Manchester Airport passengers crawl through baggage belts
Desperate passengers have had to crawl through the hatches of the baggage claim area at one of Britain’s busiest airports after losing patience with hours of delays and ‘chaos’.
In a graphic illustration of the problems that have plagued air travel since thousands of staff were made redundant during the Covid pandemic, an undercover reporter working at Manchester Airport has learned that weary travelers trying to get airside to collect their luggage ‘arriving all the time’.
The Channel 4 Dispatches investigation – airing tonight – also reveals how a whistleblower claimed pilots at a budget airline felt pressured to fly longer while suffering from fatigue.
While a UK Border Force insider warns that with current staffing, long queues at passport control will exceed three hours if passenger numbers reach pre-pandemic levels.
The alarming revelations come after months of disruption which saw 1.7 million people flying to or from the UK hit by cancellations within 48 hours of their flight.
Desperate passengers had to crawl through the hatches of Manchester Airport’s baggage claim area
Video footage shows passenger crawling through hatch after losing patience with hours of delays and ‘chaos’
Full footage will air on Airport Chaos Undercover: Dispatches which is on Channel 4 tonight at 8pm.
The journalist working as a baggage handler for Swissport was told that passengers trying to get to the airside and retrieve their luggage were “happening all the time”, resulting in “fights”.
They called the situation “f*****g chaos”, saying the cause was that they had “literally no staff”.
Physically demanding work that would typically be done by two or more people was done by individual material handlers, according to the program, with conditions on shifts starting at 3 a.m. described as “absolutely brutal.”
Meanwhile, a Wizz Air pilot whistleblower told the program what he felt was the pressure to fly longer.
Speaking anonymously, the pilot said: ‘There is a shortage of crew and to avoid canceling flights they are encouraging staff to work harder.
“There is pressure for us to help out by flying on our days off. You can call yourself sick if you are tired, but you will lose financially if you do.
Last month, the Daily Mail revealed how Wizz Air chief executive Jozsef Varadi was criticized for encouraging airline staff to work despite being tired.
At the time, he said: “We’re all tired, but sometimes it takes the extra mile.”
An undercover reporter has learned that weary travelers trying to get to the airside to retrieve their luggage ‘happen all the time’
Wizz Air racked up losses of £550million for the 12 months to the end of March – although revenue more than doubled to £1.4billion.
Martin Chalk, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association, told Dispatches that a “tired” person was “unfit to fly an aeroplane”.
Research for the program indicates that nearly seven in ten Wizz Air flights leaving the UK last month were delayed.
Swissport, the baggage-handling company used by many airlines, has laid off more than half of its 6,000 baggage-handling workers during the pandemic.
In a bid to speed up anti-terrorism and accreditation checks for new recruits, ministers have ordered the screening center to prioritize airport staff to help fill gaps more quickly.
Swissport told the program it was “sorry for our role in the disruption some people experienced at Manchester Airport”.
“We are doing everything we can to mitigate passenger delays, including hiring more than 4,100 people since January,” he added.
Wizz Air said “the safety and well-being of our passengers and crew is always our top priority”.
It said it operated an “industry-leading fatigue management system” that was “regularly reviewed and monitored” by aviation regulators.
A reporter has been told that passengers trying to get to airside and retrieve their luggage ‘happens all the time’
Wizz Air told the Daily Mail it would “never compromise on safety”, adding that it had hired 400 pilots in the past nine months.
In a statement, he said there were “no financial penalties” for pilots if they reported fatigue.
“If our pilots report fatigue and alternative pilots cannot be found, the flight will be cancelled,” he said. “We will not hesitate to cancel flights whenever necessary to ensure safety.”
In response to the claims, a spokesperson for the Department for Transport (DfT) said: ‘We have done everything in our power to support the aviation industry, including providing £8billion to protect jobs during the pandemic, but it is now up to the sector itself to ensure that passengers can get away from it all during their well-deserved summer vacation.
The department said the action included expedited security checks, as well as a temporary amnesty on airport slots to allow airlines to plan ahead and avoid last-minute cancellations.
The DfT spokesperson added: “These measures are clearly working and flight cancellations have recently returned to 2019 levels following changes which provide passengers with more certainty.”
In a statement to the Daily Mail, Swissport stressed the delays were caused by “disruption from multiple sources” and not just ground handlers.
Passengers queue to check in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2 for flights on Saturday as they depart on summer vacation
Behind-the-scenes photographs of the baggage chaos at Manchester Airport, which emerged in April
Manchester Airport’s workforce saw a net increase of 415 people this year, it added.
The company stressed that it was not working with airlines that had experienced disruptions at Heathrow or Gatwick.
Manchester Airport – whose chief executive, Karen Smart, resigned in April after weeks of chaos for travelers – pointed out that the undercover shooting took place around a month ago.
He said the first week of the summer school holidays saw 95% of passengers clearing through security within half an hour.
Ground handling, including check-in and baggage, is the responsibility of individual airlines, he added.
Airport Chaos Undercover: Dispatches is on Channel 4 tonight at 8pm