At Dublin Airport, Staff Shortages Lead to Travel Chaos


Thousands of travelers waiting outside the terminal. Hourslong lines to pass through security. Calls from frustrated airlines for the army to step in.

Those were the chaotic scenes on Sunday as staff shortages caused more than 1,000 passengers to miss their flights at Dublin Airport, the latest European airport to experience logistical pains amid a surge in travel following the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

The government met with airport representatives on Monday to try to understand why the airport, the country’s largest and a hub for many airlines traveling between North America and Europe, was unable to cope with the volume of passengers.

Kevin Cullinane, the head of communications for DAA, the company that runs Dublin Airport, told the national broadcaster RTÉ Radio on Monday that “well over” 1,000 passengers had missed their flights, “for which we obviously unreservedly apologize.”

“We are operating on very fine margins at the moment — we are running to the max of our available staffing levels,” Mr. Cullinane said, adding that the airport had been “aggressively trying to recruit an additional 300 security officers.”

But from as early as 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, it was clear there would be an issue, he said, and “eventually the situation was just overwhelmed by the sheer presentation of passengers,” adding, “We let ourselves and the nation down yesterday.”

Many airlines are allowing passengers who missed their flights because of the security delays to rebook, and Mr. Cullinane said DAA would reimburse those passengers who had to pay out of their own pockets.

By Monday, things were again running smoothly at the airport, but government ministers met with airport officials to demand a plan for heading off future problems.

Some airlines called for the army to be brought in to help with security checks, but Eamon Ryan, Ireland’s minister for transport, said he did not believe that would solve the immediate problem.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday after the meeting with airport officials, Mr. Ryan called the delays “totally unacceptable.”

“You can’t have 1,000 people missing flights, you can’t have thousands of people out — queuing outside, even outside the terminal building,” he said, adding that the airport had “accepted it was a terrible failing.”

The airport is still advising people to come to the airport two and a half hours before a short-haul flight and up to three and a half hours before a long-haul flight. But for many of those who had planned to fly from the airport last weekend, that would not have been enough time.

Rebecca Maher, 34, had planned to travel to her partner’s family home in Italy on Sunday, but they ended up missing their flight despite arriving at the airport hours in advance. The two women had to line up outside for nearly an hour, and by the time they made it inside, the atmosphere among the travelers had grown tense.

“There were thousands of people in the building crammed in; no one knew what was going on,” she said. “And the staff, my heart was breaking for them, they didn’t know either what to do. People were very agitated and angry.”

She described seeing a number of people, including staff members, breaking down in tears.

“It was just awful,” she said.

Other anxious travelers said they were planning to get to the airport much earlier for upcoming flights.

Mark Walsh, a college student in Dublin, said he was planning to arrive at the airport seven hours early for a planned flight to Los Angeles on Sunday.

“It’s a necessary precaution,” he said. “Especially with the costs at the moment, I’m a student and I can’t afford to just rebook my flight.”

Other European airports have also struggled with excessive lines and delays during a busy travel period when nearly all pandemic-related restrictions have been lifted and people are eager to get away.

During the Easter holiday, a lack of staff led to long lines at London’s Heathrow Airport and at other major transportation hubs across the country. Last week, travelers at Gatwick Airport near London and Manchester Airport in the north of England also experienced long delays, and some airlines canceled flights to alleviate crowding.

Travelers at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport have had to wait for hours lately in lines that spilled outside the terminal, also because of a shortage of security and other staff.

Last week, the Dutch airline KLM said it would stop selling tickets for its flights departing from the Amsterdam airport for a few days to reduce crowding.

“Well, we made it,” one passenger wrote on Twitter, a couple of hours after posting a video of people waiting outside Schiphol in the rain. “A tip for people going to Schiphol: Make sure to be there four hours in advance. Then you’ll still be running to catch your flight after security.”

Claire Moses contributed reporting.





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