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Politicians call for ‘heads to roll’ at DAA over massive queues

Dublin Airport plans to increase the number of security lanes at peak times to deal with lengthy queues.

People queueing outside Dublin Airport on Sunday afternoon.
People queueing outside Dublin Airport on Sunday afternoon.

Updated May 31st 2022, 9:25 PM

POLITICIANS ARE CALLING for management at Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) to be dismissed over disruptive scenes which occurred at the airport last weekend. 

Members from government parties have said there need needs to be accountability so that long queues outside the airport leading to missed flights are not seen again.

It comes as the Transport Minister has said that the DAA cannot guarantee that last weekend’s problems won’t happen again.

Fianna Fáil senator Timmy Dooley described the issue as an “embarrassment” and an “appalling situation” in his call for the management to be sacked. 

“I think the board should be gone. They should have fired the chief executive a number of weeks ago [and] I think they should have brought in some strategic management from some other airport,” he told The Hard Shoulder on Newstalk

“Like there was a time when Aer Rianta operated, it was providing management to airports right around the world. We can’t manage our own airport right now … It’s an embarrassment to us.”

Meanwhile, in the Dáil, Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell said last weekend’s scenes of long queues were “predictable and unforgivable”.

“Ministers have met with the DAA and yet we’re no clearer if the scenes of last weekend will be repeated this coming back holiday weekend, and I have very little faith that they will be avoided.

“How many needs to be in the queue before somebody asks if heads should roll,” he asked.

“If you can’t manage airport operations, I cannot be alone in suggesting that there needs to be a change. And I’m not referring to this chief executive who has already announced his intention to move on.”

The Dublin Fingal TD said it has been “known for almost three months that passenger numbers are rising” and that it is “unacceptable” if the DAA don’t know how many passengers they can expect on any given day.

“They sell the slots, they know the aircraft type. They can extrapolate – and they don’t appear to be capable of doing that. That is frankly bizarre. The whole situation stinks.”

Earlier, the Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said that the DAA cannot guarantee that the disruptive scenes which occurred at the airport last weekend won’t happen again. 

Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Ryan said that the Government instructed DAA to “do absolutely everything in your power” so that long queues outside the airport leading to missed flights are not seen again.

When asked what would happen if issues with the airport continue, Ryan said “it can’t continue”.

“First things first, you have to provide a proper service to the public. You can’t have someone having to queue for two or three hours and then not being able to get a flight.

“It’s just not acceptable, it can’t be tolerated and the airport has to manage its operations so it doesn’t occur.”

Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath has also warned the DAA that what happened on Sunday can never be repeated.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, where McGrath was standing in for the Taoiseach who is currently in Brussels, said the scenes at the airport over the weekend were “completely unacceptable” .

“DAA needs to do whatever it takes to make sure that this issue is addressed and that we do not see those kinds of things again, in particular on the forthcoming bank holiday weekend,” he said.

His comments come as Dublin Airport bosses told ministers today that they have a plan on how they will improve queue management, maximise the availability of staffing resources and increase the number of security lanes at peak times.

DAA chief executive Dalton Philips will appear before the Oireachtas Transport Committee tomorrow to discuss the airport crisis.

When asked about the role of airlines to combat long queue times, Ryan said that while they have a part to play, the main focus was on the airport itself.

“The airlines do have to play their part to make sure that the check-in desks are as quick and fast as can be.

“But it’s the airports first and foremost responsibility, it’s their airport and they’ve to work with the airlines to make sure that everyone gets through and its organised in a clear and consistent way,” said Ryan.

McGrath told the Dáil that details of the plan will be communicated at the meeting, but added that a communications campaign must be rolled out so they public are reassured that they can navigate the airport ahead of their flight. 

If passengers turn up on time for their flight, the airport authorities must ensure that they play their part and do their job, said McGrath. 

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan and Minister of State with responsibility for international transport Hildegarde Naughton met with the CEO of Dublin Airport Authority and senior officials this morning.

The DAA had been told in a meeting yesterday that they had until this morning to present solutions to resolve the lengthy delays faced by passengers.

Officials from the DAA were told of government ministers’ “immense disappointment and frustration” at the scenes over the weekend which led to more than 1,000 passengers missing their flights.

Significant queues for passengers at the country’s main airport resulted in many being forced to queue outside the terminal and waiting up to three hours to check in.

Concern has been growing about what could unfold at the airport ahead of the bank holiday weekend.

Compensation

In this morning’s update, DAA are understood to also have presented to ministers a plan on how they intend to compensate passengers who have missed flights.

DAA indicated that they are currently finalising operational arrangements for the emergency plan.

Ministers asked the DAA to clearly communicate their plan to the public within the next 24 hours.

They also told the DAA CEO that it must deliver a satisfactory experience for passengers departing from the airport this bank holiday weekend. 

Ministers also emphasised the importance of restoring passenger confidence in Dublin airport. Engagement between Government and airport management is to continue on a daily basis.

Working conditions of airport workers was also raised in the Dáil, with Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald stating that Dublin airport is still only at 70% of pre-Covid staffing levels following the severance programme that was introduced in 2020. 

She said such delays and queues were not unpredictable, stating that the DAA “grossly underestimated” the capacity issues at the airport.

Catherine Murphy TD of the Social Democrats said that Minister of State with responsibility for International Transport Hildegarde Naughton needed to outline what she has been told in meetings with the DAA to date. 

