David and Jasmine Pringle had woken up at 4am to travel to Manchester airport from County Durham after Qatar Airways told them to expect huge delays for their flight to Doha.
“Leaving the house at 5am for a 3pm flight isn’t ideal,” David said. “But it’s been over two years since we last saw her Jasmine’s family in the Philippines and we’ve been desperate to make the journey to see her elderly parents. We’ve paid the best part of £3k for the flights. Now we just want to get there.”
“While we’re waiting to hear news of our flight, it’s worrying to see how few people are wearing masks or maintaining a social distance,” he added. “The travel restrictions may have been lifted, but people seem to forget the disease is still very much with us.”
Passengers traveling via Manchester airport are once again having to harden long wait times and uncertainty over their flights – but this time before they have even checked in. Surging passenger numbers, alongside staff sickness and lack of recruitment, have created a standstill at security in recent days.
Just one day after managing director Karen Smart stepped down amid criticism of long security queues and packed terminals, the issue now facing passengers is knowing how much time to allow to get through security – and how much money they should put aside for food, transport and extra Covid tests before they can board the plane.
The airport is implementing measures to get to grips with the chaos it has seen in recent weeks, but many people are now finding that, having been told by airlines to arrive hours in advance for their flight, they are enduring waits of up to eight hours in terminal buildings before they can even be checked in.
Manchester is a major international transport hub, drawing passengers from across the north of England and beyond. The Guardian spoke to travelers from as far afield as Bradford, North Lincolnshire, Newcastle, Tynemouth and Cumbria – many armed with Covid test results, masks and gifts for relatives they haven’t seen since before the pandemic.
Geraldine and Tony Walker were also waiting to board the flightto Doha, using it as a stop-off before traveling on to Adelaide to see family.
“We’ve paid nearly £100 each for PCR tests, traveled in from Brighouse in Yorkshire, and downloaded codes from several apps on to our phones to prove our vaccine status – it’s taken quite a lot of effort and expense to get to this point , so we hope everything goes smoothly once we eventually board the plane,” Tony said.
Navdeep and Manpreet Singh, a couple from Leeds, were taking their daughter to Delhi. Their wait wasless than 20 minutes once they had arrived at the airport, but Navdeep acknowledged the long wait times others had hardened. “There are children here and older people,” he said. “If the airlines want us here early then they should be willing to pay for refreshments.”
Those arriving at Manchester after long journeys were also keen to comment on how expensive and complex it is for those landing in the city to exit the airport.
Sisters Hannah and Rachel Singer, from New York, were waiting to be collected after traveling to the UK via Dublin and Paris respectively. “It’s nothing like the US,” said Hannah. “Over there you can collect someone easily from the airport. We’re waiting for our dad now – he’ll have to navigate the car park, pay a fee, and then wait for us to find him.”
The airport, along with much of the aviation industry, has struggled to recruit staff made redundant after the pandemic shut down airports and travel. As the Easter getaway increases travel, similar problems have hit other airports including Heathrow and Birmingham. More than 1,000 UK flights have been axed in recent days due to crews being off sick amid a rise in Covid cases.
A Manchester airport spokesperson said: “As we work to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic, a rapid increase in passenger numbers together with the staff shortages and recruitment challenges our industry is facing, means at certain times our operations are strained.
“We are doing all we can to recruit the staff we need to meet demand at all times, so that all passengers can have this experience. However, this is taking time due to the lengthy vetting and training processes involved. That is why we have been advising travelers that there may be, at times, longer queues than normal.”