Hello and welcome to my latest Podcast; it’s good to have you joining me today!
I recently travelled down to Bordeaux, leaving from a UK airport. My experience at the UK airport, during half-term week, revealed what we might begin to see or experience as the summer months approach! Now I’m not going to identify the airport, partly because I have never named and shamed travel companies/organisations (unless it was absolutely necessary), and secondly, I think it’s fair to say that what might happen in one UK airport has a high probability of occurring at another UK airport, if the circumstances of my experiences are repeated elsewhere, so it’s unfair at this time to focus on one particular airport.
In providing these observations it is important to remember that whatever I may say about the summer to come, steps may be taken and whatever I report on may in fact be resolved. Equally, there are changes afoot about the amount of liquids that you will be allowed to take in your hand-luggage! Now the rules are not set to be fully implemented until June 2024, but some airports may make those changes earlier and that is something you will have to check on.
But that said, wouldn’t you rather hear how things are being managed now, so you can think about your future travel arrangements in advance?
My flight was an early morning departure, so I had to be at the airport by 6am to allow time to get through security and to get to the gate on time.
When I arrived at the airport, it was clear that several popular travel companies had a number of early morning departures also, so there were a large number of people checking in their bags and heading toward the security lanes before departure.
Now when I travel from this airport normally, I can pass through the main entrance to the security checking area and join a relatively short queue before I am screened. However, on this visit, I joined the end of the queue at the entrance to the security checking area!
I had noticed that just outside the entrance, there was a snaking-queueing area, which given the volume of human traffic downstairs, was likely to be opened up!
I joined the snaking-queue lines inside the entrance area and began to move slowly, weaving my way past my fellow travellers.
What became evident however was that members of airport staff were regularly visiting the queue, calling out for passengers who had flights within the next 40 to 50 minutes; it made me wonder just how long the queue I had joined actually was?
As we slowly moved, I watched as anxious passengers were plucked from the queue and after having their boarding cards checked, they were whisked away toward the front of the long queue they had joined.
After about 50 minutes, I reached the entrance to the actual security checking hall and could see that trays of passenger items were stacking up; it appeared to have the air of a controlled chaos. As we were shepherded down toward the security area we were to pass through, I did wonder whether there were enough security-checkers on duty; I had noticed a number of adverts calling for people to apply for rewarding jobs at the airport.
But, there was also another angle to this sense of chaos and I regret to say, it comes in the form of Passengers themselves.
As we inched closer into the tray area I watched as Passengers simply didn’t pay attention to the spots which had become vacant when other passengers moved on. Even when called forward to those spots, I watched as some passengers seemed reluctant to move forward or be separated for their friends or family.
Despite the many signs in this area, there were some passengers who seemed lost and unable to comprehend what they needed to put into the trays. Confusion was evident by the provision of plastic bags to carry their liquids and medication. Now, it could be argued that perhaps these were first-time travellers, fair point, but many I watched close to me freely spoke about their previous flights and holidays, so I would have expected that the security checking area would hold no surprises to them.
I have my own routine and by the time I get to the trays, I have already taken off my jacket, belt and removed my computer from my bag. On this day, I placed things carefully into the tray, ensuring that the computer was visible and that my plastic bag for liquids/medication was placed on top of the tray. I could see that the trays, not just in my line but across several lanes were stacking up. There was no one controlling people within the tray area; passengers just kept filling up the trays and adding to the line of goods to be inspected.
I passed through the airport scanners without setting anything off and waited for my tray to come through. After about 5 minutes, my tray arrived but there were some items missing. I waited for a couple of minutes and noticed that a tray with my jacket was coming though, but, it was then siphoned off to a further checking area.
I grabbed my checked tray and went to the area to retrieve my other possessions. As I was waiting for the security officer to arrive, one holidaymaker came up to the counter area and started to unfasten the security barrier tape. He looked at me and said, “Do you think it’ll be OK if I go in there to get my case”, pointing to a tray containing his bag which required further checking?
I replied, “Absolutely not, that’s a secure area, you can’t just walk in there, because if you do, you might be spending more time at the airport than you anticipated”.
“Oh”, he said, “I just wondered”!
When the security officer came to deal with my tray he revealed that my liquids bag had been “hidden” under the jacket. I advised the security officer politely that I had only used one tray and that I always place my liquids bag on the top of the tray, offering that I thought that it must have been his colleague on the line who had unilaterally decided that I needed for some reason, two trays! Fortunately the security officer could see what had happened, checked the jacket and the plastic bag and returned my goods.
I quickly repacked everything and swiftly made my way of the security area, having taken a total of one hour and fifteen minutes to pass through security. I literally had enough time to visit the facilities and quickly buy a breakfast by which time the gate was called and the airline staff were preparing for pre-boarding checks.
My return from Bordeaux was completely the opposite experience. Ample staff, direction and checking was taking place, which was a fair contrast to my UK airport because there were also many passengers passing through to reach their gates.
Now we can all remember the problems of air travel through UK airports in 2022. I think if anything, my half-term experience reveals the pressure points which may or may not be there by the time summer comes. But even this morning I’ve noticed messages on twitter calling for this particular airport to open more security lanes!
On my return, family members asked me about passing through airports, mindful of their own travel plans and my recent experience.
In the first instance I would say, make yourself aware of your security obligations – don’t read and follow casual advices from the social networks, but read government advices and visit the airport’s own website and understand what they want from you.
I would also say, make sure that you arrive at least two hours before your flight is scheduled to depart. Build in factors such as traffic hold ups, delays at check-in or bag-drops. In my case I arrived two hours and fifteen minutes before my flight. Half term whilst busy does not have the absolute volume of summer travel, so you may want to consider arriving at your airport three hours before departure – this will give you flexibility for any hold-ups on the road or at check in.
Always pay heed to directions or actions in security areas – be prepared; don’t whatever you do stray into any restricted area!
Finally, always keep an eye on departure boards and if you are concerned about getting to the gate on time, bring your concerns to airport staff or listen to their announcements of calling people forward.
I sincerely hope that whatever problems exist within UK airports at this time, that they will be well and truly resolved by the summer of 2023, but, whatever you do, don’t take anything for granted – follow my recommendations and that will hopefully get your holiday off to a less stressful start.
Until the next time, take care
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