SCOTLAND’S busiest airport came “close to the edge” when record passenger numbers threatened to overwhelm it, its boss will reveal this week.
Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar said he was embarrassed by the near-meltdown on its busiest ever day last summer. He said passengers had been “rightfully disgruntled”.
The debacle has prompted the airport to speed up major changes to cope with even greater numbers this summer, which are expected with the launch of new routes to the Middle East and United States.
On Saturday, 3 August, passengers were forced to queue for nearly three hours after a series of faults caused chaos.
They included problems with one-third of the 46 check-in desks and a major baggage system breakdown.
The record 40,000 passengers at the airport that day included 1,200 returning to Spain from a cruise ship docked at Leith.
It came during the airport’s second month in a row of handling one million passengers, which had set a record in July.
The airport was so busy Dewar and other senior managers had to help move baggage.
He told a BBC Scotland documentary, to be screened on Thursday: “That was so close to the edge, probably beyond the edge, really.
“It worked because everybody flew, but it didn’t work because there were a lot of people who waited too long and, utterly understandably, were not happy.
“It was one of the best lessons I have had this year, about how close we were to the limits on the check-in process.
“Both personally and professionally it’s frankly a little embarrassing.”
One fed-up passenger told the programme: “The airport is rubbish, just a disaster. It can’t cope. [I’ve been] standing in a queue for two and three-quarter hours. It needs to be bigger or improved”.
George Rodriguez, guest relations manager for Spanish cruise firm Iberocruceros, said: “We were supposed to have more open boxes [desks] so they can be checked in faster and easier. They definitely need more space.”
Airport duty manager Lorna Firth said: “It’s a lot [of check-in desks] to lose at one time. Days like that are a bit of a nightmare.”
Dewar added: “I was delighted to be there helping, but it’s uncomfortable when you’ve got ten, 20, 30 rightfully disgruntled people telling you you are not very good.
“Hopefully, people will not be put off coming back, but I do not want to take that chance.”
Later last August, Dewar said handling so many passengers had been “difficult” and “challenging”, but stressed this had been the first occasion on which the extent of the problems had emerged.
Improvements have since been accelerated to be completed in half the original timescale, some brought forward from next year.
They have included more self-service check-ins and baggage drop-off points, and earlier check-in times for several airlines.
Groups travelling now have a separate check-in, while new scanners have speeded up security checks and staff have had extra customer-service training. Dewar said: “We’ve made considerable investments in our technology and services, as well as improving the passenger experience.
“This will allow us to handle the summer peak as well as additional passengers on our new Chicago, Doha and Philadelphia services.
“We were tested during the Six Nations when we processed an additional 20,000 departing French rugby supporters.
“Our planning and improved processes passed the test, and while we were busy, we processed passengers with minimal disruption on our busiest day ever.”