UK insists security clearances speeded up to tackle airport chaos

Transport secretary says airport disruption is 'not acceptable'

There is a shortage of security-cleared staff able to handle baggage and use X-ray machines. Reuters
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Security tests for new airport workers are being completed in record time, the UK government has insisted as passengers criticised the “disaster movie” scenes of hordes at the gates.

Long queues, cancellations and baggage problems have plagued the travel sector’s comeback from coronavirus restrictions. There have also been strikes across Europe adding to the misery.

Part of the problem in the UK is a shortage of security-cleared staff able to handle baggage and use X-ray machines, which is slowing take-offs and creating long queues.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is trying to alleviate flight disruption this summer and hoping to avert the mayhem seen over the Easter and Jubilee holidays.

“People have made huge sacrifices during the pandemic and deserve their flights to run on time, without complications and without being cancelled last minute,” he said.

“While this is a challenging time for the sector, it is not acceptable for the current disruption to continue as we head into the summer peak.

“The public deserves to know now whether or not their flight will run over the summer, and so I reiterate my call for the industry to commit to deliver the flights they have scheduled, or to cancel them well in advance so people can make other arrangements.

“We will continue to do everything in our power to ensure this summer is a great success for the British public.”

The Government has ordered the new-hire security vetting centre to prioritise checks for airports so its recruits can start work sooner.

The Department for Transport said counter-terrorist checks for aviation workers were being processed on average in less than 10 days — twice as quickly as in March.

Accreditation checks are also being speeded up to be completed within five days on average, according to the department.

But in the short term, the staffing shortages appear to be hitting Heathrow airport.

Passenger Adam Kent, 59, said baggage reclaim “looked like a scene from a disaster movie” after arriving at Terminal 3 from Orlando, Florida.

“(There was) lost luggage everywhere, stacked between baggage belts, everyone stepping over it and no one doing anything about it,” Mr Kent said.

“No one visible on the ground to explain the carnage or sort out the mess, it seems like lots of luggage has not arrived with passengers and just been dumped.”

Mr Kent said there was “appalling customer service” at the airport, adding: “Staff (were) nowhere to be seen, everyone was pretty shocked.

“The left and abandoned luggage was left unsecured and could easily be stolen. [There was] no duty of care shown to passengers' possessions.”

Updated: July 03, 2022, 4:19 AM