A British family embarking on their first overseas holiday since the pandemic began has lost out on £1,500 after getting stuck in Manchester Airport’s mega-queues.
Mum Michelle Donohue described the experience of missing out on a four-day trip to Rome as “traumatic”, as passengers jostled to get through four-hour security queues.
She had booked the trip to the Italian capital with her husband Robert and 12-year-old son, departing 5 April.
Despite arriving in plenty of time for their 7.15am Ryanair flight, they were met by “nightmare” waits at security.
The family’s hopes rose when they saw staff begin to open up other security lanes – but that is when the trouble began.
Ms Donohue told LancsLive: “One lady had come and taken a big group of us and moved us and then we stopped, and she was on her radio and then she said ‘The place I was going to move you to is closed now’. We were like, where do we go?
“They opened a lane for us, then people started pushing past people – my husband ended up getting dragged back to about four or five people. People were just in a bit of a panic and then we got to that security line and it just stopped, it seemed like hours and hours and hours.”
Airport staff started calling for anyone with a flight in 10 minutes to come forward, leaving all other passengers at a standstill.
Just after 6am, roughly an hour before her flight’s departure time, Ms Donohue started to worry about making it to the gate, but remained calm.
“It was getting closer and closer to the time but I could see where you put all your stuff on the trays so all we needed to do now was get through there – but it stopped again. Apparently, people were over piling trays and stopping the whole conveyor belt,” she said.
Around the time the family should have been boarding, they still had not made it to the scanners.
“We were about 10 people away from the tray bit – and this was at five to seven – and the radio was going on one of the staff members, [saying] ‘Anybody who has got a flight at quarter past seven needs to come through now’. But he couldn’t hear it so I just shouted out to him to say ‘Excuse me, they’re calling for the quarter past seven flight’.
“I showed him my boarding pass and he let us through – but we just went into another queue just for the trays so that was four people deep. People were pushing past and this little old man got swung forward onto the trays. My poor son was panicking.”
Although staff at security assured her that their flight was waiting, Ms Donohue and family ran to the gate at 7.10am (25 minutes after boarding cut-off).
They arrived to find some 20 passengers being told they were too late to board the flight.
“They said to us, the plane won’t let you on, it’s gone, that gate closed at quarter to seven,” she says.
“But we were like, ‘We’ve been here four and half hours!’. They said ‘I know, but it’s not Ryanair’s fault’. More people turned up and it turns out there were 20 of us that were stuck in that queue.”
The group was told to wait for half an hour while Ryanair staff found an alternative flight to Milan and a coach transfer to Rome.
“She [said], ‘Come back here for eight o’clock’, so we went and got a drink, rang our family members and went back 10 minutes later. She didn’t come back,” says Ms Donohue.
In a shock twist, the group of stranded passengers then watched their aircraft return to the terminal due to a medical emergency onboard.
Despite pleading from the group, the crew would still not let the 20 left behind board the aircraft still on the tarmac – because passengers had been counted and the group’s bags already unloaded.
Their flight eventually took off at 9.11am without the group who had been denied boarding.
Ms Donohue was directed to baggage claim, seeing “hundreds and hundreds of other people’s bags” stacked up around the carousels. Some, she says, had flight tags from Friday 1 April.
She has been unable to reclaim the £1,500 she spent on the flights, as passengers’ rights don’t cover becoming delayed by unusually long airport queues.
On Tuesday night, the airport’s managing director, Karen Smart, stepped down as a result of the chaos. Airport bosses have blamed slow hiring processes in trying to scale up operations following staff cuts during the pandemic.
Ms Donohue describes the whole experience as “traumatic” and an “absolute nightmare” that has put her off flying from Manchester.
“You can see the staff are overworked and doing two or three jobs at the same time.”
She added: “It’s traumatic, it’s put me off going to that airport. I feel like this is going to be going on for a long time – it’s not an easy fix. There were people collapsing, some girl getting medical assistance, and the group we were with, they were so upset. There were Italian family members trying to get back home.”
A Ryanair spokesperson said: “This Manchester-Rome flight (5 April) departed at 7.15am as scheduled carrying 160 passengers on board. Boarding for this flight closed 30 minutes prior to take-off (6.45am). As per standard procedure, passengers cannot be accepted on board once a flight has closed.
“We understand that some passengers are experiencing delays at Manchester Airport due to security staff shortages, however these unfortunate delays are entirely out of our control. As this flight operated as scheduled, the standard T&Cs, which these passengers accepted at the time of booking, apply and no refund is due.”
A spokesperson for Manchester Airport said: “We apologise to passengers whose experience at Manchester Airport in recent days has fallen short of the standard they expected.
“Our industry is facing challenges in scaling operations back up very quickly after the removal of Covid restrictions, which have done immense damage to our sector over the past two years.
“We are actively recruiting for hundreds of new roles in areas including security, but are advising passengers that due to a shortage of staff, they may have to wait for longer than they are used to in the coming weeks, and that they should arrive at the earliest time recommended by their airline.”