A committee has been told there are nearly 4,200 lost bags at Dublin Airport and it’s “like trying to climb a sand dune” to return all the luggage to the owners as the busy summer time drags on.
The Oireachtas Transport Committee also heard the Defense Forces are not expected to be needed to assist the airport with lower-than-expected Covid-related staff absences.
In recent months, passengers have complained about long queues at the airport, flight delays and cancellations, and lost luggage, especially on connecting flights.
There were also complaints about cleanliness and poor food and drink facilities after passengers cleared security as international travel recovered faster than expected from the Covid-19 emergency.
Darren Moloney, managing director of Sky Handling Partners (SHP), told the committee that the groundhandling company has 2,897 lost bags at Dublin Airport that need to be reunited with their owners.
He said his company could handle 350 bags a day and it would take two weeks to clear that number and reunite them with their owners, but they’re still receiving 270 more every day.
Tony Tully, UK and Ireland director of ground operations for groundhandler Swissport, told the committee that “fewer than 100” passengers were waiting to receive luggage from Dublin Airport and the company expects the majority to be returned within the next week .
The committee heard that Swissport and SHP each handle around 10 bags at Dublin Airport, while Ryanair and Aer Lingus handle the remaining 80 bags.
Aer Lingus has around 1,200 lost bags at the airport, with the ability to process 700 bags a day, and around 450 new bags arrive daily, the committee heard.
SHP’s Gerard Kenny said one of the reasons why the number of lost bags is so high is staffing issues at European airports and airlines, which has resulted in some flights arriving with “no baggage loaded at all”.
“Some airlines even choose which flights they won’t load on a daily basis because they don’t have the resources either. Thank goodness we didn’t have that outside of Dublin to my knowledge, certainly not from ourselves.
“But it does mean that in Dublin at the moment it’s like trying to scale a sand dune – as soon as we make any headway with the luggage, another plane could miss 60 bags or possibly all of its bags.”
Mr Moloney added that the DAA (Dublin Airport Authority) and SHP have found a secure location adjacent to Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 for teams to process baggage for local delivery via courier or reflighting.
Representatives from Aer Lingus, DAA, Swissport and SHP appeared before the committee on Tuesday to answer questions about passenger concerns.
Mr Moloney told TDs and Senators that the number of “short-shipped” bags from international hubs serving Dublin Airport, such as London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schipol, “was at an unprecedented level and continues to prove extremely challenging”.
“Some European airports have introduced passenger or flight caps to minimize disruption for the remainder of the summer season. Likewise, certain airlines’ flight schedules have been cut and it is expected that this will help alleviate, but not eliminate, instances of under-baggage.”
The committee heard there were no plans to introduce a flight or passenger cap at Dublin Airport.
The two baggage-handling firms said experienced staff who have left for “more stable employment” during the pandemic, as well as new improved background checks required for employees, have created retention and hiring issues.
“The newly introduced enhanced background checks in January 2022 resulted in a complete standstill in the approval and issuance of airport ID cards, effectively resulting in no staff being hired for the first three months of the year,” Mr Tully said in his opening statement.
Asked about the statement by Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell, Mr Tully said many employees volunteered to go into freight logistics “because there was a high demand” for it, as Swissport lost 80 percent of its operations and SHP 75 percent.
Lynne Embleton, chief executive of Aer Lingus, answered questions about flight cancellations and told the committee it operates one of the “most robust” flight schedules in Europe, with 98 per cent of flights as scheduled in June and almost 100 per cent in May.
“So the vast majority of our customers and their luggage have been successfully delivered,” Ms Embleton said.
Vincent Harrison, chief executive of the DAA, said it was “largely” correct to say it will be mid-August before the airport returns to normal operations and that the Defense Forces do not expect to have to do so as Covid-related absences are below 10 percent lie help.
“We’re pretty confident of maintaining the level of service that we’re offering at the moment,” he said.
“I think all of these statements have a common theme that nobody is happy with the overall level of service provided and we are not happy with the overall level of service in areas like cleanliness.
“But as we committed in our previous meeting, we put a special focus on the top priority areas that ensured people didn’t miss flights in the early stages.”
The committee also heard that “hundreds of thousands” of euros have so far been paid out to people who missed flights due to delays at Dublin Airport earlier in the summer.
On Sunday May 29, long queues at security checkpoints due to unusually high levels of staff absenteeism caused 1,400 people to miss their flights and drew criticism from government ministers, politicians and members of the public.
Dublin Airport compensates those left out of pocket as a result.
TDs and Senators were told that more than 75 percent of the motions “have either been completed or are in the advanced stages of processing.”
Louise Bannon, Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) marketing director, told the committee the airport had received 702 applications with an average of 1.9 people involved.
Ms Bannon said 44 per cent of the claims, or 313, have been closed and staff expect all claims to be closed by the end of August.
When asked about the total cost of claims paid out to date, Ms Bannon said it was around “hundreds of thousands” and added: “I would say we’d have to admit a million and we’ll see where we get in terms of that.”
She said people mostly claim flights if they haven’t been rebooked by their airline, free, incidentals and food and drink.
“Sometimes it takes a bit of a back and forth to get all the claims processed very quickly and we’ve actually found people to be very reasonable and that has helped speed up the settlement of the claims,” Ms Bannon said.
Aer Lingus chief executive Lynne Embleton said the airline was “incredibly frustrated” by the operational disruptions at Dublin Airport this summer and thanked its staff for overcoming the “many, many challenges”.
Those challenges included staffing shortages at airports and airlines across Europe, baggage system failures, staff absenteeism due to Covid-19 and industrial action in parts of France, she said.
Ms Embleton added that sick leave at the airline was now about “four times higher” compared to 2019 and “less than half” of Aer Lingus cancellations were due to Covid-related issues.
“We’ve seen sick leave about four times what it was in 2019.
“Our illness is progressing fairly consistently with what we are seeing in general for Covid cases in Ireland.
“The majority of cancellations are not caused by this, but by the restrictions imposed by other airports,” she told the committee.
When asked what percentage of canceled flights were due to Covid-19, Ms Embleton said: “I would say less than half.
DAA chief executive Vincent Harrison said that during the Omicron wave of Covid-19 the airport had “well over 25-30% staff absenteeism, particularly at security screening” – but current staff absenteeism is “below 10%,” meaning it no defense forces are expected to be needed.
“This is a high level of absence that we would have expected to have been caused by Covid. To date, those absentee rates have not materialized,” he said.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/travel-news/dublin-airport-4200-lost-bags-are-now-waiting-to-be-reunited-with-owners-41869286.html Dublin Airport: 4,200 lost bags are now waiting to be reunited with their owners