Warning about queues as airports expect passenger numbers to skyrocket from this weekend

Major Australian airports have issued a warning to those traveling during the upcoming school holiday period; it should be busier than what travelers experienced in April.

Ahead of the start of Victoria’s school holidays, which begin this weekend, Sydney and Melbourne airports are anticipating an increase in passenger numbers at domestic and international terminals, with passenger forecasts for July on track to exceed levels unmanageable observed at Easter.

Sydney Airport expects 2.1 million passengers to pass through its terminals between June 27 and July 17 – a significant increase from the 1.8 million over the April school holiday window.

Melbourne Airport expects traffic to hit its highest level in two years, also expecting 2.1 million travelers by July 17. The number of international travelers in particular could exceed Easter numbers by 77%, as more Australians seek warmer climes in Europe and North America.

“We have been working with airlines, service providers and contractors to prepare for another busy period, particularly in recruitment,” said Rebecca Arnold, communications manager at Melbourne Airport.

“Many of the delays experienced over Easter were the result of airline-specific issues, such as baggage handling, and we know they also worked to ensure this did not happen again.”

Staff shortages at Sydney and Melbourne airports have led to long delays at check-in and security checkpoints, leading to unprecedented queues and reports of missing flights for some passengers due to delays.

Flights in April also saw the worst domestic flight punctuality on record, with more than a third of all flights not departing on time according to figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics.

Sydney Airport CEO Geoff Culbert said travelers should consider the possibility of long waits and try to be patient with frontline staff.

“It’s great to see the continued demand for air travel, but we’re not going to sugarcoat the fact that the terminals will be busy during school holidays and there will be queues,” Culbert said.

“We are doing everything we can to get people on their way, including bringing 60 additional customer service staff into the terminals each day to help manage queues and move passengers forward in order of flight priority.

“The root cause of these challenges is that every company at the airport is rebuilding its workforce and doing so in the tightest job market in nearly half a century,” Culbert said.

Despite the increase in airport traffic, airlines and major airports are optimistic. Travelers won’t see a repeat of the chaotic scenes captured in April.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said last week that the airline entered the July school holidays with “confidence”.

“We will see a different outcome as we have 20 per cent reserve cover, 15 per cent more people in ground handling and Sydney Airport has had a job fair, with 5,000 jobs they are hiring to fix security queue issues,” he told 2GB.

Joyce also said lost luggage was an industry issue amid widespread staff shortages, although she said other airlines were encountering it on a bigger level.

“We are adjusting our schedule and bringing in additional resources like we have in call centers to get service levels back to where we want them to be,” Joyce said.

Qantas said the staggered start of the next school holidays for states and territories across the country would mean fewer passengers traveling domestically each day compared to the Easter holidays, which were concentrated around five public holidays.

A Virgin Australia spokesperson said demand had reached such a point that leisure travel volumes had exceeded 2019 levels; the May Queen’s Birthday weekend was up 20% from the same period in 2019.

“We have not been immune to the challenges faced globally and our team is working incredibly hard to help our customers get to their destination safely and with minimal disruption during peak periods,” said the spokesperson.

Virgin Australia said current demand was 10% above Easter weekend levels. The spokesperson said the carrier was deploying all available team members amid staffing shortages, with additional resources being put in place across its network to help with customer services (members of the company team also have the opportunity to work in customer services during the upcoming June and July school holidays period).

Transport Workers Union of Australia national secretary Michael Kaine said the recent rowdiness at the airport was mainly the result of the loss of an experienced ground crew during the pandemic.

“Wages and conditions at airports were falling before the pandemic, but have fallen since. The shortage of permanent full-time jobs in favor of low-paying, casual or part-time jobs is leading to a chronic shortage of staff” , Kaine said. .

“We will see the same carnage during the July school holidays and at Christmas if standards are not lifted at airports.”

Qantas has worked to reduce congestion during peak periods by staggering flight departure times, adding extra staff to check-in areas and displaying more signage.

The carrier has also completed the roll-out of new airport kiosks at the Sydney Domestic Terminal, which are speeding up check-in times. The deployment of kiosks for Townsville and Cairns airports will be completed this week, with Mebourne and Adelaide airports due to be installed after the school holidays.

Australian airports are advising passengers to pre-book parking, arrive two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights – with the additional condition that travelers do not arrive too early.

“Some airlines don’t open check-in until two hours before a domestic flight, so there may be an unnecessary wait if travelers arrive earlier,” Arnold warned.

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