Exclusive:Edinburgh Airport baggage fiasco: ‘Similar poor performance’ expected this summer, warns chief executive Gordon Dewar
The chief executive of Edinburgh Airport has admitted to having “very low confidence” the baggage problems which have beset Scotland’s busiest airport for the past two summers will be fixed in time for this year’s holiday season.
The warning came as Gordon Dewar said airport spending was being ramped up to cope with expected record passenger numbers in 2024, followed by expansion of the departure lounge and then a major change to its layout.
Thousands of travellers on Edinburgh-bound flights arrived without their luggage last year, which the airport said was the responsibility of airlines’ handling agents, who it claimed were short staffed. Swissport and Menzies Aviation handle baggage for all airlines at the airport apart from EasyJet, which uses WFS.
Mr Dewar said the problem had also been caused by "short shift” baggage not being transferred in time to connecting flights to Edinburgh from hub airports, and bags destined for other airports piling up in the capital.
But he said mislaid bags should be returned to passengers this year much quicker than before, despite ongoing problems.
He told a meeting of the Edinburgh Airport Consultative Committee on Monday: “Effectively, that has been driven in the past by other hub airports’ performance – [baggage] coming through Amsterdam, Heathrow or Paris and the connections not being made.
"We have to live with the consequences of lots of bags turning up on later flights, quite often not even aimed at Edinburgh Airport – bags for Birmingham, Bristol and so on, because we have got quite good connectivity. If the last flight into the UK is to Edinburgh, then we get them.”
He described the baggage problem as "entirely seasonal, driven by peak demand, staff shortages and connections being too short”.
“I have got very low confidence levels that we are going to see that fixed this year because none of the underlying issues are addressed,” he said. "We’re geared up for a similar poor performance as last year – but the repatriation part of it will be a lot, lot better.”
Mr Dewar said returning bags to passengers would be speeded up by the airport establishing its own dedicated team for the job, with the cost being passed to the airlines responsible.
He said: “What we can do is make sure we’re far better equipped to speed up the repatriation. So instead of waiting five, six, seven days and not having a clue where your bag is, we’re gearing up to have far better transparency about where it is, ie do we have it and therefore make sure that we will get it to you.
"The biggest failure is that our third-party handlers weren’t collecting the right information about the bag and where it should be sent, such as for those doing a tour, so your bag isn’t chasing you round Scotland.
"I’m confident the repatriation process will be far better. We have taken that in-house and will bill the airlines that are at fault for doing it. I will be very upset if we can’t get a two-day turnaround, if not better.”
The two main baggage firms at the airport, which also operate at hubs such as Heathrow, said they had made improvements.
Swissport declined to comment on Mr Dewar’s views but said it had an excellent relationship with the airport and had “invested significantly” in its operations there.
Its spokesperson said: “The quotes from Mr Dewar cover a range of topics relating to the operations at Edinburgh and beyond. He hasn't mentioned Swissport by name, so it wouldn't be appropriate for us to comment on his views.”
Menzies Aviation UK senior vice-president Phil Lloyd said: “We continue to work closely and collaboratively with the team at Edinburgh Airport and together understand the network-wide challenges that resulted in baggage delays last summer.
"We’ve made significant investment in new procedures and additional resources to improve the repatriation process and have robust contingency plans in place to manage and minimise the impact baggage delays have on passengers.”
Confirmation of the expected further disruption came as Mr Dewar told the committee, which comprises a wide variety of industry and community groups to hold the airport to account, that spending was being accelerated following a hiatus during the pandemic. Passenger numbers this year are expected to top 2019’s record 14.4 million.
Improvements to the departure lounge by the summer will be followed by its expansion in the next few years north towards the runway.
Mr Dewar said: "We went from £40 million-£50m investment a year pre-Covid to virtually nothing overnight. We basically turned off the taps because we didn’t need any of it and we lost £100m over the Covid period.
"We’re now ramping up again because there’s a little bit of a catch-up in things we deferred – accelerated asset replacement to the tune of £5m-6m a year that didn’t happen in 2021.
"We are also back into the growth agenda. We are now seeing a significant ramp up around thinking how we are going to increase terminal capacity – everything we need to keep growing.
"We are going to be very, busy in terms of capital spend, which is enormously good news for the Scottish economy, with £60m going into the supply chain, which is great for jobs and business development elsewhere.”
Mr Dewar said that would be followed by UK flights being moved to gates one to three at the west end of the departure lounge in three to four years’ time to create a “much-expanded” area for international flights.
Meantime, all the food and drink outlets are due to be overhauled, with some new additions in time for the summer peak in July. Mr Dewar said: “We will have wider choice with higher capacity, and I hope it will be a much more comfortable experience going through the airport.”
New security scanners enabling passengers to carry liquids in bottles up to two litres in their hand luggage, along with body scanners replacing metal detectors, are due to be introduced by June.
Scottish Conservatives transport spokesperson Graham Simpson, who also co-chairs of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on aviation, said of the baggage warning: “This is a pretty grim forecast. Having your bag not arrive causes huge amounts of stress, whatever the reason.
"Scenes of bags piled up at the airport is the last thing we want to see. If this dire prediction comes to pass, then getting bags back to their rightful owners quickly is key.
“It is great that airports are bouncing back and it good to hear about Edinburgh’s investment plans as aviation is a very important part of the economy.”
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