Large groups of passengers were left waiting for answers at East Midlands Airport
Passengers missed their flights for the Easter break after staff shortages and IT problems caused chaos at East Midlands Airport (EMA) earlier this month. Almost 100 people were left at the gates and told they were too late to board, despite having arrived at the airport on time, passengers said.
Three Ryanair flights due to leave between 7am and 8am to Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and Tenerife on Tuesday, April 4 took off without a number of passengers who were left in tears. People who arrived at around 5am said there was only one person on the check-in desk, although they were later joined by a colleague.
Further to the short-staffing, an IT issue meant incorrect flight information was being displayed on screens inside the terminal. They were telling passengers to ‘relax’ when they should have been heading to their gates, reports Leicestershrie Live.
Despite these problems, which were no fault of the passengers, the boarding gates were not kept open. Ryanair said it closes boarding gates on time to ensure an on-time departure.
Tracey Leatherby, from Loughborough, was due to be on the 7.15am flight to Tenerife with her family for her daughter’s 18th birthday. She said she arrived two hours before departure as advised but was met with “massive” queues at the check-in desk.
She said: “We found out that there were four flights due to leave around the same time, but there were only two desks open. Even when we got to check in there were still lots of people behind us.”
Flight information on the display screens said passengers for Tracey’s flight could relax. However, she said she was suddenly told by a member of staff that she would “have to run”.
Staffing shortages led to long queues at the check-in desks
After finding she and several others waiting at the gate had missed their flights, Tracey was asked to wait so her baggage could be removed from the aircraft. Tracey had to rebook an entirely new holiday which cannot be covered by insurance because Ryanair maintains she missed her flight.
Jessica Pegg, from Rugby, was due to be on a 7.25am flight to Lanzarote with a friend and each of their two children. She said she arrived at EMA at 5.20am and was told “not to worry” about the delays by security staff. She said: “The Swissport staff at check-in kept saying Ryanair was aware of the delays and said not to worry. There were no announcements or anything like that but we later found out that the IT systems were down and the display boards were wrong anyway.
“By the time we checked in we never stood a chance to get through security and there was hardly any staff around. It was absolute carnage.”
Jessica added that there were more staff to escort passengers to collect their baggage than there were at the check-in desks. The passengers were escorted to the departures lounge where some were waiting for more than an hour for a member of staff to explain what was happening.
Ryanair staff initially told passengers they could pay a £120 fee to change their flights, on top of seating charges and the differences in flight fares, but later waived the fee which the airline said was a “gesture of goodwill”. But there was a lack of availability due to the busy Easter period leaving some with no choice but to pay the cost of new flights with a different airline and from a different airport, fly on a different day – or forego their holiday altogether, passengers told LeicestershireLive.
Boarding information was incorrect due to a system failure
Nicola Powell, 52, who missed the flight to Tenerife said: “I’m at a dead-end with my insurance company because, to them, it could be that I just missed it. Nobody is taking any responsibility for the issues, they’re all passing the buck. There were lots of young families waiting to go on holiday – people were crying.”
Andrew Pasiak, 44 from Nottingham was due to be going on holiday with two daughters, aged eight and 11. He said: “It was all quite harrowing for us to be honest. At no point did any member of staff actually try to reassure us or even help. After they shut the gates they made us wait for more than an hour with no answers or explanation. I’d had enough after about an hour so I went to the Ryanair desk and they said there was nothing they could do because their computer systems were down.”
Andrew forked out around £2,000 to entirely rebook his holiday and get on another flight from a different airport. He said: “I was lucky that I had the option to sort it out, but I’m sure there were some people who didn’t even go on holiday in the end.”
Emails from Swissport and Ryanair to all the passengers LeicestershireLive spoke to showed neither of the two parties accepted liability for the problems. Swissport told complainants that it was “unable to assist” them as a Ryanair “agent” and therefore not the airline’s representative.
However, Ryanair told its customers: “Please, kindly note Ryanair is not liable for check-in staff shortages and departure board/gates screens failure at the airport. We regret that there are no refund sentiments due in this instance as this was caused due to a third party – Swissport.” A number of passengers say they will take legal action against Ryanair over the missed flights.
What Ryanair, Swissport and EMA said
A spokesperson for Ryanair said: “Due to third-party staff sickness and the flight information display system failing at East Midlands Airport, a small number of passengers missed their flights to Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, and Tenerife (4 Apr). It is standard procedure that we close our boarding gates on time so that we can ensure an on-time departure and it is each passenger’s responsibility to ensure they are present at the gate before it closes. However, as a gesture of goodwill, Ryanair accommodated these passengers on the next available flights to their destinations.”
A spokesperson for Swissport said: “We’re sorry to hear about passengers who were not able to board their flights. Due to staff illness, our team encountered some delays during the check-in process but prioritised people by order of departure time as much as possible.
“We also understand that departure boards and screens displaying gate information, which are not under Swissport’s control, were not working across the airport. We therefore had passengers who arrived after the gate had been closed in line with Ryanair’s policies and were unable to board.”
East Midlands Airport
An East Midlands Airport spokesperson said: “We apologise to passengers whose travel plans were disrupted on the morning of 4 April. On that day, Ryanair’s handling agent experienced staff shortages, while there was also an IT issue affecting information displayed on in-terminal screens.
“This created a unique set of circumstances that, unfortunately, resulted in some people missing flights. All those who did, re-booked on the next available flight.
“While incidents of this nature are extremely rare, an investigation has been carried out in partnership with Ryanair and Swissport to ensure lessons can be learned. We are firmly committed to working with our airline and ground handling partners to provide the best possible service to all customers, which is reflected by the otherwise positive start we have had to the summer season, with 99.9 per cent of people clearing security in under 15 minutes.”