record levels | 

Scramble to fill 700 jobs as 500,000 passengers set to descend on Dublin Airport

Perfect storm has led to long queues and missed flights

Passengers queuing at Dublin Airport on April 1. Photo: Mark Condren

Queues at Dublin Airport this morning still very busy and expected to stay busy over the next few days due to the Easter holidays.

Anne-Marie Walsh

Passenger numbers are fast approaching record levels at Dublin Airport ahead of the Easter weekend, as managers scramble to fill up to 700 vacancies.

At least 500,000 passengers are expected to pass through the airport between now and Monday, as the Easter getaway kicks off in earnest.

Staff based in Cork have been drafted in to deal with the deluge as the number of people moving through the airport edges close to 2019 levels.

Former security screening officials working for the Dublin Airport Authority in other roles, and their colleagues on career breaks, are being asked to consider short-term positions.

Overtime is on offer to tempt employees to work extra hours.

The HR team is trying to fast-track the selection of candidates after launching an aggressive recruitment campaign due to the staffing crisis.

Another 300 security screening recruits are needed to cope with demand.

Across all areas, the authority is in the process of filling almost 700 jobs.

Massive queues have accompanied a surge in international travel that was not predicted in even the most optimistic forecasts.

Passengers are making up for lost time and the 5km travel limits of lockdown after finding themselves free from restrictions quite abruptly earlier this year.

The great escape is likely to intensify during the busy summer season as hundreds of thousands of people seek a getaway following two years of Covid restrictions.

Dublin Airport Authority said passenger numbers were already at least 90pc of the record levels of three years ago, when 33 million passengers passed through the airport.

It is advising people to arrive in the terminals up to three-and-a-half hours before flights this weekend, but not too early as this makes the queues worse. In other words, if you’re due to fly from 8.30am then do not show up before 5am.

“We’re expecting around 250,000 passengers to depart out of Dublin Airport between today and Monday,” said a DAA spokesperson. “A similar number of people are expected through arrivals.

“On each of those days, we’ll see between 40,000 and 50,000 departing passengers going through.

“While we bring our new security staff on board, Dublin Airport Authority’s focus is on having the maximum possible number of security lanes open, and the maximum possible number of security personnel in place, at all times, to allow us to meet the needs of the high levels of passengers set to fly with us over the coming weeks and months.”

There have been reports that revised rules on random swab tests on passengers’ bags have slowed things down – but this isn’t something the DAA will comment on.

Others claim certain airlines have not been opening their desks for check-in baggage until three hours before flights, despite passengers being told to come three-and-a-half hours in advance.

The number of passengers who missed flights due to the recent queue-related delays is unknown. Dublin Airport Authority’s customer service team is working through correspondence to arrive at a figure.

A spokesperson said very few did not make it to the boarding gates in time in the first two weeks of this month, and they can apply for refunds.

Some passengers are not taking any chances. One airport worker remembers a passenger turning up at 6am or 7am when there were long winding queues outside the terminal buildings.

“One of the security guys asked when was their flight,” he said.

“They said ‘I’m not flying until 10’ and he said, ‘Ah, you’ve enough time to get a coffee’ – but it turned out that they were leaving at 10pm, not 10am.

“People were just getting spooked and turned up far too early for flights.”

Airport authorities across Europe, the United States, Australia and the UK are struggling to restore their operations following the collapse of global travel.

The Dublin Airport spokesperson said the surprisingly swift removal of Covid regulations unleashed a huge desire to start travelling again, leaving little time to adapt.

“In terms of passenger numbers, in two years Dublin Airport went from 100pc to 5pc and then back to 80pc-plus – and we are now set to reach 90pc-plus of our record 2019 traffic in 2022,” he said.

Predictions by global consultancies as recently as March this year were that aviation would not recover until 2024 or 2025. The DAA was caught off guard.

A chronic shortage of security screen staff is the key factor in its current difficulties.

Over the last two years, 248 employees in its security operations had taken voluntary redundancy.

The headcount in the airport search unit and broader security team before the advent of Covid in February 2020 was 858.

By February this year, it was down to 622, but there had also been a 95pc fall in passengers so it hadn’t been that noticeable until long queues were reported around St Patrick’s Day.

The image of an aviation career as a secure job for life has been damaged by the uncertainty of the pandemic when many workers were suddenly cast onto state income supports. Coupled with a tight labour market, these are factors that could be expected to create a perfect storm in terms of recruitment.

On top of this, pay and conditions at the airport have come under scrutiny.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he would like “a more worker-friendly approach” and promised to discuss the terms on offer with the DAA.

Security staff on permanent contracts are guaranteed 30 hours, but may be required to work up to 40 and can earn overtime if they do. Seasonal contracts guarantee 20 hours a week and have come in for criticism for requiring staff to be available for up to 40 hours. Entry-level pay is €14.14 an hour, rising to €20.93. There are pension and profit-share schemes and a discounted canteen.

Union officials believe pay rates, which originated when Terminal 2 opened, are around 30pc lower than those of longer-serving staff. A pay claim of 7pc has been lodged according to Siptu officials, although they are expected to demand up to 15pc due to an older outstanding claim.

Siptu industrial organiser Jerry Brennan said a lot of service providers, including ground-handling companies, were struggling to bring in new people, even those firms which increased starting pay.

“This Easter weekend generally sees an uplift in the number of passengers who want to go away,” he said. “The children are off school. People might want to go and have a little holiday. There is huge pressure on our members in carrying out their jobs, not just the airport security staff.

“It also applies to cleaning staff. Quite a lot left under the voluntary severance scheme and the airport isn’t any smaller.”

There still seem to be plenty of candidates for the latest job opportunities. The DAA says it has had more than 4,000 applications. This week and last, 500 candidates were invited for interview.

It will not translate into boots on the ground immediately. The training programme lasts five or six weeks. In addition, security clearance can take many more weeks due to enhanced garda vetting and background checks required under EU legislation.

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