arrive five or six hours before a flight that they are creating more problems than they solve. It may be true, but the fact is that trust has broken down between the DAA and passengers, who no longer believe that two-and-a half hours is early enough to catch their flight.
2. Too few other staff: The staffing problem is not confined to security. Many airlines and airport companies have too few service or check-in staff to cope with the resurgence in demand. One of the country’s biggest tour operators has been cancelling flights and rescheduling passengers, inbound and outbound, during the current crisis. One flight was rescheduled after customers, who had made their way through the Sunday morning security chaos, waited at the gate for three hours without information and then had their flight cancelled.
3. Security audits: Dublin Airport has failed two security audits in four months. This means that the vigilance of the screeners and sensitivity of the screening machines has to be upgraded, just when faster processing is needed to usher passengers through.
4. Packing problems: The Airports Council International has noticed two other trends that are unhelpful in the current crisis. Nobody could lay the blame for the weekend problems with passengers, but it has been noted that we are less adept at packing than we were before Covid. People are not taking out the lip gloss, liquids and laptops, like they did as a matter of routine when they travelled more frequently. This exacerbates the delays.
5. More flights at peak periods: The other trend is an unexpected adjustment in airline schedules, with traffic now much more concentrated at peak periods. The Airports Council says the sudden increase in flights, and the concentration of air traffic into short time slots, have particularly hit ground handlers, “which has resulted in an increase in flight delays and cancellations, and more generally a degraded passenger experience at many airports”.
That security queue issue has some distance to snake before we are cleared for take-off.