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Not quite normal: Airport chaos mirrors post-Covid economy struggling to find its level

The airport isn’t the only business that hasn’t been able to cater for rapid increased demand.

DUBLIN AIRPORT QUEUES _6705 Dublin Airport queues last Sunday. Eamonn Farrell / Eamonn Farrell / /

RIGHT OR WRONG, it’s often stated a country’s main airport is a microcosm of its economy as a whole. 

In David McWilliams’ The Generation Game in 2007, the Irish celebrity economist began the book by describing how the Dublin Airport of the time was bursting at the seams in the Celtic Tiger economy.

Back then, construction on Dublin Airport’s T2 had not yet begun and the shiny new section of T1 across the long sky-bridge had not been finished either.

Now, that section is almost exclusively home to Ryanair, but in 2007 Ryanair’s expanding passenger-base was forced into a literal temporary prefab that was called Pier D. 

The image of a temporary prefab playing home to the fastest-growing airline in the world is about as perfect an analogy for the 2007 Irish economy as one could muster. 

90096891 Then taoiseach Bertie Ahern opening the new pier in T1 in 2007.

Fast forward to 2022 and once again the airport is indicative of what’s going on across business and society. 

The chaos that ensued last week when passengers were forced to queue for hours and 1,400 people missed flights was a direct result of post-Covid demand returning faster than businesses had catered for. 

There are many valid questions about whether DAA could have catered for the demand through smarter planning or fewer redundancies, but the reality is it did not. Indeed, the company has admitted that itself, with CEO Dalton Philips saying the company was “wildly wrong” in estimating the number of passengers Dublin Airport would be dealing with this summer. 

How wrong were they?  Well, Philips said industry experts had predicted that 2022 passenger numbers would remain at an average of 70% of what they were in 2019. On foot of those predictions, the DAA planned for 75% but what we’re now seeing is passenger numbers at 95% of what they were before Covid. 

“To put this in context, on average during May, the airport has handled almost 16,500 extra passengers every single day which no one in the industry had predicted six months ago,” Philips told angry TDs on Wednesday

Dublin Airport CEO 004 DAA CEO Dalton Philips. Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

DAA aren’t the only ones struggling with demand, however, with the hospitality sector being particularly vocal about its difficulties in getting the show back on the road post-Covid.

And we enter the first full summer festival season in three years there are bound to be questions over whether organisers are, well, as organised as they could be given the staff shortage. 

There are tens of thousands of vacancies in bars, hotels and restaurants across the country and employers have said it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit new staff.  

Last week, Adrian Cummins, CEO of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) controversially questioned why there were 150,000 people unemployed in Ireland during a staffing crisis. 

Many have suggested this could be addressed within the industry itself with better pay and conditions hospitality workers themselves telling The Journal that the pandemic has allowed them the space for a much-needed assessment of their priorities.  

What’s clear from all this is that the economy is still trying to find its equilibrium.

Covid was a once-in-a-century shock to how everyone works and lives and even if it may seem like everything’s back to normal again that is clearly not the case. Not yet at least.  

This article was featured in Morning Memo,’s daily business and economics newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter in the box below.

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