‘We don’t have the staff for the level of service passengers deserve’ – Manchester Airport boss writes apology letter

The chief executive of Manchester Airports Group has written an open apology to passengers, warning that peak hour queues of up to 90 minutes are set to continue into the summer, candidly admitting there is no is no short-term solution to the personnel crisis.

Mr Cornish says passengers are expected to continue to arrive at the airport three hours earlier, while their short-term failure to staff all security lanes will result in longer queues over the “next months”, with some passengers having to wait “between 60 and 90 minutes at peak times as the hub recovers from the ravages of the pandemic.

“I cannot apologize enough for the disruption people have faced,” he wrote in a letter posted on Manchester Airport’s website.

“The simple fact is that we currently don’t have the number of staff we need to provide the level of service that our passengers deserve,” he admits, adding later: “I also want to be clear that a huge amount of work is to improve the situation in the short term. Our goal for the next four weeks is to provide a more predictable and reliable level of service to passengers.”

READ MORE: It was once a source of pride… but now it’s over – so why is Manchester Airport in such a mess?

Chief Executive Charlie Cornish’s stunning statement comes as passengers continue to experience disruption, delays, impossibly long queues and missed flights amid a staff shortage that has led to an unprecedented intervention by the largest shareholder in Manchester City Council and Mayor Andy Burnham and coincided with the resignation of the hub’s chief executive.

Mr Cornish promises to deploy more staff to help manage queues, with real-time information to be posted online and in terminals, but asks passengers arrive three hours earlier to allow plenty of time for check in, go through security and reach the boarding gate. He says the alternative to these measures would be to cap capacity and cancel flights “as other airports and airlines are doing”.

He adds: ‘But it would greatly disrupt vacations, business trips and long-awaited visits to see friends and family. We don’t think cancellations are what our customers want to see. While we know they don’t want long queues either, we are committed to operating all flights safely and know that the steps we are taking will improve service levels week after week.”

It also reveals the scale of their recruitment drive, with “over 4,000” people interviewed in the last two months, many of them just starting, with 250 new hires set to start in early May after security screening and training. .

Queues at Manchester Airport on Thursday morning

The extremely honest message begins: “First of all, I want to say that I understand the frustrations of passengers with the queues and congestion they have experienced in recent weeks, and I apologize to all those affected by the disruption.”

Mr Cornish goes on to reflect on the pandemic as the airport experienced the ‘worst crisis in its 84-year history’, sending the hub into ‘survival mode’ as passenger numbers plummeted amid travel restrictions. Referring to “almost no revenue and huge fixed costs”, he describes the subsequent layoffs – there were around 500 MAG employees – as a “last resort” due to uncertainty over the resumption of international travel.

It also acknowledges the imposed period of limited international travel and its impact on passengers, while on the ‘amazing recovery’ following the lifting of restrictions, which has seen 60,000 passengers passing through terminals a day in recent weeks – a return to 70 % of pre-Covid levels – he adds: “I can assure you that no one is happier than us to see passengers in our terminals again.”

Queues this morning at T1

But Mr Cornish is also looking to the future, with a candid admission about staff shortages and what it means for passengers.

He says: “I want to be clear about the challenges associated with returning our operations to what they were before Covid-19 in such a short time – and I also want to be clear about what people can expect on next month or two as we meet these challenges.

“The simple fact is that we currently do not have the number of staff we need to provide the level of service our passengers deserve.”

Mr Cornish said the management team made efforts last autumn to recruit but the ‘tight labor market around the airport’ meant they were unable to hire people fast enough to “build a full team”.

He says: “In practice, staff shortages mean that we cannot open all the security pathways we need and sometimes this leads to longer queues than we would like. While we still expect most passengers to get through in less than 30-40 minutes, there will be times over the next few months when wait times increase to between 60 and 90 minutes.

He adds: “We understand that people feel anxious about missing their flight when they see queues of this length. So for now, we advise passengers to arrive at the airport three hours before their flight departs, to allow plenty of time to check in, clear security and reach the gate. If passengers follow this advice and allow more time than normal, we are confident that they will be fine on their journey.

He says these measures will be temporary and aim to “return to normal” in time for the summer season, with “operational pressure” expected to ease – and wait times with them – as the hand -work is reinforced.

He adds: “To achieve this, we are busy recruiting new officers and putting them through the rigorous training and testing necessary to work in the field of aviation security. We are doing this in one of the toughest job markets we have seen, with competition from many other companies who find themselves in the same situation.

“These vetting processes are rightly demanding, but they have made it more difficult for us to recruit the people we need, with more than half of those we offer finding another position before the process is complete.”

Manchester Airport has been accused in recent weeks of a “management flaw” and being “too late” in its recruitment.

But Mr Cornish says more than 4,000 people have been interviewed in the past two months, adding: ‘Many have already started the operation and more than 200 people are now going through the necessary security checks before they can start training. We expect approximately 250 new security guards to begin operation by early May. »

A man sits on a crate in T1

He adds: “While we advise passengers to expect longer than usual queues as we continue our recruitment campaign, I would also like to make it clear that a huge amount of work is underway. to improve the situation in the short term. Our aim for the next four weeks is to provide a more predictable and reliable level of service to passengers.”

Of the more than 2,000 redundancies among staff employed by both Manchester Airports Group (MAG) and outside agencies, he adds: “When the pandemic hit we were faced with almost no income and huge costs fixed. Doing nothing was not an option. We had to cut costs just to survive – it was as simple as that. We cut spending wherever we could and, as a last resort, we had to offer our colleagues the option of voluntary departure due to uncertainty about when international travel will resume.

Queues at Manchester Airport on Thursday morning

The management team has been criticized by the Unite union for its “mass layoff strategy”, pay and staff morale.

However, in his letter, Mr Cornish pays tribute to unions and the ‘extremely dedicated workforce’ at the airport, who have been working overtime, postponing holidays and volunteering to do more to support their coworkers. Employees with the right level of security clearance, he says, are redeployed to where they are needed most.

“I also want to take a moment to thank all of our colleagues for their hard work and dedication during this extremely difficult time. We know the pressure they work under and the pride they take in their work, which is hugely appreciated,” he says.

Alluding to his own calls throughout the pandemic for greater clarity from the government on the restrictions – and for them to be eased in due course – he says they were confident in the “long-term health term of our business and the wider industry,” and that “huge pent-up demand would be unleashed” when restrictions are lifted.

But he adds: “We have also always said that we need clarity on when travel restrictions will be lifted, in part so that we can determine the right time to start recruiting again.

“As recently as January, with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, strict travel restrictions remained in place and our passenger volumes were only a third of what they were before the pandemic. No other sector has suffered as much as the UK aviation industry – with other parts of the economy returning to pre-Covid levels long before airports and airlines.

Returning to passengers in his final words, he closes the letter: “I cannot apologize enough for the disruption people have faced. We are proud of our role as the UK’s gateway to the North and a major source of employment and economic value for the region. We will get back to where we need to be soon and we are working as hard as we can to get there as quickly as possible.”

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