Speed of holiday bounce back caught us off guard, says Birmingham Airport boss

Birmingham Airport has been caught out by the unexpectedly rapid bounce back in people wanting to holiday abroad, its chief executive says.

Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport have faced long queues this week
Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport have faced long queues this week

Nick Barton says the long queues to get through security experienced by passengers in recent days were felt acutely by the airport team.

The problem has been in not having enough trained new security staff to cope at peak periods.

“Once things settle down in the next few weeks we will be back to a degree of normality that everyone can be proud of,” he stressed.

On Monday morning 7,400 people passed through security before 7.30am out of 15,000 people departing in the whole day.

Mr Barton said 99.9 per cent made their flights and all those who missed them on a “terrifically challenging” day had been booked on later flights on the day or yesterday morning with the help of the airlines.

He has revealed that the planned investment in improving the airport will see a new security facility at the airport by June 2024.

It will have new technology that will enable laptops and liquids to remain in bags.

“It will improve the whole passenger experience and. Having to remove liquids – which has been in place for 18 years – slows everything down. The new facility will increase the throughput of the security line tremendously,” he explained.

This week people have been asked to arrive at the airport exactly when their airline arrives to tackle the queues which were managed and steadily moving yesterday as they helped more than 14,000 customers booked to fly out on the day.

The situation on Monday was described as “absolute chaos” and “manic” by people on Twitter, with others branding it a “lack of management”.

Birmingham Airport's chief executive Nick Barton

Birmingham Airport is still bouncing back from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The first financial year of the pandemic saw traffic reduced to less than eight per cent of pre-pandemic numbers and a pre-tax loss of nearly £70 million. Traffic numbers recovered to 30 per cent in the following year to the end of March 2022.

Mr Barton said that it had to cope with multiple lockdowns across the two years and had lost 43 per cent of its staff.

He said that when restrictions on air travel were removed in mid March the immediate “bounce back” in air bookings had not been expected.

Fresh recruitment had only started properly in February for what was anticipated to be a busy summer and there had been a slow response. A jobs fair in January only attracted 150 people. When the rules changed and people had confidence in a future career the next fair attracted 1,500. Mr Barton said the recruitment programme was now well under way and almost all the people needed had been appointed for numbers needed for the summer. The problem currently was that they were still being trained and security screened, which took several weeks before they could work air side.

“The growth in demand for flights has been more than our growth in supply of security capacity. That is the core issue,” he added.

A system of calling forward passengers in the queues whose flight is within an hour of departure has been introduced.

The standard target is to get passengers through security in 10 minutes. “The target is for the birds at the moment because we have not got the security people we need,” said Mr Barton.

He said they should be in place for the summer peak.

“Things will improve in phases through May and June,” added Mr Barton who said that he had been deeply impressed by how the vast majority of customers understood the challenges the airport was facing. On Friday he spent five hours after his day job helping give information to passengers going to the security area.

"I was there with my CEO badge, but I didn’t have a single person being anything other than supremely friendly and in a good frame of mind,” he said.

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