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Airport chaos could remain for another year amid staff shortage, experts warn

‘It is going to take at least the next 12 months for the industry vacancy-wise to settle down,’ says airport recruiter

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 12 April 2022 17:49 BST
Snaking queues at Stansted airport arrivals
Snaking queues at Stansted airport arrivals (Simon Calder)

The chaos witnessed at the UK’s airports over the last few weeks could last for another year, experts have warned.

Lengthy queues, misplaced bags and delays have impacted on thousands of British holidaymakers’ travel plans in recent days, with some even missing flights due to hours-long wait times for security.

The issues are down to a shortage of staff as demand for travel ramps up in the wake of Covid entry restrictions being eased in countries around the world.

Hiring and training of airport staff takes time, particularly for posts with Border Force, which are recruited separately by the Home Office.

One airport recruitment expert has warned that the staffing issues currently causing havoc may take a year to get resolved.

Kully Sandhu, the managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network Limited, which recruits for Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester airports, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he has more than 300 live vacancies listed.

“My personal opinion, it is going to take at least the next 12 months for the industry vacancy-wise to settle down,” he said.

Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which owns Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports, currently has 91 jobs listed on its careers website.

Meanwhile, the Immigration Services Union (ISU) said that Border Force is no longer attracting enough candidates to fill vacancies “for the first time in living memory”.

ISU general secretary Lucy Moreton said: “Combined with the fact it takes nearly a year to fully train a Border Force officer, going into not just this summer, this weekend, catastrophically understaffed, with people beginning to travel again, and of course those that went out earlier this week will be coming back by the middle of next week, the school holidays having finished … we do anticipate that the queues will move from security-based queues going outward to Border Force queues coming back in.”

She emphasised that corners could not be cut when it came to recruiting and training Border Force staff: “This is a law enforcement role – you don’t expect your police officer to be incompletely trained, or not security cleared. And certainly we wouldn’t want anything else for Border Force.”

A Home Office spokesperson told The Independent: “Those travelling in and out of the UK over the busy Easter period may face longer wait time than usual due to a high number of passengers and as we ensure all passengers are compliant with the security and immigration measures put in place to keep us safe.  

“Border Force’s number one priority is to maintain a secure border, and we will not compromise on this. We are mobilising additional staff to help minimise queuing times for passengers and will continue to deploy our staff flexibly to manage this demand.”

It comes ahead of the long Easter weekend, when passenger numbers are expected to climb to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

UK airlines have also been hit by staff sickness and recruitment delays, with easyJet and British Airways both having cancelled hundreds of flights during the Easter holidays.

EasyJet’s CEO said delays in processing security checks for new airline crew were increasing its number of flight cancellations.

Johan Lundgren says the airline is waiting for the Department for Transport (DfT) to give permission for around 100 new members of staff to start work.

He said: “There’s this delay of the clearance from the DfT for people to get their IDs.

“There’s a backlog there and we’re waiting currently for about 100 cabin crew to get their IDs.

“There’s a three-week delay on that. That has had an impact. If that would have been on time, we would have seen less cancellations.”

He added: “I understand the DfT and the ministers are doing what they can to accelerate and speed this up – which we find very constructive – but it definitely has had an impact.”

Mr Lundgren insisted “we don’t have a shortage of crew” and blamed the need to axe scheduled services at the last minute on staff sickness.

“We were having in some cases up to 20 per cent of absence, and you wouldn’t expect any airline at any point in time to be able to cover that,” he said.

When asked how long disruption might continue, Mr Lundgren was unable to give a definitive answer, saying: “You would expect that the spike that we’re seeing in Covid infections that really exists here in the UK and also in [other] parts of the network, is going to come down, but this is something that we don’t see yet.”

The Independent has approached the Department for Transport for comment.

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