Manchester airport owners admit lacking 1,500 workers after Covid

FIFTEEN HUNDRED airport workers were missing when Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands reopened after Covid sparking massive cues and holiday chaos

  • Manchester Airports Group (MAG) has recruited 1,500 staff since January alone
  • It comes after chaos this year meant MAG saw a 8.5% drop in flight punctuality
  • Annual reports admit ‘significant’ shortfall of staff to run airports effectively
  • More queues, delays and cancellations are expected throughout the summer 

As airport chaos continues the owner of Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports was short of 1,500 staff coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, its latest annual results show.

Since January 2022, 1,500 new members of staff have joined the group – but the financial report states that challenges are expected to continue into the summer.

Chief Executive Charlie Cornish in his introduction to the report said: ‘Like all airports across the UK, it has been challenging to build back our staffing levels quickly enough to meet this returning demand. This has meant we have at times seen disruption at some of our airports.

‘The past two years have been exceptionally difficult and we know that our recovery over the coming months will not be without its challenges.’ 

It comes as UK airports are anticipating another busy day today, with Heathrow already recommending to passengers that they arrive three hours prior to their flight. 

Throughout the year passengers have faced waves of airport disruption, including queues stretching outside airports, hundreds of flight cancellations and hours-long delays. 

Manchester airport has been one of the worst affected by the higher demand for flights from holidaymakers, with some of the worst queues across the country.

This was made worse this week after an emergency evacuation of the entire airport took place after a passenger reportedly triggered an alarm ‘accidentally’.

The situation was so bad managing director Karen Smart quit from her role. 

The queue for passengers to check-in at Manchester airport’s Terminal 2 this morning (Friday, July 8)

Queues are seen at Heathrow Terminal 2 this morning. Travellers are expecting further travel chaos as the school summer holidays begin, however British Airways strikes have been called off after the airline made a vastly improved pay offer

Social media users have taken to posting pictures of airport queues, such as this one in Manchester airport after the check-in system reportedly went down in recent weeks

Scenes at Manchester airport on July 4, 2022 as the airport continues to face issues over availability of staff and a huge soaring of demand from passengers

Just a couple of weeks ago Heathrow airport was slammed by passengers as a fault with luggage belts in Terminal 2 led to hundreds of cases being left behind, and having to be stored outside of the terminal (Photo: June 19)

Meanwhile at Gatwick airport in London hundreds of people were caught in a bottleneck yesterday (July 7) at the train station before they even entered the airport

Passengers have been pictured sleeping wherever there is space in some UK airports in recent weeks

With passenger numbers at a third of pre-pandemic levels for the financial year ending 2022, Manchester Airports Group (MAG) said its combined losses for the last two years were £694 million, with £319 million of that coming during the 12 months to the end of March. 

Compared with 2018/19, revenues were down by 48 per cent in 2021/2022 – but increased by more than 158 per cent compared to the year before.

The largest increase in commercial revenue came from car parking, which took £126 million in the latest financial year. 

The group served 20.5 million passengers in the 12 months to the end of March, a 225 per cent increase from 2020/2021 – but this was just a third of the 2019/20 total as pandemic travel restrictions were in place in the UK for 11 months of the period.

MAG said its recovery from the virus crisis is ‘outstripping’ other UK airports, with passenger numbers at 82 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in May.  

But as UK airports have struggled to meet the recent surge in demand for flights, customers faced a significant drop in reliability, with 8.5 per cent fewer flights departing on time from MAG airports compared to 2020/2021.

Of the group’s airports, Manchester was the top performing site in terms of revenue, closely followed by London’s Stansted airport. 

People sleep on the floor of Stansted airport yesterday (July 7). Stansted is owned by the Manchester Airport Group, which released its latest financial reports yesterday

Passengers already faced queues early this morning, with problems expected to worsen as schools break up for the summer holidays

Luggage woes continue to cause misery for passengers who have been forced to travel without their belongings from Heathrow, with backlogs not cleared for days

Queues are not just limited to inside airports either – this photo taken at the start of July shows passengers queuing for buses outside Stansted Airport

MAG also reported a decrease in the amount of tax paid on its revenue, from £42.4 million in 2021 to £31 million by April 2022, which the company attributed to UK corporation tax changes.

The group’s chief executive, Charlie Cornish, said: ‘With travel restrictions in place for nearly all of the last 12 months, it was another uncertain and unpredictable year for MAG and the wider aviation industry.’

MAG airports are among those that have been affected by the widespread disruption across the aviation sector, as the spike in demand for travel has coincided with staffing shortages.

Mr Cornish admitted the pace of the recovery in demand for air travel has ‘brought its own challenges’ and recruitment of new staff ‘has taken longer and been more difficult than we anticipated’.

He added: ‘With passenger levels across MAG growing quickly back towards what they were before the pandemic, I am confident in the strength of our business and the contribution our airports will once again make for their regions and the whole UK economy.’

The report stated: ‘There is currently a significant difference in current available resource and resource required to deliver effective operations at each airport.’ 

MAG insisted it has been ‘working hard for several months to bring its operations back to full strength’.

Since January, more than 1,500 new employees have taken up roles across Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports.

That is in addition to hundreds of new staff at airlines, ground handlers and retailers operating at the airports.

One flight from Edinburgh last month was helped to get away after a conscientious captain from Swiss airline Edelweiss Air helped load passengers’ bags onto the plane

Waiting times at security ‘have improved’, with 92% of passengers being processed in less than half an hour at Manchester Airport in June, according to MAG.

The group is not alone in feeling the effects of the recovery of the aviation sector, however.

London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, the largest in the UK, have also come under fire for delays and cancellations.

Following days of turmoil over the half-term holiday in June, during which hundreds of passengers were forced to abandon their luggage after issues at Heathrow, the UK government urged airlines to cancel more summer flights to make timetables more realistic.

This was an effort to reduce the number of flights cancelled at the last minute.

Shortly after this EasyJet’s chief operating officer Peter Bellew resigned amid growing pressure on the airline to reduce flight disruption.

It comes after trade union Unite claimed last month that there was a ‘lack of leadership’ within easyJet, and Mr Bellew should be ‘taking control of this situation’ as the aviation sector struggles to cope with the rising demand for travel amid staff shortages and difficulties obtaining security clearance for new recruits. 

EasyJet said that David Morgan – who has been with the airline since 2016 – has been appointed as interim chief operating officer. 

But there has been some good news for British Airways customers – a strike by check-in staff has been called off this week after the airline made a vastly improved pay offer.

Unions Unite and GMB said the new offer effectively me their demand to restore the 10% pay cut made during the pandemic.

A one-off bonus of 10% had previously been rejected by the unions.

This will be a relief to some passengers after days of rail strikes brought the country to a halt last month. 

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