LENGTHY delays faced by passengers at Jersey Airport are ‘wholly unacceptable’ and risk ‘undermining the visitor experience’, the Economic Development Minister has said.
Deputy Kirsten Morel has held urgent talks with both airport management and representatives from ground-handling agent Swissport in a bid to ensure no repeat of the disruption faced by those arriving and departing on Saturday.
Some people were held on planes for an hour after arriving while others waited twice as long to retrieve luggage, with engineers, firefighters and customer service staff having to be drafted in to remedy the situation.
At least one airline crew took the matter into their own hands, with a pilot and colleagues helping to load bags so that their flight – a Blue Islands service to Bristol – was able to depart on time.
Meanwhile, one airline captain called it the ‘worst turnaround’ they had ever experienced with ‘spectacularly poor service by ground staff’.
Swissport, which holds contracts to provide ground-handling services for airlines at Jersey Airport, has apologised to passengers affected by delays, which also drew sharp criticism from airline staff and the Chamber of Commerce.
Deputy Morel said: ‘Tourists and Islanders have been complaining, and rightly so. The sort of situation they encountered on Saturday was wholly unacceptable.
‘Tourism is a priority for the Island, not just for the economic benefits it brings but also because it enables us to maintain connectivity.
‘This sort of thing undermines the visitor experience. People may be here for a week and have a great time, but their visit is ruined by three hours of hell at the Airport.’
Swissport said it was ‘urgently reviewing’ what had happened.
A spokesperson said: ‘We will continue to work closely with Ports of Jersey and our airline customers in order to address these issues and put contingency measures in place. We are grateful for the significant support and additional resource they have provided.’
Airport director Robin MacRae said: ‘Ports of Jersey is sincerely sorry for the impact of Swissport’s staffing shortage on airline passengers on Saturday afternoon.
‘Firefighters, engineers and customer services employees supported the operation as far as possible, but they are not trained or licensed for many of the airside tasks undertaken by Swissport.’
Mr MacRae said that he would be meeting Swissport’s director of ground-handling operations for the UK, alongside Ports of Jersey chief executive Matt Thomas, in an effort to ensure the issue did not recur.
Swissport employees are to be supported by Airport staff over the coming days. This will include firefighters driving baggage vehicles and additional help in dealing with passengers, including wheelchair users, who require extra assistance.
During the Covid pandemic, Swissport laid off more than half of its 100-strong workforce.
Robert Mackenzie, chair of Jersey Chamber’s Tourism Group, said: ‘My principle concern is for the Island’s reputation among visitors, whose first and last impressions of Jersey are formed by what happens when they arrive and depart.
‘The main problem appears to be lack of staff for Swissport. We all know staffing is a major issue for many organisations, but we have known that we were heading towards a busy period for months and clearly they weren’t ready.’
Mr Mackenzie said there were knock-on problems for those meeting flights, with coach and taxi drivers monitoring flight arrival times but then finding passengers had been unable to leave the Airport because they were waiting for luggage.
‘Swissport and airport management need to accept how damaging this can be – we need them to engage with us and spell out what they are doing to address these issues as urgently as possible,’ he added.