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JANET STREET-PORTER: Long queues at airports put UK travel industry to shame

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Airports would run so much better if they didn’t have to deal with that annoying thing called PASSENGERS.

It would be the same for trains elsewhere.

The scenes of mile-long queues at Birmingham Airport this week are putting the travel industry to shame. The 5.45 a.m. queue outside Manchester Airport. The chaos in Leeds that caused a woman to miss not one, but two flights as she patiently waited in line.

Thousands of flights have been canceled over the past month. Airports are understaffed. Intercity trains are always canceled without any warning.

Who is to blame?

The journey ceased to be joyous pleasure and became an experience designed to test our patience and physical strength to the limit. And we pay a lot to be mistreated.

These anxious people hanging around at dawn outside UK airports are valued customers who are treated appallingly – mugs who have paid millions of pounds for a service (a holiday flight) that is likely to be an experience quite unpleasant.

For nearly two years during the pandemic – as passengers plummeted to 1950s levels – transport bosses complained and complained of going bankrupt, begging for government bailouts.

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BIRMINGHAM: Huge queues formed outside Birmingham Airport as early as 5.45am on Tuesday

MANCHESTER: Queues also formed at Manchester Airport on Monday (pictured)

MANCHESTER: Queues also formed at Manchester Airport on Monday (pictured)

STANSTEAD: Travelers from Stanstead Airport in London took to Twitter to express their displeasure on Tuesday

STANSTEAD: Travelers from Stanstead Airport in London took to Twitter to express their displeasure on Tuesday

Then, when we were allowed to travel again, the confusing and convoluted restrictions imposed by the government (and to be fair, by popular destinations like Spain and Italy) didn’t exactly bring passengers back to the hurry.

The travel industry finally had its prayers answered last February when Boris decided to wave caution and declare self-isolation was no longer necessary and pre-flight testing for the most part countries ended in time for the Easter holidays.

Hungry for foreign travel, Britons have booked millions of flights, desperate to get away from horrific infighting in Whitehall, Partygate, Beergate, soaring energy and food prices and a plethora of lies and waffles from our elected leaders.

A few days of mindlessly lounging on a lounge chair was what we needed.

And then…

Airport bosses seemed surprised that hundreds of thousands of passengers were using their facilities. Yes, people who would need to check in and go through security.

Flights should be operated by pilots and manned.

Baggage should be loaded and unloaded within acceptable time frames.

Easter is always busy, so it was no surprise that UK airports were bustling with activity for the first time in two years.

Unfortunately, they did not take up the challenge.

More Janet Street-Porter For Mailonline…

During Covid, airlines laid off thousands of highly skilled and expert employees who had passed security screening procedures and security protocols – from pilots to cabin crew.

Airports got rid of baggage handlers and a large number of operations employees who had been screened and had passed all the necessary safeguards.

Now there was a desperate scramble to recruit them again.

Many rank-and-file workers didn’t want to know because they’d found another job or didn’t feel like getting up at 3am for meager pay of less than £11 an hour.

The result?

The current mess. Queues that put our travel industry to shame. Passengers are treated less well than cattle.

Over Easter, British Airways and Ryanair canceled more than 1,000 flights, citing staff shortages as well as covid.

The day before my flight to Australia, Heathrow was in chaos as hundreds of flights were canceled without notice and families flocked to every hotel in the area.

There were similar scenes in Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds, 30 hours delay for take-offs, 2 hours waiting at passport control.

Now, more than five weeks later, passengers are still forced to queue for up to two hours on popular travel days. Being told to get to the airport at least three hours before their flight departs. In some cases, 5 hours is recommended.

BRISTOL: Holidaymakers and commuters from Bristol Airport experience long queues early Tuesday morning

BRISTOL: Holidaymakers and commuters from Bristol Airport experience long queues early Tuesday morning

Queues snake through Birmingham Airport on Tuesday morning

Queues snake through Birmingham Airport on Tuesday morning

Passengers line up in the departures hall at Manchester Airport on Monday

Passengers line up in the departures hall at Manchester Airport on Monday

How can a family with young children cope? Are they really expected to wait patiently in line for two hours to board a flight they paid for, knowing that they won’t be reimbursed if they don’t make it through security in time?

I was so afraid of missing my fight in Melbourne that I booked a room at the airport the night before, adding another unnecessary cost to my trip.

Airport bosses reacted in various ways. Manchester Airport boss Karen Smart has resigned. It emerged she was paid £2.5m in 2021, an increase of £500,000 from 2020 – at a time when the airport was not operating at full capacity.

Now, acting general manager Ian Costigan says he is “focused on bringing in the additional resources we need to continue to operate our full combat program.”

Unions say drivers are only offered £13,000 a year and safety ‘ambassadors’ (whatever that means) are recruited at £10.53 an hour which doesn’t seem like it very attractive for one of the toughest jobs, with 3am departures and night shifts.

The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that there will be over 200,000 unfilled jobs in the industry in 2022. So the problem is not going to go away overnight.

Passengers queue at the departures terminal to clear security at Manchester Airport

Passengers queue at the departures terminal to clear security at Manchester Airport

Manchester Airport's departure hall is shown on April 30, with queues of passengers filling the large hall

Manchester Airport’s departure hall is shown on April 30, with queues of passengers filling the large hall

Travel industry bosses have sleepwalked out of covid and found themselves in disaster. Nick Barton, the boss of Birmingham Airport, estimates the crisis will last several weeks, blaming the time (12 weeks) needed to recruit and train staff. He whined ‘it’s still the legacy of the industry being re-started by the government scrapping the rules in mid-February’.

I think he is trying to complain that the travel industry got what it asked for – an end to restrictions and the freedom to fly out of the UK on holiday!

He seemed aggrieved that 14,000 people had booked to take off from his airport one day at dawn. A day when some passengers were ordered to go there FIVE HOURS before takeoff.

People book the proposed flights. Passengers do not write schedules. Most budget airlines have the best early morning and late evening deals, with a few other flights at more convenient times.

At Manchester Airport, 550 employees have started since January, with another 500 undergoing screening and security training. This is hardly going to solve the problems in time for the summer holidays.

Travelers are requested not to check in their baggage. Don’t arrive too early. Carry water so we don’t collapse in the queue. But let’s not drink too much then we have to go to the bathroom and lose our place.

Is the root of all these misfortunes the new culture of the WFH? Getting a passport will now take up to ten weeks as officials struggle to keep up with a huge surge in demand after two years where we couldn’t go anywhere, and no one bothered to renew his old passport.

Has the journey ever seemed darker? And why do we put up with being treated so badly? Anyone would think that the airlines are doing us a favor by taking our money and giving us very little in return.

We regularly complain about poor service in shops and restaurants, but when it comes to air travel, we’ve been suffering for a long time.

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