I investigated the UK’s most chaotic airports – canceled flights and endless queues are just a tip from what I found.
I investigated the UK’s most chaotic airports – canceled flights and endless queues are just a tip from what I found.

I investigated the UK’s most chaotic airports – canceled flights and endless queues are just a tip from what I found.

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IN a summer of unprecedented travel chaos, desperate travelers stand helpless as queues snake into airport parking lots and flights are cancelled.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

In a summer of unprecedented travel chaos, desperate travelers stand helpless

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In a summer of unprecedented travel chaos, desperate travelers stand helplessCredit: LNP
Queues have curled into airport parking lots and flights have been cancelled

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Queues have curled into airport parking lots and flights have been cancelledCredit: LNP

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been investigating what went wrong at our airport.

As a result, Airport Chaos Undercover: Dispatches, is a must-watch for anyone planning to fly overseas.

We heard from a whistle-blower who said pilots felt under pressure to fly when tired.

We witnessed firsthand the frustration of overworked baggage handlers under pressure.

We see the desperation of passengers whose longed-for vacations are marred by delays or cancellations.

And we hear claims that some airlines ignore customer calls to avoid paying compensation.

Research conducted for Dispatches by air travel data provider OAG estimates that, since January, 1.7 million people flying into or out of the UK have been affected by cancellations within 48 hours of their flight.

Melissa Robinson, from Leeds, was one of those times when, after spending two years planning her dream wedding in Cyprus, their family and friends’ TUI flights were canceled from Manchester.

They rebooked Wizz Air flights from Doncaster, then canceled too. Others had to travel to Gatwick and Bristol for alternate flights.

MOUNTAIN LUGGAGE

“My mother-in-law is very sick,” says Melissa, 39. “I cry.”

The wedding took place, but not before they paid nearly £4,000 to get everyone there.

TUI informed us that the flight was delayed due to a “baggage handling issue,” apologized and provided a refund for an alternative flight.

Baggage handling is a key factor in whether a flight reaches its scheduled departure slot and, as we’ve seen at Heathrow, it can result in piles of unclaimed baggage if passengers end up flying, or arriving home, without their luggage.

Manchester Airport is the third busiest airport in the UK and typically handles around 27 million passengers per year.

But that was barely tolerable during the pandemic and, when travel restrictions were lifted in March, it was clearly not ready.

Neither did Swissport, which loaded luggage for several national airlines but cut more than half of its 6,000 ground handling staff when Covid hit.

An undercover Dispatches reporter lands a job with them at Manchester airport, and hidden camera footage shows the frustration of overworked handlers who often start at 3am and are paid £9.67 per hour — just 17 pence more than the national living wage.

“Damn the chaos here. . . absolutely no staff,” said one as he struggled to haul a large suitcase himself.

Research conducted for Dispatches by air travel data provider OAG estimates that, since January, 1.7 million people flying into or out of the UK have been affected by cancellations within 48 hours of their flight.

Another told him: “We used to have about 200 baggage handlers. . . when the pandemic hit, they got rid of most of them.”

We see baggage jams, flights delayed because bags — including cabin crew bags — aren’t loaded on time, priority bags tossed in common crates, and footage of desperate passengers poking their heads through conveyor belt hatches to search for their luggage. A baggage handler at Manchester airport revealed: “It happens all the time. People are trying to get in, starting fights.”

When his two-week stint ended, our reporter concluded: “I don’t know how people do this shift and hours like this start at 3am. It’s absolutely brutal and nobody gives them much credit.”

Swissport tells us they have employed over 4,100 people nationwide since January.

On July 2nd, I flew to Corfu from Manchester airport and filmed the experience.

The queue for EasyJet bag collection started in the parking lot and it took me an hour and a half to get to the front. The queue to go through security is even worse.

Recent passenger footage of pilots helping to load bags onto planes at Manchester and Edinburgh airports shows they are as frustrated as anyone else by this summer’s chaos, and some say they are under pressure to fly when feeling tired.

The Civil Aviation Authority regulates the working hours of pilots, and makes them personally responsible for not flying if they suspect they are very tired.

However, speaking to Dispatches, a Wizz Air pilot told us: “There is a crew shortage and to avoid flight cancellations, they are encouraging staff to work harder.

‘they REALLY DON’T CARE’

“There is pressure for us to help out by flying on our day off. . . also a summer bonus scheme that encourages pilots to fly longer.

“You can report being sick if you are tired but you will lose financially if you do.

Damn mess in here. . . just absolutely no staff

A Manchester airport baggage handler

“There is no culture of thinking where you can speak.”

Wizz Air denies this as “rumor”.

And what about the cabin crew shortage?

Olivia Kerr worked as a BA flight attendant for 22 years and was one of 50 to take her to court because, during the pandemic, she said she was told to take a 40 per cent pay cut to £17,000 per year or be fired. .

“It was a massive cut,” said Olivia, who has now left the industry.

BA told us he was restructured to survive and despite the £4bn loss, most of the layoffs were voluntary. It will not comment on Olivia’s ongoing litigation.

And then there’s passport control, which Interior Minister Priti Patel recently described as “an unsustainable and grossly inefficient way”.

A Border Force employee at Heathrow told us: “We don’t have the staff, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have IT. . . and if the e-gate falls, it has a huge impact.”

He added that with pre-pandemic summer traffic levels returning, “with current staff you will get queues significantly longer than three hours”.

And, as we learned, getting compensated for a delay or cancellation is easier said than done.

Rory Boland, editor who?, told me: “Honestly, they don’t really care about customer service.

“They care about whipping you with cheap tickets. We can’t be in a situation where passengers are told this is your right, but they can’t enforce it because the airline can’t be contacted.”

So when, and how, will air travel return to normal?

Obviously, that means paying more to attract people back into the sector, and that could result in more expensive airline tickets.

But if it’s a way to avoid queues, delays, and cancellations, it’s probably a price worth paying.

  • Airport Chaos Undercover: Delivery, 8 o’clock tonight, Channel 4.
On July 2nd, I flew to Corfu from Manchester airport and recorded the experience

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On July 2nd, I flew to Corfu from Manchester airport and recorded the experienceCredit: Quicksilver Media
The queue for EasyJet bag collection started in the parking lot and it took me an hour and a half to get to the front.

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The queue for EasyJet bag collection started in the parking lot and it took me an hour and a half to get to the front.Credit: lb
Melissa Robinson, from Leeds, spent two years planning her dream wedding in Cyprus just for family and friends to have their TUI flight canceled from Manchester.

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Melissa Robinson, from Leeds, spent two years planning her dream wedding in Cyprus just for family and friends to have their TUI flight canceled from Manchester.Credits: Channel 4

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