Sunday, June 16, 2024

Why Birmingham airport could see summer of chaos

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Passengers flying from one of the UK’s biggest airports could face a summer of chaos because of construction work and confusion over security rules, travel experts have warned.

Birmingham Airport has been hit by severe delays getting through security, with long queues snaking outside the terminal building and passengers waiting up to three hours to reach the departures lounge.

Bosses at the airport have blamed recent delays on a last-minute order from the Department of Transport (DfT) to reintroduce stricter limits on liquids in hand luggage.

Since last month, Birmingham had allowed all passengers to keep liquids in containers of up to 100ml in their hand luggage, and not remove them for checking, after installing new security scanners.

But Rob Burgess, editor of frequent flyer website Head for Points, said most passengers had not been aware of the changes, meaning the DfT’s last-minute decision would have had little impact.

He told i: “The only change on Sunday was the need for the liquids to be in plastic bags and removed from hand luggage – something which 90 per cent of passengers, unaware of the new arrangements, would have expected anyway.

“Most travellers would already be travelling with liquids in plastic bags because they would need them for their return flight, where they were 90 per cent certain of being at an airport with the old-style scanners.”

Passengers said they were forced to stand in queues for hours to get through security checks (Photo: Benjamin Leibeck)

Unlike smaller regional airports including London City and Teeside, Birmingham had not increased the liquid limit to two litres on 1 June, because of “outstanding regulatory approval” on its new scanners.

The Next Generation Security Checkpoints (NGSC) are part of £300m upgrade to Birmingham airport, with construction expected to continue “for the foreseeable future”.

As part of the works, the upstairs queuing area at the new £50m security hall has been closed. Mr Burgess said that this, rather than the DfT order, was to blame for the long queues, with passengers reporting long delays since April.

“In reality, the delays are primarily due to the major construction work taking place at the airport coinciding with the first wave of summer holiday traffic.

“It’s difficult to see it improving whilst the construction is ongoing.”

On Monday, passengers were forced to stand outside in the rain as they queued to pass through security.

One business passenger, Alex Gardner, said he would never fly from the airport again after he nearly missed his flight to Dusseldorf. “This is a systemic failure”, the 57-year old marketing professional said.

“I’m a seasoned traveller and this experience for me stands out as one of the worst.”

The plane carrying the England team departs from Birmingham Airport ahead of their UEFA Euro 2024 campaign. Picture date: Monday June 10, 2024. PA Photo. See PA Story SOCCER England. Photo credit should read: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to FA restrictions. Editorial use only. Commercial use only with prior written consent of the FA. No editing except cropping.
Birmingham handled nearly 11.5m passengers last year (Photo: Zac Goodwin/PA)

Nick Barton, chief executive of Birmingham airport, said he was “very disappointed” with the changes to rules for liquids and said that the experiences of passengers were “not what we planned to give them”.

Birmingham was the UK’s seventh busiest airport last year, dealing with nearly 11.5m passengers.

The Government had instructed all airports to upgrade their security scanners by 2022, although the deadline was later extended to 1 June this year.

However, most of the UK’s major ones, including Heathrow, Gatwick, and Manchester, have failed to meet the deadline.

The DfT said its decision to reintroduce restrictions after only eight days would only affect passengers at Newcastle, Leeds Bradford, London City, Aberdeen, Southend and Teesside airports.

The “temporary measure” would “enable further improvements to be made to the new checkpoint systems” and was not in response to a specific threat, the DfT said.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of The Advantage Travel Partnership, a travel agent network, said the temporary reintroduction is “likely to cause some confusion this summer”.

She added: “It is clear that airports are not ready to introduce these new rules at the same time, and we would encourage all UK airports collectively to work with government to ensure there is very clear messaging around the rules, to avoid confusion and delays wherever possible.”

A spokesperson for Birmingham airport said it had introduced “liquid check stations” outside the terminal to ensure passengers remove containers over 100ml.

They added: “Since our new security area opened in May, we have seen continuous non-compliant bags coming through security causing unnecessary queues and delays to customers’ journeys.

“This new step in the process is to remove the issue before customers proceed.”

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