Sunday 22 September 2019

Growing passenger numbers at Dublin Airport make future delays a hot topic

In theory, the airport is operating 10 million below its capacity of 35 million: 20 million in Terminal 1 and 15 million in Terminal 2
In theory, the airport is operating 10 million below its capacity of 35 million: 20 million in Terminal 1 and 15 million in Terminal 2

Eoghan Corry

It is a while since people have been talking about congestion at Dublin Airport, writes Eoghan Corry.

The August Bank Holiday sent the scales tipping past 80,000 passengers a day. On Sunday, June 28, 91,698 people passed through the airport's two terminals: the busiest day there in eight years.

The DAA claims congestion is no longer the problem it once was. We have two terminals now, not like 2007 and 2008, when more than 23 million people a year squashed through the single terminal.

They say visitor satisfaction surveys are ahead of target on issues like flight information screens, cleanliness of terminal, helpfulness of staff and comfort of waiting areas.

In theory, the airport is operating 10 million below its capacity of 35 million: 20 million in Terminal 1 and 15 million in Terminal 2.

If they want someone to support their case, they just need ask anyone who went through on Sunday, August 6, 2006, when 96,931 people crammed through the then single terminal of Dublin Airport. Terminal 1's fish-bone check-in desks meant that queues merged into queues, and at one stage, people had to be kept outside the terminal building so those inside could clamber over the baggage and get to their gates.

That was then and this is, well, a still delay-prone now. Today's delays are different, and quicker to end up on social media, as happened when young Irish people arrived in their droves to vote in the marriage-equality referendum. The issue arises around a few familiar pressure points - some old, some new, some borrowed and some blue.

OLD: Dublin Airport's security gates are now concentrated on the left-hand side of Terminal 1, or upstairs on the second level of Terminal 2. Queue times are independently monitored and are not supposed to exceed 30 minutes, after this amount of time, the airport can be fined. It has happened.

NEW: It is always a surprise for passengers to find they have to make their way back from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1 (usually to an Aer Lingus flight leaving from the 300 gates) by negotiating a course worthy of James Joyce's Ulysses (or Homer's original): through a narrow gap at the back of a retail outlet, 25 metres then 25 steps in reverse, 125 metres the 25 metres in reverse, 125 metres to Pier 3 and another 100 metres to their gate.

The airside retail area is prone to problems elsewhere too. Dublin Airport opened a trendy new shopping area in Terminal 1 this year, meaning The Loop was actually a loop for the first time. They then promptly boarded up the rest of the shopping area so that the passengers move from the bright and airy future of shopping to the dim and claustrophobic past. Expect more construction in the coming months.

BORROWED: Passengers clearing US immigration in Dublin Airport have the benefit of new CBP officers and a reorganised area for preparation. Expect queue times to peak between American's 8.55am departure to New York and United's 12.55pm flight to Newark, when the officials process 18 flights in rapid succession: five between 9am and 10am, four between 10am and 11am, five between 11am and 12pm, and four between 12pm and 1pm.

BLUE: Immigration is the imponderable, although now a civilian blue rather than a Garda blue, and the one most prone to spectacular delay. It is outside the DAA's control and yet within the airport experience. The Department of Justice wants 30pc of people arriving in Dublin to use self-service passport machines, but this is unlikely to happen when the only available automatic gates in Terminal 1 (more are due to be installed in Terminal 2) are positioned where inbound passengers have already been forced to queue.

It's not uncommon to find the automatic gates unused and people with eligible passports (valid if you have a chip in your passport and you are over 18) ignoring them and remaining in the queue to reach the manned immigration booths.

The international standard for clearing passport control is 45 minutes for people travelling from outside the EU. Irish immigration expects to get EU passport holders through in 10 minutes and have added 80 staff this summer.

If Dublin Airport's passenger numbers continue to grow at the current 15pc, airport numbers will reach 24.9 million this year, 18.6 million in 2016 and will be 3 million over capacity by the end of 2018.

We may not have to wait that long. When the IAG-Aer Lingus takeover gets its final thumbs-up on Tuesday next, Dublin is destined to become Heathrow's third runway. It may well become Heathrow's fourth runway as well. Dublin Airport's parallel runway, first applied for in 2006, will be back in the news within weeks. The airport has the land and the funding in place. Willie Walsh has said that a third runway in Heathrow should not be built and has set his eyes on Dublin instead.

The DAA has applied for planning permission to upgrade its pier-end gate to accommodate Emirates' A380, with upstairs and downstairs passenger ramps. A bit of planning might mean it need not be 2006 over again.

The shake down in immigration last autumn occurred after the Department of Transport warned the Department of Finance that the three-hour queues throughout the airport were a risk unless something was done.

The figure of three hours is not random. It is how long passengers are prepared to expect to queue when they enter airports in the US without the privilege of pre-clearance in Dublin.

Small mercies indeed.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss