Heathrow Boss Blames Passengers for Easter Chaos

Says main problem is people had forgotten the rules

Queues at Terminal 5 before latest disruption
Queues at Terminal 5 before latest disruption. Picture: Cory Doctorow

A boss at Heathrow Airport has said passengers were responsible for some of the Easter chaos after security staff found many breaking the rules on liquids in bags. Nigel Milton, chief of staff and carbon at the airport, said that many passengers had forgotten how to fly following the pandemic, after long queues at check-in and security over the holiday period.

Milton said that airport staff have had to remind travellers that hand sanitizer counts as a liquid, and that not putting liquids into a small plastic bag will flag up bags on the security system. He said, “We do need to recruit more security people, but the main problem was that people had just forgotten the rules.”

He said, “What we have seen is that the rejects of hand luggage is about twice the level it was in 2019 because people have forgotten they’ve got to take [liquids] out, even though all the signs are there, even though we’re saying it to them.”

Milton added many passengers also turned up unprepared to fly, without the correct covid documentation and passports close to expiring. Some passengers had even turned up for flights with passports that were out of date.

A turbulent Easter period saw Heathrow face huge queues throughout the airport, cancelled flights and the threat of strike action. Addressing the issues at the airport, Milton said they were also caused in part by a sudden surge of travellers following the government’s decision to scrap all remaining Covid measures in the UK earlier this year.

Milton said the airport did not get any warning about the last remaining restrictions being dropped. He added: “We were lobbying [the government] hard to open up. But the speed at which the government then unravelled it did take us by surprise.”

The airport is currently in the middle of a huge recruitment drive, looking to hire 12,000 new employees across all terminals in time for the summer. According to Milton, 240 new hires are starting training every fortnight.

Heathrow Airport also plans to reopen Terminal 4, which has been shut since the start of the pandemic in 2020, by July to ease congestion. Appealing to passengers to help make their journey through the airport smoother, Milton said they should make sure all their documents are correct and valid and follow security rules correctly.

He said: “There’s a lot passengers can do to help themselves and help us by getting ready. It’s making sure, for check in they’ve got the right documentation, that they are ready.”

Nevertheless, Milton said that queues through the airport will last into the summer. He said: “I think it’s going to be tough, because the opening of T4 means that Border Force will be spread over another terminal, our security colleagues will be too. So I think this summer is going to be uncomfortable again. There will be queues but there won’t be chaos. There will be queues which we will manage.”

Lisa Haseldine - Local Democracy Reporter

April 21, 2022