IN a summer time of unprecedented journey chaos, distraught holidaymakers have stood powerless as queues snake into airport automobile parks and flights are cancelled.
However that is simply the tip of the iceberg.
For the previous few weeks, I’ve been investigating what is going wrong at our airports.
The outcome, Airport Chaos Undercover: Dispatches, is required viewing for anybody planning to fly overseas.
We hear from a whistle-blower who says pilots really feel beneath stress to fly when fatigued.
We witness first-hand the frustration of overworked baggage handlers buckling beneath the stress.
We see the desperation of passengers whose longed-for holidays are ruined by delays or cancellations.
And we hear claims that some airways are ignoring buyer calls to keep away from paying compensation.
Analysis carried out for Dispatches by air journey information supplier OAG estimates that, since January, 1.7million folks flying into or out of the UK have been affected by cancellations inside 48 hours of their flight.
Melissa Robinson, from Leeds, was one in every of them when, after two years spent planning her dream marriage ceremony in Cyprus, household and pals had their TUI flights cancelled from Manchester.
They rebooked on to a Wizz Air flight from Doncaster, then that was cancelled too. Others needed to journey to Gatwick and Bristol for substitute flights.
“My mother-in-law was in bits,” says Melissa, 39. “I used to be crying.”
The marriage went forward, however not earlier than that they had paid out almost £4,000 to get everybody there.
TUI advised us the flight was delayed by “baggage dealing with points,” apologised and offered refunds for the choice flights.
Baggage dealing with is a key think about whether or not a flight hits its scheduled departure slot and, as we have now seen at Heathrow, it may end up in unclaimed baggage mountains if passengers find yourself flying, or arriving residence, with out their instances.
Manchester airport is the UK’s third busiest and normally handles round 27million passengers a 12 months.
But it surely was nearly mothballed throughout the pandemic and, when journey restrictions had been lifted in March, it clearly was not ready.
Nor was Swissport, which hundreds baggage for a number of airways countrywide however cut more than half of its 6,000 ground handling staff when Covid hit.
An undercover Dispatches reporter acquired a job with them at Manchester airport, and hidden digicam footage reveals the frustration of overworked handlers who typically begin at 3am and receives a commission £9.67 an hour — simply 17 pence greater than the nationwide residing wage.
“F***ing chaos right here . . . simply actually no workers,” says one as he struggles to haul giant suitcases on his personal.
One other tells him: “We used to have about 200 baggage handlers . . . when the pandemic struck they removed most of them.”
We noticed baggage log jams, flights delayed as a result of baggage — together with these of cabin crew — weren’t loaded in time, precedence baggage thrown into normal crates and pictures of a determined passenger poking her head by way of the conveyor belt hatch in the hunt for her suitcase. A baggage handler at Manchester airport reveals: “It occurs on a regular basis. Folks attempt coming by way of, begin fights.”
As his two-week stint ended, our reporter concluded: “I simply don’t know the way folks do these shifts and these type of hours beginning at 3am. It’s completely brutal and nobody provides them a lot credit score.”
Swissport advised us it has employed greater than 4,100 folks nationwide since January.
On July 2, I flew to Corfu from Manchester airport and filmed the expertise.
The queue for the EasyJet bag drop began within the automobile park and it took me an hour and a half to succeed in the entrance. The queue to get by way of safety was even worse.
Latest passenger footage of pilots serving to to load baggage on to planes at Manchester and Edinburgh airports reveals they’re as pissed off as everybody else by this summer time’s chaos, and a few say they’re beneath stress to fly when feeling fatigued.
The Civil Aviation Authority regulates the hours pilots work, and makes them personally chargeable for not flying if they think they’re dangerously fatigued.
However, chatting with Dispatches, one Wizz Air pilot advised us: “There’s a scarcity of crew and to keep away from cancelling flights they encourage workers to work more durable.
‘THEY DON’T REALLY CARE’
“There’s stress for us to assist out by flying on our days off . . . additionally a summer time bonus scheme that encourages pilots to fly extra hours.
“You possibly can report sick if you’re fatigued however you’ll lose financially if you happen to do.
F***ing chaos right here . . . simply actually no workers
A Manchester airport baggage handler
“There’s not that tradition of pondering the place you may converse up.”
Wizz Air disputes this as “rumour”.
And what of the shortages in cabin crew?
Olivia Kerr labored as a flight attendant for BA for 22 years and is one in every of 50 taking it to a tribunal as a result of, throughout the pandemic, she says she was advised to simply accept a 40 per cent pay minimize all the way down to £17,000 a 12 months or be fired.
“It was a large minimize,” says Olivia, who has now left the business.
BA advised us it restructured to outlive and regardless of £4billion of losses most redundancies had been voluntary. It might not touch upon Olivia’s ongoing litigation.
After which there’s passport management, which House Secretary Priti Patel not too long ago described as working in an “unsustainable and extremely inefficient approach”.
A Border Drive worker at Heathrow advised us: “We don’t have the workers, we don’t have the sources, we don’t have the IT . . . and if the e-gates fall over, it has a big impact.”
He added that with pre-pandemic summer time site visitors ranges returning, “with present staffing you’re going to get queues considerably longer than three hours”.
And, as we discovered, getting compensation for delays or cancellations is simpler stated than executed.
Rory Boland, editor of Which?, tells me: “Let’s be frank, they don’t actually care about buyer care.
“They care about flogging you an affordable ticket. We will’t be in a scenario the place passengers are advised these are your rights, however they’ll’t implement them as a result of the airline is uncontactable.”
So when, and the way, will air journey get again to regular?
Clearly, it should imply paying extra to draw folks again into the sector, and that would nicely end in costlier airfares.
But when that’s the way in which to keep away from the queues, delays and cancellations, it’s maybe a worth price paying.
- Airport Chaos Undercover: Dispatches, 8pm tonight, Channel 4.