We can’t have our international airport not functioning and we are asking what has the minister been told of these meetings that have been happening continuously. Was she aware, for example of the payroll issue where people not been paid overtime? Has she been briefed on the recruitment process and the training processes?

Office workers

DAA spokesperson Graeme McQueen said the airport operator “slipped up” at the weekend.

“We had a major blip. We’d been doing very well since the end of March when we encountered our last blip. We didn’t have enough staff on yesterday to cope with the numbers. That’s on us. We apologise unreservedly,” McQueen told The Tonight Show on Virgin Media last night.

The spokesperson said the airport chaos is a result of the security systems not being fully scaled-up following the Covid-19 pandemic.

DAA office workers have been assisting with security as part of efforts to cope with the shortfall in fully trained staff at the transport hub.

The way we’ve been getting through the last two months is we’ve been complementing our security team with a staff task force.

“We’ve got about 600 office workers within DAA who are coming in, like myself, doing four hour shifts in the terminal supporting those security workers. So, we’re calling on them again to come in and help us,” McQueen explained.

The spokesperson added that the office workers are vetted and cleared to carry out tasks such as stacking trays, which helps the airport run smoothly.

In a statement, SIPTU said that both “inferior pay and conditions of employment” were a key factor in the ongoing crisis.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Niall Phillips, said: “We told the Minister of State that staff are doing their utmost under very difficult circumstances at Dublin Airport. Many are reporting being abused and in some cases, spat at by frustrated passengers. 

“The Minister of State was told that staffing levels cannot be ramped up easily because the pay and conditions for many new daa workers are not attractive for the very specialised work they carry out.” 

Employment

A number of opposition politicians have raised the issue of redundancies at DAA during the pandemic and the issues for the company in hiring and training additional staff now. 

Murphy said today that the redundancies had “backfired badly”, adding that she is aware of some people made redundant who have been contacted about potentially coming back.

I know a couple of people that were made redundant and in fact they have been contacted and asked to return. Some of them have got alternative employment, some of them are coming close to retirement. The terms and conditions are very different. It’s not a full-time job. What’s been offered is to a lot of people not attractive.

In a statement to The Journal yesterday, the DAA said it is attempting to fill staff vacancies as quickly as possible.

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“DAA is placing no constraints on the recruitment of new security staff, and we continue to do everything in our power to ensure that this is achieved as quickly as possible,” the company said.

“Significant work has been undertaken by our HR teams and indeed, by many other departments across the business, to expedite the interview and training processes, and to deploy staff to the floor of Dublin Airport.”

Ministers’ statement

Yesterday, officials from the DAA met with Naughton and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan. 

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Martin said: “It is unacceptable what has happened, it’s not good enough and people should not be treated in that way.

“And there will be daily meetings between the Department of Transport now and the DAA and Government is looking for a very clear plan to ensure that this type of thing doesn’t happen again and that whatever has to be done now is done to improve the operational efficiency of Dublin Airport.”

Asked if the army should be deployed to help address the shortfall in security staff, Martin said: “I think it’s a question that DAA needs to develop the capacity very, very quickly to deal with this.

“The answer lies within human resource management within DAA and planning within the organisation also.”

In a joint statement after meeting the DAA officials, Ryan and Naughton said: “The ministers said that the excessively long queues and wait times were causing significant distress to passengers as well as reputational damage to the country from a business, travel, connectivity and tourism point of view.

“The ministers have instructed DAA to report back by tomorrow morning on solutions that can be put in place in advance of this bank holiday weekend to deliver an acceptable passenger experience for citizens and visitors departing from the airport.

“The ministers have asked DAA to consider all options that can be taken in immediate and medium term to resolve this matter.

“Daily meetings will be held at ministerial level with DAA until the difficulties persisting at the airport are satisfactorily resolved.

“Minister Naughton emphasised that it is the responsibility of DAA to resolve these matters to the satisfaction of passengers travelling in the days and weeks ahead.

“The ministers stated that the unacceptable queues should not be repeated this Thursday and Friday and into the bank holiday weekend and that intending passengers should be confident that they would make their flight with minimum inconvenience.”

Naughton met airlines yesterday afternoon.

Ryan said 1,000 people missing their flights was “totally unacceptable”.

“You can’t have thousands of people out queueing outside the terminal buildings,” Ryan added.

“They have acknowledged that, they accepted it was a terrible failing and we have to address and they have to address it.

“It’s an operational issue for the airport, it’s a complex issue about a sudden very large increase in demand for people flying, but at the same time real difficulty in getting the number of people, skilled workers, particularly in the scanning/screening area.

“We said they have to deliver those solutions, they have to come back with options so that what happened doesn’t happen again.”

Ryan said the delay was due to a shortage of staff in key areas.

“Once you go over a certain tipping point then queues do tend to back up, then it makes it more difficult to catch up,” he added.

“Whatever the reason, they have to make sure they are able to manage numbers.”

Officials pledged to try to compensate all passengers who missed flights or had plans disrupted, if additional costs are incurred.

Ryan said that while compensation was an issue for DAA, they were aware that the reputational damage to the airport and country is “very real”.

“This has been an issue they have been grappling with for many weeks,” he added.

- With reporting by Christina Finn, Rónán Duffy and Eoghan Dalton

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