TRAVEL is stretched, passengers are stressed, and it all came to a head at Dublin Airport this weekend.
Last Friday, I travelled through the airport. In the morning, social media posts had shown queues extending outside Terminal 1. Aer Lingus’s app and website were down, adding to lines in Terminal 2. Restaurant staff struggled to keep tables clean, and lines for US Pre-Clearance stretched back to the retail areas.
“You’re spending half the time apologising to people,” one staff member told me.
Ireland’s main airport was creaking at the seams. But it was working.
By Sunday, it wasn’t. Jaw-dropping lines stretched outside terminals, more than 1,000 people missed flights, and the airport took the unprecedented steps of advising queuing passengers that that they might have to rebook, and offering refunds.
Passengers widely reported a lack of basic communication and direction. They were understandably livid, but appeared to remain calm.
I think the airport dodged a bullet there. What if the queues had been in bad weather? What it there had been aggressive incidents? What if passengers had issues with access to food, water, loos? What about passengers with mobility issues, or additional needs?
Nevertheless, the scenes were even worse than the last Sunday in March, when the airport was left reeling after a drop in travel restrictions, ramp-ups in airline summer schedules and a stunning return of crowds.
After that, urgent steps were taken. The DAA was on track to fill its security staff shortfall “by early June”, it told me in an interview last week, and was confident that would soon see most security lines return to 30 minutes or less.
This weekend, it seemed as bewildered as the passengers queuing up outside.
Staff shortages and an explosive return of travel are not just an Irish problem. This weekend, KLM temporarily suspended ticket sales from Amsterdam Schiphol. Queues stretched outside Manchester Airport. From Sydney to Toronto, airports are buckling under similar pressures.
Nor is it just down to security staff shortages. Airlines, ground handlers and caterers are all battling to recruit – as anyone queuing for bag drop, check-in, or restaurants at rush-hour periods will know.
And yes, us punters are not “match-fit". Anxious about delays and restrictions, flying for the first time in years, we may have forgotten about liquid and laptop rules, adding to the accordion effect of delays.
Many days are like last Friday. Things buckle and strain. But they work.
But last Sunday tipped over a cliff. It may have been a freak event (I certainly hope so), but this was dysfunction; a facility unfit for purpose. And now peak season looms, holidaymakers are stressed out.
As one Irish mum tweeted me this weekend: “We are heading off soon, with three children on a very early flight and it’s filled me with despair, the thoughts of trying to manage them that hour of the morning in queues.
"Not able to get them a decent breakfast when we get in etc... excitement has turned to worry.”
Multiply that anxiety by up to 110,000 – the number of passengers set to pass through Dublin Airport on its busiest days.
The airport has made a point of asking people to show up no more than two-and-a-half hours before short-haul flights, or three-and-a-half hours before long-haul, because arriving earlier can make delays even worse.
But who will listen to that now?
This weekend, the airport lost the crowd. Already, there are stories of passengers sleeping at the airport to ensure they don’t miss flights.
Dublin Airport is reviewing operations and will shortly issue updated travel advice.
But it has to do more than that. With a fresh plan, clear and reliable travel advice and basic queue management, it has to win back our trust.
Otherwise, it’s facing even more turbulence.