Menzies Aviation offers ‘wholehearted apology’ for Edinburgh Airport baggage chaos that put it under ‘immense pressure’
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The Edinburgh-based company told The Scotsman that up to 3,000 bags had piled up at the airport due to luggage arriving late on connecting flights from hub airports like Heathrow.
The firm said it had also been short staffed like much of the aviation industry, but was now “frantically training” new recruits.
Corporate affairs director John Geddes admitted the company had "dropped the ball" by failing to properly communicate with passengers, which he said had been unacceptable.
Mr Geddes said Menzies had established a dedicated team in the past two weeks to deal with missing baggage, which was working through the backlog.
However, he was unable to say when the problems would be solved or how long its temporary storage base at the nearby Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston would be needed because airports like Heathrow remained “under pressure”.
Mr Geddes said: "We are in the eye of a storm at the moment.
"The situation is relatively bad, so I would like to think it won’t get worse.”
The company’s apology came after passengers arriving at Edinburgh Airport without their bags complained about the absence of Menzies staff and being unable to contact the company.
Some have waited weeks without any information about when their luggage would be returned, with the airport’s helpline inundated by angry travellers.
Mr Geddes said: "We whole-heartedly apologise for the miscommunication that has taken place, but we are under immense pressure at the moment.
"If I was a consumer coming through the airport, I would absolutely understand the frustrations, and where we and the industry could have done better.
"That is simple things like making sure the desks were staffed, ensuring the phones were answered, making sure the communication is first class, and that’s what we are working on at the moment.
"That’s where we have fallen short of the standards that we set ourselves.
"It’s unacceptable for the phone not to be answered and it’s unacceptable for us not to communicate.
"We have dropped the ball communication-wise and I’m very upset about that.
“We will apologise to every passenger who has not been communicated with properly.
"People will be more understanding if you communicate effectively with them.
”We are stretched, but it is getting better as each week goes by. We will make sure that doesn’t happen again.
"Our people at the airport are not people who don’t care – they do care.
"The bigger picture is we want people to have confidence in air travel.”
Mr Geddes explained most of the lost baggage was from Edinburgh-bound passengers changing planes at hub airports like Heathrow, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.
He said: "When the hub doesn’t work, all the spokes coming off the hub really struggle.”
Menzies, which operates at 235 airports worldwide, handles baggage at Edinburgh for airlines such as British Airways and Lufthansa, with BA’s Heathrow-Edinburgh the Scottish capital’s busiest.
He said "Edinburgh is suffering from being a destination airport that is fed through a lot of airlines that come through hub airports”, which he stressed had created a “mountain of bags”.
"There’s a huge issue at Heathrow with staff shortages and some bags aren’t getting on the plane at all,” he said.
"We are regularly having aircraft arrive in Edinburgh with 50 bags short, or occasionally a plane arrives with 150 passengers, but none of their bags.
“To have planes arriving with no bags on board is unheard of.
“If planes turn up with 150 bags missing, that throws your whole operation into chaos, especially if you don’t know that’s going to happen.”
Mr Geddes, who has worked in the industry for 24 years, said: "The scale of this is something I have never seen.
“In the normal course of events, you have one or two staff dealing with that, but this is off the scale – we have had 3,000 bags at one point."
He said the total had reduced to 600 by Tuesday, which would be processed “relatively quickly”.
However, he added: "The problem we will have is there will be more missed bags coming in on a regular basis.”
How long that would continue "depends how many missing bags come into Edinburgh airport”.
Mr Geddes said Menzies, one of three passenger baggage handling firms at Edinburgh, had an improving staffing situation.
He said: "We are getting closer to being fully staffed, but we have a bit of a skills shortfall and we are frantically training the people we do have.”
On occasion, staff on the baggage desk have had to be temporarily redeployed to check-in.
Mr Geddes said Menzies had called on the UK Government to speed up security checks on new staff, which he said were taking “far too long”.
He said regulations over issuing airport passes had tightened since Brexit, with references from applicants’ past five years of employment now required – which could be seven or eight jobs.
Mr Geddes said: "We have to write to people, including the hospitality sector which is under huge pressure too and which may not have human resources departments to handle random reference requests.
"But if these people have been working, there will be HM Revenue & Customs records (HMRC), and checks could be made through those.
"The UK Government red tape is taking us 90 days at times to get people an airside pass.”
A UK Department for Transport spokesperson said: “Last month we unveiled a 22-point plan to support the aviation industry, including accelerated national security vetting checks to help speed up recruitment.”
It said HMRC employment history letters, with other safeguards, could be temporarily used by the industry for them to conduct their background checks.