A travel organisation has advised passengers travelling from Gatwick airport this weekend to pack essential items in their hand luggage, ahead of another possible weekend of baggage chaos.
Swissport, the much-criticised handling company used by Gatwick, has drafted in 40 extra workers, after staff shortages last weekend saw some passengers told to go home without collecting their luggage.
Baggage problems reached their height between 10.45pm last Saturday and the early hours of Sunday. Among customers affected was Richard Sargent, a wheelchair basketball player for Team GB, who was forced to wait over four hours for his wheelchair after returning from a trip to Egypt.
Gatwick has also sent its own employees to assist with bag recovery this weekend, as part of what it has called a “robust contingency plan”.
While airport staff are not permitted to unload aircraft, they will help to transport bags to terminals, and unload luggage onto belts.
“We've also introduced a free baggage home delivery service for those who prefer not to wait,” a Gatwick spokesman said.
He added that the airport is currently operating well, and passengers booked to fly through Gatwick this weekend are advised to do so as planned.
“We would like to re-iterate that the issues we saw last weekend were limited to arriving bags and delivery has been good since the weekend,” he said.
But despite the efforts of Gatwick's management, a spokeswoman for travel organisation Abta advised passengers to store essential items in their carry-on bags.
"There have been notable delays at Gatwick's baggage reclaim on inbound flights over recent weeks, and they have taken steps to deal with this through supplying extra staff and offering customers the option of having their baggage delivered back to their homes," a spokeswoman said on Friday.
“Following these measures, we hope customers flying through Gatwick enjoy a smoother service this weekend.
"But for all air passengers important items such as medicines, mobile phones and chargers should always be carried in their hand luggage," she said.
Swissport has been criticised for using workers on zero-hours contracts who are reluctant to work unsociable hours.
Gatwick’s management has accused the company of “fail[ing] to meet standards”, but Swissport has blamed the issues on the arrival of off-schedule flights, although it has apologised for its performance.
Swissport said on Friday: “Nothing that has happened during the past week gives an indication that this weekend will cause the baggage chaos being suggested." It added that “all baggage handling companies” are under strain in the summer peak season.
"Swissport is disappointed that we have fallen below our standards during this time and will do all possible to ensure the travelling public are not inconvenienced in any way."
In light of the chaos, airline Monarch is understood to be ending its contract with Swissport, while British Airways said will “look at other opportunities” if the situation does not improve.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways' parent company IAG, told ITV News: “At this stage we are working with [Swissport].
"We are satisfied they are putting the right measures in place and I'm confident they will resolve them. If they don't we will certainly look at other opportunities."
Additional reporting by PAReuse content