Flight delays, airport chaos, Covid cases increasing, NHS in trouble, soaring cost of living: Scottish and UK government are failing to manage multiple crises effectively – Christine Jardine MP

Arriving home from London recently, I was struck by the piles of suitcases and bags casually heaped in the baggage claim area.

Suitcases are seen uncollected at Heathrow's Terminal Three baggage reclaim area (Picture: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
Suitcases are seen uncollected at Heathrow's Terminal Three baggage reclaim area (Picture: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

It wasn’t a total surprise of course as my correspondence has recently been dominated by travel problems with delayed passport applications, cancelled flights and lost baggage.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that there seems to be no single reason that can be identified and addressed. It's almost as if a perfect storm has hit our transport system and those in power don't know what to do.

I don’t say that to make some cheap sarcastic point at either Holyrood or Westminster's expense.

There genuinely seems no single, definable reason why our air travel has descended into a chaotic and unmanaged, perhaps unmanageable mess. And no-one seems able to take it in hand.

My carefully timetabled life is, of course, not exempt from its impact. A recent Monday flight to Heathrow was cancelled on Sunday evening, long after I had checked-in.

I was fortunate that I was simply inconvenienced and nothing important was ruined. Normally, I might have preferred the train anyway, but that's not a reliable option either this summer.

But I have constituents and friends who have missed connecting flights because of delays or cancellations. Long-awaited holidays, reunions with family, weddings, have all been missed because the system let them down.

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Yes, they are entitled to other flights and compensation from airlines if their travel falls through. Yes, if the government’s passport officials do not deal with their application in time, there is a complaints process and compensation. And of course there is travel insurance.

But none of that can make up for the disappointment of children who have been counting down the sleeps until their first holiday since before the pandemic. Or fill the gap left at the family reunion or wedding of the long-missed son or daughter.

So far the only suggested solution to the problems seems to be to cancel more flights and limit the number of passengers. Or if you do manage to have a passport, and your flight is not cancelled, to take only hand luggage. How, I wonder, does that work for a family heading to the sun for two weeks?

It is very difficult for most of us to discern evidence of any attempt to get on top of the problem.

Figures reported in the press show that we are faring worse than our major European neighbours and you are twice as likely to have a flight cancelled compared to the summer of 2019.

For months now, MPs, myself included, have been complaining to the government about delays in passport applications, something which is a key factor in public distress over holidays.

In April, passport officials warned that you should allow six weeks for an application. Now it is ten weeks and even that is no guarantee. I have experience of multiple cases which have over-run with no explanation.

One constituent followed all the rules and when she became concerned at the time it was taking, contacted the passport office and followed the advice she was given. Still they could not meet their target or even come close.

Other constituents have had every approach to the passport office either ignored or rebuffed until their MP intervenes. And the excuse given for all of this? A combination of an unprecedented surge in demand after the pandemic and a massively increased workload caused by the numbers of visa applications from Ukrainian refugees.

Our air travel is suffering because the international industry had to go almost from a complete standing start to full capacity in no time at all. After two years of restrictions, winding down and laying staff off, they have had to gear back up again.

Like many sectors, they are also finding that former staff have changed careers and are unwilling to change back. Or there is simply a shortage of the EU nationals who were such an important component of our workforce.

In Edinburgh, the airport itself has been successful in rebuilding its staff base with a refocused recruitment process and determination to recognise and deal with the issues.

But they have not escaped them entirely as baggage-handling companies and the airlines themselves have not been able to respond as successfully.

More than 30 different airlines, each with their own baggage-handling arrangements with three separate companies, do not make for an easy situation at the moment.

And when your luggage goes missing, that complicated arrangement does little to help you either.

So here we are. All finally free to travel abroad with few restrictions or worries that your destination will be added to a red list, meaning you could face quarantine on return.

But still the after-effects of the pandemic and the continuing presence of various Covid strains are disrupting our lives and services.

Perhaps it would seem less difficult if it were this one issue. If our NHS was not facing mounting pressure and problems, and Covid numbers were not still unacceptably high. Or we were not all facing the biggest cost-of-living crisis in half a century or more.

Many of these challenges were not created by either government. But increasingly it feels that neither is properly managing or addressing them. This summer it did begin to feel that we could all relax and look forward to that break we have been denied for so long.

Somehow it’s not working out that way for too many people. Fingers crossed it improves soon.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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