It is a scene that has grown all too familiar to weary air travellers over the years: a long winding queue that seems to have ground to a halt while check-in staff linger around apparently powerless to get it moving.
But for the 220 early morning passengers boarding the Jet2.com flight from Manchester looking forward to a sunshine break in Tenerife last Saturday salvation was at hand. The delay just happened to coincide with a spot visit by the airline’s fastidious boss Philip Meeson who exploded with fury at the snail-like progress at the desk, launching an expletive-peppered tirade at managers after spotting the 200ft long line of angry customers going unaided by staff.
Although the multi-millionaire’s impassioned intervention earned him a round of applause from frustrated holidaymakers, it also prompted the attentions of the airport police who warned him under the Public Order Act. A sign at the airport’s Terminal One building warns travellers that abusive behaviour against staff will not be tolerated.
Mr Meeson, 61, a former RAF pilot and five-time British aerobatic champion who is now head of the budget airline and distribution group Dart said he had been forced to step in. He defended his actions and praised the professional response of the officers who spoke to him. "There was a great long queue, which is not what we want, and staff were sitting there doing nothing. I just wanted everyone to get going and to check in and to get the fantastic customer service that we want them to get.
"I did speak to a couple of managers. I was annoyed but I did explain afterwards." He conceded his language may have shocked some. "I think the odd swear word may have dropped out of my mouth. But I wasn't swearing at anyone, just about life in general," he said.
Greater Manchester Police confirmed that officers stepped in after receiving reports that a man was being abusive. “Officers attended and warned the man about his future conduct and behaviour under the Public Order Act,” a spokesman said.
It is not the first time that Mr Meeson, known to staff as a colourful and impassioned boss, has found himself in the news for his outbursts. In 2006 he described French workers as “lazy Frogs”. His criticism was directed at French air traffic controllers who walked out in support of students staging an occupation of the runway at Chambery in protest at changes to labour laws. Hundreds of passengers bound for Jet2.com’s home base at Leeds/Bradford were left stranded by the action.
A message posted on the company website later demanded to know: "After a token stoppage why can't you just sort the matter out amicably without bringing thousands of people around the world, who give your country huge economic wealth, into the argument?'' The French air traffic controllers' union, CGT, criticised the airline chief’s language as unacceptable.
A spokeswoman for the Jet2.com said Mr Meeson regularly visited airports and flew on his planes to ensure quality of service was “up to scratch”. On this occasion he had stayed overnight at an airport hotel to monitor standards on the early weekend shifts – a time when most bosses could perhaps safely be expected to be asleep in bed. “He is just determined to make sure everything is right,” she said. The company apologised for any offence that might have been caused. Earlier this year Dart Group, announced a near threefold rise in profits up from £11.8m in 2007-08 to £33.5m.