Heathrow drafts in staff from across the UK to ease passenger and flight backlog

Travellers now facing problems when trying to retrieve their luggage

Heathrow Airport is drafting in staff from across the UK as passenger numbers boom and Covid-19 among airport worker leads to more sick leave. PA
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Heathrow Airport, one of Europe's busiest, is offering bonuses to employees who have been drafted from across the UK to manage long queues and delays caused by staff shortages.

Heathrow workers have gone off sick with Covid-19.

After days of cancellations and delays, the latest problem to hit the airport is in baggage, where travellers said they waited for hours to retrieve theirs on arrival or get their bags back after their flights were cancelled.

Delays in processing security checks for new airline crew are to blame for flight cancellation chaos at British airports, easyJet's chief executive Johan Lundgren has said.

Heathrow is looking for 12,000 new workers to meet demand, and Border Force staff from Scotland and Northern Ireland are being sent to help.

Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Service Union, said back room staff were being offered bonuses.

“There's the potential for significant problems at the tail-end of this week and at the weekend and planning has already started,” she said.

“We're bringing staff down from Scotland and Northern Ireland to Heathrow.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said delays could continue for as long as eight weeks.

“I’m afraid the problems will continue for at least another eight weeks or so. It’s going to take some time to hire the numbers needed to ensure smooth processing through UK airports like Heathrow,” he told The National.

“If long queues at airports and flight cancellations by airlines continue for too much longer, then some consumers will be put off from travelling abroad.

“Staff shortages add more risk to a trip because consumers won’t want to be potentially out of pocket from last-minute cancellations and having to fork out for new flights or an extra night in an hotel.

“With the potential for an overseas trip to be badly affected, more consumers, especially families, are already booking to stay in a UK. Staycations will be highly popular again this year and airport and flight chaos will be a bonus for the staycation economy,” Mr Charles said.

It is believed up to 20,000 passengers were forced to scrap or alter their Easter plans after flights were cancelled at the weekend.

Almost 4.2 million travellers passed through Heathrow Airport in March, a more than seven-fold rise from a year earlier.

Good Friday is likely to be the busiest day of Easter, with 2,430 flights leaving the UK and more than 9,000 will depart over the bank holiday weekend.

Heathrow said it expects summer travel season 2022 to approach 2019 levels at its peak.

The rapid rise in travel volumes has put pressure on airports and the carriers that use them to rapidly gear up for operations after two years of stop-and-start business.

They have struggled to handle increased traffic during the Easter holidays after cutting back on staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

There has been a rise in travel as much of the world drops entry restrictions, while the virus continues to ripple through flight crews and ground workers.

Passengers queue for check-in at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2. Photo: Laura O’Callaghan / The National

Heathrow Airport has been forced to apologise to passengers for hours of delays as they pass through the airport.

Despite many passengers having advanced notice of cancellations, problems at security checks and luggage retrieval are continuing. Many took to social media to complain.

Experts said the problems will get worse as millions of travellers prepared to depart over the Easter weekend.

“It hasn’t just been airports, we’ve seen ferries cancelling trips and coaches being heavily delayed. Sadly, I’ve also heard from people working in airports that they’ve been reduced to tears with the way customers are treating them,” Tom Bourlet, who runs travel website www.spaghettitraveller.com, told The National.

“With so many staff members being furloughed or let go through the pandemic, many of the airports and aviation companies have failed to recruit staff into these roles and get them sufficiently trained in time.

“Sadly, it does appear like the situation may get worse over the Easter weekend, with depleted numbers of staff members available and peak travel periods expected over Good Friday and on the Sunday.

“I would strongly recommend anyone looking to travel over the next week to arrive three hours early for their flights and to keep track of any travel updates before leaving the house.”

The Home Office said it is working with all UK ports and airports to monitor the situation.

Updated: April 12, 2022, 11:19 AM