Manchester Airport Disruption – Have Lessons been Learned from Previous Incidents?

There has been extensive media coverage of chaotic scenes at Manchester Airport over recent days. Manchester Airport is certainly not unique within the aviation sector in encountering difficulties as the volume of passengers returns to normal (Easyjet and British Airways are also in the headlines), and I am not qualified to comment on what they could or should have done differently to ensure that they had enough staff available for the busy Easter period. This blog post is purely concerned with the management of incidents as and when they arise, and the airport’s ability to learn lessons.

Hundreds of passengers faced delays and disruption in June 2018 when Terminal 2 lost power.  Power was restored within a few hours but, whilst the power cut lasted, passengers could not check in and planes could not be unloaded.  Luckily, due to the time of day, it was possible to divert some incoming flights to Terminal 1. As usual in these sorts of situations, most of the complaints from passengers seem to focus on a lack of communication.  This was partly due to the precise nature of the disruption, with the loss of display screens and other normal ways of communicating with passengers in the Terminal.  However, some comments on social media made a more general point; saying that airport staff, whilst trying to be helpful, had simply not been given the information they required to answer the questions that people were asking.

Then in May 2019 around 13 000 passengers were delayed when a power problem prevented refuelling of planes at the airport.  45 departures had to be cancelled as a direct result of the loss of fuel; but there was also a knock-on effect that 42 scheduled arrivals could not land.  As with the 2018 incident, much of the comment from passengers on social media was about the lack of communications during the disruption.  As well as the lack of direct communication with passengers; it appears that there was poor communication with the airlines too, leaving passengers on board planes sitting on the tarmac for several hours in some cases.

Both of these previous incidents clearly highlighted the need to pay more attention to planning for how to communicate with passengers, their own staff and other stakeholder groups during an incident. However, recent media reports give no impression that these issues have been satisfactorily addressed.