THE recent scenes from Dublin Airport were depressing at best, and shocking at worst, given the fact that the arrival of passengers at airports is not exactly a random phenomenon.
Surely in this day and age an international airport can judge well in advance the kind of traffic to expect on any given day?
At what point, one would wonder, did it dawn on operator Dublin Airports Authority (DAA), that the security staff compliment for the day was well below what would be needed to process the number of passengers booked on flights.
The resurgence of post-pandemic air travel wasn’t sudden, either. The steady return of flight traffic into Dublin and other regional airports has been obvious for months, and it was very predictable that once the schools were closed, there would be a rush to the continent for that long-awaited holiday. There seemed to be a different excuse given for the chaos depending on who was approached for a comment. Staff shortages, staff out sick, not enough baggage handlers, passengers refusing to stick to suggested check-in times, the summer surge, and the post-pandemic rush were all trotted out as reasons for the massive passenger convergence on the airport, from the early hours of last Sunday.
We were also told that the DAA has been recruiting new staff for some time now, but that the training process for security employees is up to six weeks’ long and that was yet another factor coming into play. It emerged this week, too, that up to 1,000 staff had been laid off during the pandemic and they had been asked to agree not to re-apply for jobs for at least two years.
That meant that there were possibly hundreds of highly experienced and trained former Dublin Airport security staff available, but they could not be re-hired, under the bizarre agreement.
There was another suggestion that when a similar situation had arisen in March, the possibility of bringing army personnel into the airport to help with security and baggage issues, had been considered. If so, why wasn’t that option put into action on Sunday last, when passengers queued for over three hours and 1,400 missed their flights? It does not instil confidence in the DAA that almost a week later they still could not confirm exactly how many people had missed flights, other than to say it was ‘around’ the 1,000 mark. They only confirmed the number several days later. With all bookings computerised, it cannot exactly be rocket science to discover how many passengers never showed up for their flights.
The airport needs to be more transparent if it wants to repair its reputation, which has now been torn to shreds by this second incident of incompetence in just a few months. Add to this the incompetence of the management of the passport office and you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to foreign travel this summer. What our public service seems to forget is that we live on an island and international connectivity in a modern world must be prioritised if our economy is to operate successfully. In amongst the hundreds of Irish people attempting to start their foreign holiday last weekend were hundreds of tourists to Ireland who left here with a very poor customer experience. And no doubt there was a fair percentage of those who missed work-related flights too, and will hardly be recommending this country as a location for international business. Anyone can make a mistake or mismanage a situation, but the real mark of management is it handles the consequences of those poor decisions.
The DAA did not provide solutions quickly enough to save the situation, and their promises of reimbursing passengers were vague when it came to non-flight expenses, saying every case would be treated separately – instead of agreeing, unconditionally, to cover all vouched expenses presented. It may seem like an expensive solution, but the loss of trust by our population in our biggest airport, and the damage done to their reputation, is priceless.