You get what you pay for?
The baggage handling chaos at Gatwick has “resulted” in Monarch Airlines sacking baggage handlers Swissport.
The BBC reports that Monarch Airlines has ended two contracts with the baggage firm at Gatwick and in Manchester, following last weekend’s fiasco that saw people waiting up to three hour to collect their luggage.
On Thursday airlines warned travellers flying from Gatwick over the coming weekend that they could run the risk of travelling without their luggage due to the shortage of baggage handlers.
On Sunday, hundreds of travellers were advised to leave Gatwick airport without their luggage as “resourcing issues” – believed to have been down to Swissport being understaffed – had left passengers from British Airways, Monarch Airlines, Thomas Cook and Thomson waiting for over 90 minutes for their luggage before being told their bags would be delivered to them separately.
The Independent 31 July 2014 : Gatwick chaos: Airline axes baggage handler Swissport after extended delays
Is this a case of an outsourced supplier being “held to account”, or is it an inevitable result of the cost pressures within this particular industry?
A few decades ago most airfares were near extortionately expensive – save for “charters” which were cheaper. They were cheaper because of the buying power of the big holiday companies (which sometimes owned the charter airlines), the comparative lack of frills and because (one class) seat utilisation was very high.
Now very few air travellers travel other than with a “budget” airline – and in some cases we have seen fares drop dramatically. Some airlines try to make a virtue of being skinflints with “no frills” travel.
With “no frills”, you need to have lower expectations. But at what stage does this become unacceptable? If you are not paying your airline very much, you can be pretty certain that they will try to cut what they pay their suppliers – the airports and ancillary services (such as baggage handling) and will try to fly the routes that minimise fuel use. They would probably like to also deeply cut items like maintenance costs – but fortunately aircraft maintenance is heavily regulated.
So what is tolerable? Which?© list the “Top 10 airport frustrations” reported in a member survey.
- Queuing for security – 49%
- Paying to drop off/pick up passengers – 47%
- Price of airport car parking – 46%
- Lack of seating (such as too few seats or uncomfortable seating) – 43%
- Queuing at passport control – 43%
- Queuing at check-in – 41%
- Price of food at outlets – 39%
- Waiting at baggage reclaim – 37%
- Lack of space to dress after security – 37%
- Having to walk long distances between terminals – 35%
Which?© 31 July 2014 : Top 10 airport frustrations revealed
All of these are arguably the result of cost paring – driven by consumer pressure for low airfares and the airlines’ desire for profits.
But when it gets to the stage that an Airport warns passengers “that they could run the risk of travelling without their luggage”, surely it has gone too far? Going on holiday without your baggage seriously impacts on your trip being what you expect of a holiday.
But how long should you wait for your baggage when returning?
Last month, Gatwick apologised after passengers faced delays of up to 90 minutes to reclaim their baggage, and blamed those problems on a shortage of staff at Swissport.
At the time, the airport said Swissport’s licence required it to deliver bags from each flight “within 55 minutes”.
On Sunday afternoon, a spokesman for the airport said: “Things are fine now. It was very much an overnight issue that carried on into the early hours of the morning.
“By about eight or nine o’ clock, the situation started to return to normal and that has continued throughout the day. Everything is back to normal.”
BBC News Website 31 July 2014 : Gatwick baggage delays prompt hand luggage advice
A “normal” target of 55 minutes seems excessive (just as airlines’ request to turn up two hours before your flight seems excessive). But in a cut-throat business, such as air travel, can you afford a better target?
It is an issue of resources.
Swissport said last weekend’s problems were exceptional and should not be repeated.
It has blamed the delays on too many aircraft arriving in quick succession – either late or early – which it called “off-schedule arrivals”.
BBC News website 31 July 2014 : Gatwick staff to help with baggage handling at weekend
Unfortunately resourcing to meet unexpected peaks is difficult as it means (assuming machinery capacity) having excess available staff “on shift”. Such peaks arrive too unexpectedly to play the “zero hours” “on standby” employment trick. And that means cost – out of proportion to the benefit – at least in the eyes of the employer.
It appears that we do not like the frustrations of “normal” airline travel. It appears we are exceptionally annoyed when the situation is worse than a barely acceptable “normal”. And we profess to being uncomfortable about relying on a service that uses dubious employment practices (such as zero hours contracts).
So what gives? Either we have to pay more, or we need to define a system of regulation that can make the air travel supply chain give up profit to provide better service. I fear the latter is unachievable.